Another high-end piece of the Lewiston Maineiacs’ puzzle fell neatly into place Thursday, and the move has generated a buzz about the team within the hockey community unlike any since the team’s run to the Memorial Cup in 2007.
Lewiston GM Roger Shannon and the Moncton Wildcats’ Danny Flynn put the finishing touches on a trade Thursday, allowing the Maineiacs to acquire 18-year-old Russian sniper Kirill Kabanov. In return, Lewiston sends a collection of draft picks to Moncton, along with 17-year-old netminder Jordan Kennedy.
Kabanov, who displayed point-per-game talent when he played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is an NHL-drafted forward with what many in hockey circles agree to be a top-of-the-line skill set.
“We’ve been working on this for a long, long time,” Shannon said. “It was nice for it to finally come to fruition. It’s been basically set for a while now.”
Shannon said the Maineiacs began working with Moncton on a trade for Kabanov over the summer.
“Almost as soon as (Managing Consultant) Bill (Schurman) got here this summer,” Shannon said. “They had a relationship in Moncton, and he always thought he’d be a good player, a good fit for our organization, and we felt he deserved that chance.”
The Maineiacs will send Moncton a second- and fourth-round selection in next summer’s QMJHL entry draft, a fourth-rounder in the 2012 QMJHL entry draft and a first-round pick in next summer’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
With two European players now on the roster in Kabanov and goalie Andrey Makarov, the Maineiacs would likely have passed on the European selection.
“We feel this is another strong statement by the team and the organization to show the people of the Lewiston-Auburn area that we’re committed to building a bona fide contending team here,” Schurman said. “To bring in a player of this caliber, we feel this is just another indication that the organization is here to win.”
Kabanov played in just 22 games for the Wildcats last season, but made a big impact, netting 10 goals and adding 13 assists for 23 points during that stretch.
“He’s a very skilled, very talented player,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said from the team’s hotel in Drummondville on Thursday. “A player with skills like that will add even more depth to our group of forwards.”
But Kabanov won’t arrive in Lewiston with a squeaky clean reputation. After Moncton selected him seventh overall in the European draft in 2009, Kabanov delayed his arrival in North America. He made a splash early, but an injury derailed his season. He skated for Russia in the World Under-18 tournament, registering 11 points in seven games as Russia earned a silver medal.
Then, things apparently turned sour. Touted as a potential first-round NHL draft pick, Kabanov was reportedly unhappy with his role with the Wildcats. He left the team and returned to Russia. His draft stock slipped, but his raw talent alone was enough for the New York Islanders to select Kabanov in the third round.
“From the beginning, Kirill has been a high-profile player,” Schurman said. “As with a lot of high-profile players, you do one thing that’s wrong, and all of a sudden you have a reputation. But Kirill has an opportunity to continue to prove that he wants to be an NHL player. He arrived with a great deal of pressure on him, and to me, he showed me and others a great deal of strength and intestinal fortitude to want to continue to pursue his dream.”
He returned to the Wildcats this season after failing to make the Islanders’ roster in training camp, and then suddenly left again, this time to deal with family issues back home.
Strictly speaking in hockey terms, if Kabanov arrives as advertised, Shannon said, the Maineiacs are going to reap some serious benefits.
“I’ll be all smiles when he puts the puck in the net,” Shannon said. “A lot of times, to know the full value of someone as it relates to production and how they work for a team, you have to wait for a while. Right now, I think we were able to add Kirill to our roster for great value, and I am hoping in six months we can have this same conversation and say that we got unbelievable value.
“When I told the team on the bus, they all cheered,” Houle said. “I think we have a strong locker room, we have a good group of kids and they can’t wait for their new teammate.”
Now, Shannon and Schurman said, the only thing holding him back from immediately joining Lewiston? Paperwork through U.S. Customs and Immigration.
“We know they don’t work on weekends, so unless he goes down and everything is absolutely taken care of tomorrow, this weekend is out,” Shannon said. “But having him in town next week for the game against Quebec is still a possibility.”
“We’re working hard on that right now,” Schurman said. “We’re hoping we can get the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted and have him the lineup, maybe by Wednesday.”