Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Curious Career of Kirill Kabanov

When Anton Zlobin’s one-timer beat Michael Houser to lift the Shawinigan Cataractes to the title of Memorial Cup Champions, it likely marked the end of one of the most bizarre, ridiculous, and intriguing junior hockey careers of all time; that of Zlobin’s countryman, Kirill Kabanov.

Let’s recap. 

Back in 2009, Kirill Kabanov was one of the most highly regarded prospects for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The forward’s offensive upside was determined by some to be in the same range as Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, the two players who were eventually drafted 1-2. He was a sure-fire 1st round selection when the Moncton Wildcats picked him 7th overall in the 2009 CHL Import Draft. Certainly, coming to play in the CHL for his draft year could only boost his stock, especially given the fear (real or perceived) of Russian prospects staying in the motherland.

Kabanov’s CHL career got off to a bumpy start. A battle over a transfer agreement between Moncton and the player’s Russian club kept him from joining the Wildcats at the beginning of the season, and once it was sorted out, he only suited up for a handful of games before a wrist injury knocked him out for much of the season. Playing only 22 games in your draft year certainly isn’t ideal, even if you put up 23 points. Then came the playoffs.

With Kabanov returning to a stacked Moncton club expected to go deep in the playoffs, his icetime was less than significant. He was relegated to the lower lines, which wouldn’t go over well with most players who possess a skill set like Kabanov’s. His undisciplined play in game one against Cape Breton earned him a benching for much of the game, and he was made a healthy scratch for game two. Then it was announced that Kabanov would leave the team to join Russia for the World U-18 Championship. You could practically hear the sound of his draft stock plummeting.

If that wasn’t enough, he was then booted off the Russian U-18 team almost immediately upon arrival due to disciplinary issues, including the famous “peanut incident”. He would head to the draft having squandered any opportunity to showcase his on-ice ability, all the while raising an alarming number of concerns about his character. Oh, and his agent, JP Barry, also decided to part ways with Kabanov just weeks before the draft. He’s one of a number of agents who have come and gone over the years, some of who have cited Kabanov’s father as being unreasonable.

The NHL draft came and went, and a prospect who was formerly a shoe-in to be selected in the first round ended up slipping to the third round, where the New York Islanders snapped him up with the 65th overall pick. After an Islanders training camp that included a couple of late arrivals for on-ice sessions, Kabanov was returned to the Wildcats for the beginning of the 2010-11 season. After just two games, he was shipped to the Lewiston MAINEiacs, where he struggled to find his game at times, before taking it to another level in playoffs.

He scored 20 points in 15 games before Lewiston bowed out to the eventual Memorial Cup Champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs, in the QMJHL Semifinals. It took two seasons, but it looked like Kabanov had finally found a place to call home in the Q. Until he found himself out of a team once again, and this time, through no fault of his own.

Long-standing financial issues forced the MAINEiacs to fold ahead of a 2011-12 season where they certainly would have been a force to be reckoned with. Instead, the team’s assets were sent to all corners of the league through a dispersal draft that saw Kabanov land with the newly relocated Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

He would never suit up with the Armada, though, as he was loaned to the Swedish Elite League shortly after being cut from Islanders training camp once again. Except he never played in Sweden, either. The Armada flipped his rights to Shawinigan, where, after all this, Kabanov would have a chance to compete for the Memorial Cup.

And compete he did. Kabanov had solid, if unspectacular, numbers all year with the Cataractes, but most importantly he continued to show that he can buy in to the team concept. Over three years in the QMJHL, Kabanov has transitioned from a seemingly self-centered, individualistic hockey player with maturity issues into a player who has proven to be a good teammate, someone who can be an important cog of a successful team.

There haven’t been many hockey players I’ve ever wanted to see succeed more than Kirill Kabanov. My hope is that “Memorial Cup Champion” is far from the top of the list of accomplishments when this loveable nutcase’s career comes to an end.

Photo Credit: Hockey Points


  1. Did you catch Gare Joyce's profile of him in the recent Sportsnet mag? Great piece.