It’s become a trend in recent years that the Toronto Maple Leafs go to Europe around this time of year to do some shopping. Inevitably, they don’t technically spend anything, and only bring back what we can call a “found wallet”, or assets that you didn’t have to trade other assets for to acquire.
The last time that the Toronto Maple Leafs were a desired destination for free agents was a long time ago. However, over the last few years, the Maple Leafs have been digging for gold in Russia and Sweden, trying to find the best un-signed talents to bring into their system — and it’s working.
Over the last 4 years, the Leafs have brought Nikita Soshnikov, Andreas Borgman, Igor Ozhiganov, Par Lindholm, Nikita Zaitsev, and Calle Rosen over across the pond. They each came with relatively little pedigree and had never played in the NHL before. Now, all have played in the NHL, all but Rosen for extended periods, and Ozhiganov, Lindholm and Zaitsev are all regulars for the Leafs this season.
Keeping in kind with history, Kyle Dubas recently travelled to Russia and will be spending some time scouting. According to this article by Semyon Galchevich as found by Igor Nikonov, he’ll be watching a Lokomotiv Yaroslavl game against CSKA Moscow.
— Igor Nikonov (@nikonov_igor) January 8, 2019
Besides the Leafs’ second round pick from 2016, Yegor Korshkov, Igor Eronko has suggested a couple names that Dubas could be looking at in this game with the search for defensive depth in mind.
Have to think Kyle Dubas is in Yaroslavl not only for Yegor Korshkov. Should also be looking at Alexander Yelesin, one of the toughest KHL Ds. He's a good skater, RH, sees the ice well and throws hit after hit. Maybe he looks after Artyom Blazhiyevsky too, LHD of CSKA #TMLtalk
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) January 8, 2019
Yelesin has 8 points and 41 PIMs in his 43 games this season with Yaroslavl. He also has the current record for the fastest goal in KHL history, though it wasn’t exactly a skill play:
🚨 KHL RECORD ALERT 🚨
The fastest goal in KHL history!
Alexander Yelesin from Lokomotiv! pic.twitter.com/BGrynTaANF
— KHL (@khl_eng) December 10, 2017
As for Artyom Blazhiyevsky, he boasts a similar rough/tough style of hockey that Yelesin does, and that Igor Ozhiganov did before the Leafs brought him to North America. He seems more in control of his play, with only 10 PIMs in 33 games, and a better offensive production rate with one fewer point than Yelsein in 10 fewer games. He did, however, receive a 2-game suspension for a hit to the head.
— KHL (@khl_eng) March 5, 2018
Another name being posited regarding Dubas’ Europe trip is Sergei Andronov, as per Darren Dreger below. Andronov is a 29 year old left wing/center that was drafted by the Blues in 2009. He has never played in the NHL, but has been a solid role player for CSKA for a long time. He isn’t considered flashy or highly skilled, but could be an interesting contributor in the bottom six, similar to Par Lindholm. Dreger’s suggestion that he could earn between $1.5M and $2M seems unwarranted given his lack of buzz within these discussions in past years. With 11 points in 40 games for CSKA Moscow, he seems to be a low risk, low reward type of player.
KHL centerman, Sergei Andronov is a player of interest to the Leafs. Several NHL teams are in the mix. At $1.5 to $2 mil next season…might be too rich for Toronto for a depth center. https://t.co/PfjoYorqC7
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 8, 2019
It was mentioned in passing in the Galchevich article above regarding Dubas’ trip, but he also took in a game for the MHL (Russian Junior league) team in Yaroslavl, Loko Yaroslavl (they really love trains there). There are a few names worth looking at for the 2019 NHL draft from that team: Daniil Gutik, Ilya Nikolaev, Ilya Mironov, and Dmitri Tyuvilin. Most notable are Gutik, Nikolaev and Mironov, are each mentioned in Future Considerations’ Notable prospects list. While notable, none are exceptional, and likely won’t land much higher than the later round selections of the upcoming draft. Their opponent in this game, Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk, actually has no NHL-draft-eligible prospects on their roster, so Dubas was either taking in one of the above-mentioned Yaroslavl players, or just watching a nice matinee hockey game because what else does one do in Yaroslavl.
In summary, Dubas is most likely looking for more defensive depth from the KHL, or figuring out if he wants to extend an entry-level-contract to Yegor Korshkov. There are a few names from Yaroslavl’s junior team worth looking at, but nothing major.
The possibility of another depth forward acquisition is also possible, but would have to come at a reasonable price.
All in all, none of this will translate to a draft selection or a signing for a while, so we can only be patient and keep our eyes and ears open for more news.