There were mixed feelings when the New York Islanders selected Kirill Kabanov in the third round (65th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Kabanov's skill is undeniable; his offensive talent was good enough for him to be drafted in the first round, but his history of problems with his teams and agents dropped his draft value. Teams didn't necessarily want to risk the drama, and the Islanders took a gamble by drafting him.
Kabanov was drafted from the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL where he excelled on the ice. In the 2009-10 season, his first season with the club, he averaged over a point per game (23 points in 22 games). He missed the first ten games of the season due to a dispute over his rights between the QMJHL (who selected him seventh-overall in the 2009 CHL Import Draft) and his KHL club (Ufa). The IIHF, mediating the dispute, ruled in favor of the QMJHL, and Kabanov headed to Moncton.
But Moncton wasn't too secretive with their feelings on Kabanov as the season went on. After coming back in February from injuring his wrist (an injury which required surgery), he was a frequent healthy scratch, including during Moncton's playoff run. Moncton actually released him during the playoffs so that he could play in the U-18 IIHF World Hockey Championships for Russia, but he was rejected from the team due to disciplinary reasons. Russian team Head Coach Mikhail Vasiliev told Sovietsky Sport:
"I removed him from the team because we thought Kabanov would help us, but he brought only confusion to the team. Kabanov came and thought 'Here I am, a star from Canada, who will save all.' But it's the team that wins rather than an individual player."
Kabanov's father had also had a great deal to do with some of the issues clubs have with Kabanov. Kabanov has gone through at least five agents, most leaving due to the demands of his father, Sergei. Jay Grossman is a former agent of Kabanov's, and Ilya Moliver, who is an agent in Grossman's firm, spoke to Sovietsky Sport about dealing with Kabanov's father. Here are some excerpts from the English translation:
"Sergei Kabanov believes that an agent is a player's servant. He doesn't know how to communicate with people. In view of this, he incorrectly educates Kirill."
"I've told Kirill once: 'You have to choose. We either work with you or with your dad.' Kabanov's dad is hard to please. I work with players and their parents since 1992, and I never had to deal with such a complicated person."
"When we just started working together, Sergei told me: 'My son is considerably better than Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and Malkin at 16.' Why all this arrogance? This can only spoil the kid. And I understand why scouts and agents changed the attitude towards Kabanov. Because Kirill isn't progressing as he should, but the guilty ones are the ones surrounding him."
And perhaps the most pertinent excerpt vis-a-vis Kabanov's talent:
"A couple of years ago I visited a tournament in London, Ontario, and Kirill played great. Elegant, intelligent, he made beautiful rushes to the net. It was evident that the guy can play. The fans were crazy about him and he became the top contender for the first overall pick. But what can you do when you have so much pressure from your father? And Kirill himself has a talent to get into awkward situations."
Had Moncton just had enough with Kabanov's antics?
Maybe, but the Lewiston MAINEiacs paid a big price to get Kabanov. His deal gives Moncton backup goaltender Jordan Kennedy, a second round draft pick in 2011, a fourth round draft pick in 2011, a first round pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, and a fourth round draft pick in 2012. And the MAINEiacs (who have struggled in recent seasons) seem to be excited about the idea of getting a talent such as Kabanov. Lewiston Head Coach Jean-Francois Houle said in the press release announcing the trade:
"He is very gifted offensively, and is a threat every time he touches the ice. Adding him to this team adds speed and skill to an already dynamic offense. With open arms, we welcome Kirill to our organization."
With his history of being late (more than once) to his first NHL Training Camp, bizarre statements to the press, and intense tattoo obsession, it's difficult to tell how Kabanov is going to take this opportunity. For his, Lewiston's, and the Islanders' sakes, I hope he takes it as a second chance, to prove that he can take his hockey career seriously and show that he's not as high-risk as initially thought. But will his father ruin everything for him once again?
Kabanov will join Lewiston once his visa is sorted out (Lewiston is in Maine, so he obviously needs a U.S. visa to play there). It should be an expedited process, so he may make his Lewiston debut as early as next week. Capitals prospect Samuel Carrier plays for Lewiston, and will have a new teammate.