Maple Leafs sign highly touted forward Alexander Barabanov

Kyle Dubas got his guy.

The Maple Leafs general manager snagged highly touted forward Alexander Barabanov, signing him to a one-year entry-level contract for the 2020-21 season, the team announced on Tuesday.

“He’s a very strong winger. Tremendous playmaking ability, skill level in tight,” Dubas told reporters on a conference call on March 31. “But one of the other things that we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him, and (he) uses his strength to be able to do that.

“He’s a play-making winger that also has the ability to finish at the net.”

Standing at just 5-8, 196-pounds, the 25-year-old posted 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 43 games last season with the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg. He also chipped in a goal and two assists in four playoff games. In 262 career KHL games, he has collected 137 points (62 goals, 75 assists) along with 23 points in 68 playoff games.

A two-time Gagarin Cup winner with SKA Saint Petersburg, Barabanov also won gold as a member of the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Barabanov has been a key top-six player for SKA but had an inconsistent season in 2020 that saw him outperformed by younger wingers like Andrei Kuzmenko, Vasily Podkolzin and linemate Vladimir Tkachyov,” The Draft Analyst Steve Kournianos told Sporting News. “Barabanov’s biggest strengths center on skating and finesse, as he is used on the power play and can control possessions with the man advantage from the half wall. He does not play a physical style but is slippery and elusive when attacking towards traffic at full speed.

“He’s an excellent stickhandler, although he tends to force plays and not incorporate his linemates as consistently as he did in previous seasons. There were lengthy periods where he was deferring the tough assignments to the likes of Tkachyov, thus revealing himself as less of a line driver than he had shown during his better seasons.”

Where he would slot in is to be determined, however; Sportsnet’s Luke Fox noted that he is projected to be a third-liner. He also has a familiar face on the team, as he played on Russia’s 2018 World Championships squad with Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev; the pair share the same agent in Gold Star’s Dan Milstein. This connection may have played a role in him choosing Toronto, as more than 20 NHL teams were reportedly interested in acquiring his talents.

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