After being traded earlier this season and finding himself in the ECHL, it seemed likely that Alexei Melnichuk’s time in North America was coming to an end. That was made official today, as HC Sochi in the KHL announced that the young goaltender has signed a contract with them that runs through April 30, 2024.
Melnichuk, 23, signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2020, just a few months after the COVID-19 shutdown, and looked like he could potentially provide some NHL value in the future. After all, he was coming off a very strong KHL debut, with a .930 save percentage in 16 appearances during the 2019-20 campaign. They did get three NHL appearances out of him, but they certainly weren’t of the valuable variety.
In his 131 minutes of action during the 2020-21 season, Melnichuk allowed 11 goals on 81 shots, good for an .864 save percentage and 5.05 goals-against average. Certainly not the debut he was hoping for, and when two stints in the minor leagues didn’t go much better, it was a trade this year that brought him to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
It’s in that trade that there is some intrigue. Because he is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, the Lightning will actually retain his exclusive NHL rights should they at least extend him a qualifying offer. That doesn’t mean much for now, with the contract already signed back home, but those rights will not have expired by the time this new KHL contract is over. At that point, when he is a 25-year-old with more professional experience under his belt, the Lightning would potentially have the chance to bring him back over, should the relationship still be intact.
Given the upside that he’s shown in 32 KHL appearances, that’s at least worth it for the Lightning, who only gave up minor league forward Antoine Morand–a non-tender candidate himself this offseason–in the deal.