The chances of the Maple Leafs landing Russian sniper Alexander Barabanov are back to 50-50 with only one other NHL team in the hunt. After the field was opened to more clubs last week via an interview process with agent Daniel Milstein, the choices for the KHL free-agent right winger are back to the original […]KHL star to choose between Leafs, Coyotes — Toronto Sun
By Lance Hornby
The chances of the Maple Leafs landing Russian sniper Alexander Barabanov are back to 50-50 with only one other NHL team in the hunt.
After the field was opened to more clubs last week via an interview process with agent Daniel Milstein, the choices for the KHL free-agent right winger are back to the original front-runners, Toronto and the Arizona Coyotes. The term would be the same one-year, entry-level deal as Milstein client Ilya Mikheyev agreed to with the Leafs last summer.
“Alexander has had video meetings with those two teams, the head coaches, ownership, things like that,” Milstein said Sunday. “There are two options for he and his wife.”
Milstein said discussions and one-on-one interviews with his client and the Leafs and Coyotes actually go back more than two years.
“They both visited him in Russia,” Milstein said, adding that former Toronto coach Mike Babcock had made one of the first trips overseas, followed by general manager Kyle Dubas. “(Current coach) Sheldon Keefe has had conversations with him, too.”
Dubas sized up Barabanov on a conference call with Toronto media last week.
“Alex is strong, not tall (5-foot-10, 191 pounds), but he has tremendous playmaking ability, great skill level in tight. One of the other things we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him,” said Dubas.
The undrafted 25-year-old has played in his native Saint Petersburg since he was 16, moving up to its KHL club in 2014-15. A career-best 20 goals and 51 points in 73 games two years ago (regular season and playoffs) caught everyone’s attention on this side of the pond and he had 21 points in 47 games before COVID-19 halted the 2019 KHL playoffs.
At the spring 2019 world championship, he was on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, adding to his comfort zone wherever he lands in the NHL.
“I expect his decision in a short time,” Milstein said. “Of course he and his wife are interested in what the two cities have (to offer as a home). But he’s here for the whole package; the hockey, how the coach sees him fitting in, the fan base, the traditions.”
Score one for the Leafs on that last point, but Arizona GM John Chayka is building a strong program. And if the Barabanovs are sick of snow, they certainly won’t need winter boots in Glendale.
“Alex is just a very nice guy, very humble, from a hockey family with two brothers,” Milstein said. “He’s very accomplished with a Gagarin Cup (in 2016-17 with Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk as teammates) and Olympic gold (2018).”
MIK IN THE MIX
Milstein remains hopeful the Leafs and the NHL will come out of the COVID crisis and any salary cap changes with enough money to retain Mikheyev beyond his current deal.
The agent described those talks with Dubas as cordial, very encouraged the Leafs called him Jan. 1 at the first opportunity to offer a new deal, less than a week after Mikheyev’s frightening injury, a skate blade slicing his wrist that required major surgery.
“The Leafs lived up to their promise and we’ve talked a bit since,” Milstein said. “If not for the work stoppage, he could’ve played after March 19. He’s very interested in re-signing there.”
MORE BEEF ON THE FARM
The idled Marlies have not stopped signing players.
The Leafs’ American Hockey League farm team inked four newcomers the past few days, including Toronto native Noel Hoefenmayer to a two-year contract. The 21-year-old defenceman played 58 games with the Ottawa 67s as an over-ager with a career-high 56 assists and 82 points to lead all OHL defencemen. In his 298 games with Ottawa, the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder had 222 points. He was a fourth-round pick of Arizona in 2017.
Prince Edward Islander Jeremy McKenna also agreed to a two-year AHL contract, the 20-year-old also getting 82 points (40 goals, 42 assists) in 57 games last year with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec league.
Earlier in the week, forwards Gordie Green (Miami-Ohio) and Bobby McMann (Colgate) left the NCAA for two-year deals with the Marlies. The 5-foot-8 Green, from Ann Arbor, Mich., was team captain and had 36 points in 34 games and 115 career points at his school.
McMann, a centre, led Colgate with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 34 games while also serving as captain. The 6-foot-1 Wainwright, Alta., native was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award in 2019-20.