“Will the player be able to play in June?”
That’s one of the questions general manager Kyle Dubas and the rest of Toronto Maple Leafs management ask themselves when evaluating players, meant to identify and gauge a player’s ability to help his team become the last club standing in the Stanley Cup final.
In the case of newly-signed Russian free agent Alexander Barabanov, Dubas believes the answer is yes.
“In Alex’s case, he’s been a part of an excellent team, he’s contributed not just with his production but just in the way that he plays on a very good team deep into seasons every year — in the KHL and at the world championship and at the Olympics,” Dubas explained during an interview on Tim & Sid on Tuesday. “It shows that he can be versatile in what he contributes.”
With the fate of the 2019-20 season very much in question due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubas & Co. gave Leafs fans some early optimism for next season with the signing of Barabanov to a one-year, entry-level deal worth $925,000 for the 2020-21 campaign. The 25-year-old winger brings with him a winning reputation and a resume that includes two Gagarin Cups over parts of seven seasons in the KHL, Olympic gold in 2018, and a pair of world championship bronze medals with Russia’s national team.
Dubas hopes he can also bring the kind of affordable depth the Maple Leafs have found in other low-risk signings like fellow Russian forward Ilya Mikheyev and veterans like Jason Spezza this year.
“He can obviously produce and put up points, but he’s also a competitive player that’s reliable and strong and willing to dig deep as the season wears on,” Dubas said of Barabanov. “You always have a need for guys like that. So that was sort of where we went in our evaluation of him.”