When negotiations were ended in early April between Maxim Shalunov and the Chicago Blackhawks, it was reported that part of the reason was due to the NHL’s decision not to go to the Olympics. Turns out, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic, that the Blackhawks didn’t push very hard for him this season and are actually fine with him developing in Russia for the time being. Shalunov signed a three-year deal with his KHL club Novosibirsk Sibir before being traded to the powerhouse CSKA Moscow team. Powers writes that the Blackhawks weren’t convinced he’d score right away in the NHL, something that is important for his game. His agent echoed though that Shalunov “100%” expects to come to the NHL after the three year contract expires.
Shalunov was a fourth-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2011, and dominated the Russian junior league before coming to North America for a taste of the minor-league professional ranks in 2013-14. After playing in the AHL and ECHL for a season, he returned to the KHL more well-rounded and has started to use his size and scoring ability more and more. This year the 6’4″ forward scored 19 goals and 37 points in 49 games, leading his club. He’ll be hard pressed to repeat that on the stronger CSKA team, but will also be surrounded by more talent.
The Hawks will retain his rights for the time being and wait for him to come over as a in-his-prime 26-year old ready to contribute to their top-six right away. The big, heavy forward should be ready to take on a big role with the team then, as long as nothing comes between the two sides in the next few years. Whether the Olympic decision had anything to do with it or not, Shalunov will get a chance to compete for a spot at the Games, especially if the NHL punishes any players hoping to go anyway.