Many pages have been inked about the once thought to be one of the prime candidates for the 2010 Entry Draft #1 overall pick, Russian Kirill Kabanov, as he has experienced a serious downhill fall after his departure to Canada this fall.
During the 2008-09 season the talented winger got the first taste of pro hockey experience skating in a bunch of regular season and playoff games (and getting knocked out by a hit from former NHL defenseman Vitaly Vishnevsky) with Spartak Moscow, then scored eleven points in the 2009 U18 WJC, being thus outscored by Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Getting to America
He was then picked up in the 2009 CHL Import Draft by the Moncton Wildcats, and the first controversy arose. As Salavat Yulaev bought his KHL rights from Spartak Moscow for a sum reported to be around a million dollars, Kabanov simply refused reporting to the team coached by Vyacheslav Bykov, as he didn't want to sign a contract without an NHL out clause. "In principle, I would already play there because I want to play in the QMJHL, and I'm ready for that", Kabanov declared to allhockey.ru in August 2009.
Once he was cleared to play in Canada by the IIHF, Kirill Kabanov didn't start tearing the QMJHL up, but he had to miss three months of play as he had to undergo a wrist injury, thus missing the WJC. He then returned to ice and scored 23 points in 22 regular season games in the QMJHL regular season with the Wildcats. Good numbers, but probably not what people were expecting from a guy thought to be a top ten pick candidate. Most importantly, if we exclude some reported late buses, some missed practices and some interviews in which Kabanov didn't talk well of WJC Team Russia coach Vladimir Plyuschev, he wasn't at the center of any major scandal. Not yet, at least...
As soon as the playoffs started, Kabanov had a very bad game. It can happen, but he went well beyond that. He was benched midway in the second period and didn't come back on the ice in the third one. He was yelled at by two teammates on two different occasions. He took a bad penalty in the first while Moncton was on the PP. He jumped on the ice when he wasn't supposed to be playing. In the second period, another bad penalty when his team had just made it an even game and it cost a goal. He left the penalty box and one of his teammates gave him an earful. Kabanov wasn't back with the team in the final stanza, they were losing 3-2. They scored 4 goals in the third period and won 6-3, as reported by C. Fortier.
After the first playoff game, Moncton's head coach Danny Flynn announced that the talented winger wouldn't play in game two. He was then released "so to be able to prepare to skate in the U18 WJC with Team Russia". "I have the feeling that we are better without him, than with him", Flynn declared later. Wildcats' head coach also admitted that Kabanov "is 17, he's coming from a different culture and a different background. He has some things that he has to learn about how we want to play here in Moncton."
But after this, both the Cats and Kabanov tried to make things better. "The Wildcats believe that Kirill could benefit from this experience for his long-term hockey development," said Flynn. "Unfortunately, as result of his lengthy injury, he’s only been able to play one third of our games this season. I’m confident this world hockey experience will help his continued development."
Back in Russia
And after being kicked by the Wildcats, Kabanov had to face another kick not later than in two weeks, when U18 WJC Team Russia coach Mikhail Vasiliev decided to exclude Kabanov and Ivan Telegin from the team.
"I removed him from the team because we thought Kabanov would help us, but he brought only confusion to the team," Vasiliev told Sovietsky Sport. "Kabanov came and thought 'Here I am, a star from Canada, who will save all.' But it's the team that wins rather than an individual player." He also added that "Kabanov doesn't know how to behave", and that "Kavanov's main problem is discipline. He does whatever he wants and not what coaches ask him".
The once highly touted Russian is now slipping in the pre-draft rankings. He was ranked as #4 by the ISS not later than November, but in the final rankings he was out of the top 30. After the U18 WJC cut Kabanov tried to get back to Moncton, but he didn't manage to make the team. He was then working out in Calgary as preparation for the Draft. In Calgary he tried to get back some consideration through an interview, trying once again to get some leverage through PR. "I made a mistake. I recognize that now. I’m learning from it" - Kabanov told Globe and Mail. At the draft combine Kabanov had good tests, with many teams looking impressed by him, especially the Boston Bruins.
Kabanov sometimes has also made bold statements just to tell the opposite later. "I'm a patriot. I'm always ready to play for my country", stated through allhockey.ru in August 2009. But recently he decided to make a U-turn: "I can you tell one thing: I will stay in North America forever," Kabanov told NHL.com. "CHL, AHL, NHL, I don't want to go back to Russia." He even went as far as saying that he's considering giving up his Russian citizenship, as reported by NHL.com draft and prospect insider Adam Kimelman. He went even beyond, maybe hurting a bit his stock (again) declaring through the Russian press that he wants to play "somewhere warm. Los Angeles and Florida would be a good fit." The Panthers hold the third overall pick, and it's extremely unlikely that they are going to use such a high pick on Kabanov. The Kings will pick 19th, but once again, it should be a bit high, considering his current position in the rankings.
Recently Kimelman confirmed both aspects of Kirill Kabanov's season in a recent interview with NashvillePredators.com. "Something happened in Moncton in the playoffs – or late in the regular season – where he had an issue with the coach or something and he decided he’d leave Moncton to go back to Russia to get ready for the World Under-18 Tournament. Then he got booted off the Russian team for disciplinary reasons. So there are a lot of red flags with this kid off the ice, but on the ice he has Top-10 talent. It’s a question of maturity and commitment with him."
When an agent leaves
If this wasn't enough, on June 6th agent JP Barry left Kabanov. "I wish Kirill all the best", Barry told The Hockey News. "It just wasn’t a fit. We advised him to seek other representation." Before Barry there were three agents with whom Kabanov had parted ways, Don Meehan (and his Russian representative Sergei Isakov), Jay Grossman and Scott Greenspun (Alexei Kovalev's agent).
One of his former agents, Ilya Moliver, shared his thoughts in an interview that was published here at RussianHockeyFans, in which he pointed the finger at Kabanov's father for Kirill's insuccess. "Kirill isn't to be blamed. It's hard to find a common language with his father. He doesn't understand the role of the agent." He also added that "Sergei Kabanov believes that an agent is a player's servant. He doesn't know how to communicate with people. In view of this, he incorrectly educates Kirill. "
It's hard to think that he won't be picked at all, but the #1 overall selection is just a blurred dream from two years ago.
Kabanov might well be one of the next big NHL stars, but first he has to get some discipline and avoid getting on the headers with such a frequency. That being said, during the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, more than one team will be surely interested in gambling on him with a high pick, but there is a good question about where he’ll spend the 2010-11 season. He’s not ready yet for the NHL, doesn’t have a good reputation with Moncton or in the QMJHL in general and ruled out playing in Russia himself.