It’s always a good idea to build up your prospect pool in whichever way you can, even when you’ve already built up a mass of depth. The Toronto Maple Leafs have shown that in spades over the past two seasons with their stockpiling of draft picks, minor league signings, and trade acquisitions. We even saw them pry Nikita Zaitsev away from the KHL to much fanfare in May, after a year of effort.
On that note, it seems like he wasn’t the only target, as Los Angeles Kings prospect Nikolai Prokhorkin explained to a Russian media outlet this week.
“This summer the Leafs contacted me, but I told them right away that I have to achieve something here, I have to win something,” Prokhorkin told Sovsport. “Although, I think this is going to be my last contract in Russia. I signed with SKA for 3 years. They told me that was how long they wanted me for, even though I was discussing a 2-year deal with Salavat. I don’t see any problem in that. Let it be three years. I’m not 30 yet. I’m not losing anything.”
|2015-16||22||Salavat Yulaev Ufa||KHL||55||19||17||36||42.94||91||10||17:08||2.29||1.83|
Drafted by the Kings in the 4th round of the 2012 draft, the 22-year-old played just eight games on this side of the pond with the Manchester Monarchs before it was determined that he had to honour his contract with CKSA, which led to him heading back home.
Prokhorkin is a player that appears to have the skillset to give North America another try. He’s 6’2, he’s flashy with the puck, and he isn’t afraid to use his body when he has to. He was top-50 in the KHL in all situations rate production and was in the upper ranks for hitting frequency, penalty drawing, and faceoff percentage. having a well-rounded impact as such is a rarity for younger players in the league, meaning there’s a level of positive perception there from his coaches and general managers.
Over the past few seasons, Prokhorkin has played with Leafs kinda-sorta property Teemu Hartikainen in Ufa and with Zaitsev at CSKA.
Prokhorkin also noted that the Oilers and Flames inquired about trading for his rights, with a Calgary deal coming close to completion before falling through. Given that the Kings didn’t make a move without him in this timeframe (they haven’t made a trade together since 2009), that would likely mean that the deal would’ve specifically been about him and that the Kings were ready to move on. With that considered, the fact that the Leafs spoke directly to him was almost certainly a matter of having permission rather than a tampering effort, as some might be initially thinking as they read this.
As he says, though, the Chelyabinsk-born centre/winger still feels that he has something left to prove. Apparently, that ‘something’ is significant, as his present deal with SKA St. Petersburg runs into the May 2019. Barring a buyout clause, it’s unlikely that he’ll be coming back anytime sooner, which may be why the Leafs didn’t move to acquire his rights. Once that contract expires, he’ll be 25 years old; ripe and ready to take his own shot at being the next Artemi Panarin, or even Zaitsev.
I wouldn’t bet on it being with the Leafs, but if Toronto finds an opportunity to pick up his rights on the cheap, it certainly wouldn’t be the worst possible decision.