March 31: Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas admitted at media availability today that his team is pursuing Barabanov, explaining to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet that the team likes the Russian forward’s ability to make plays under pressure. Johnston also notes that there doesn’t seem to be any rush from Barabanov’s side to make a decision.
March 28: With the KHL playoffs now canceled, many of the league’s top free agents can now consider signing new contracts. One of the more interesting forwards, Alexander Barabanov, has expressed interest in coming to North America and signing with an NHL team with at least 20 teams showing interest in the diminutive forward to this point.
However, a recent report from Sport-Express’ overseas reporter Igor Eronko suggests that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the leading candidate to sign the 25-year-old, although he did report that there are three teams he’s considering, which also includes the Arizona Coyotes. TSN’s Darren Dreger does add that nothing is confirmed. In fact, there are no guarantees he’s definitely coming to the NHL yet. He reports that Barabanov and his agent Dan Milstein will begin interviewing teams next week.
Barabanov has played full seasons for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL for the past five years and has scored anywhere between 10 to 20 goals in each of the last four years. He scored a career-high 17 goals and 46 points in 58 games in the 2018-19 season but saw his numbers dip this past year after suffering a broken hand in December from a slashing incident. He finished his season with 10 goals and 20 points in 43 games. Regardless, the forward is expected to fill a role as a solid bottom-six forward despite his lack of size at 5-foot-8 and 159 pounds.
If Toronto is the front-runner, it wouldn’t be a big surprise as general manager Kyle Dubas has made it a priority to add undrafted talent to his salary cap-strapped team by looking overseas. He added forward Ilya Mikheyev out of the KHL last year, who did make an impact in the first half of the season before suffering a wrist laceration when the skate of New Jersey’s Jesper Bratt ran over his wrist. Mikheyev has eight goals and 23 assists in 39 games this season. Despite the injury, he is expected to play a major role for the Maple Leafs next season. Toronto hopes they can get similar production from Barabanov if he agrees to sign with them.
Arizona is also in the mix. The Athletic’s Craig Morgan confirmed the Coyotes interest as general manager John Chayka talked with Barabanov earlier this season when he visited St. Petersburg. No word on who the third team Barabanov is considering.