Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov expected to sign in KHL for 2020-21 season

Dmitri Samorukov of the Edmonton Oilers. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — He’s goin’ home — probably.

Raised in the Red Army hockey system back home in Moscow, Edmonton Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov is in the final stages of a one-year contract agreement with CSKA of the Kontinental Hockey League.

The story was first reported in the early hours Friday by Sport-Express reporter Mikhail Zislis on Twitter. Agent Pat Morris confirmed that the two sides are hammering out an agreement at this time.

“He wants to play,” said Morris. “He doesn’t want to lay dormant for 8-10 months in this current situation. And he, unlike some other players, has this option. We’re exploring it long and hard.”

Samorukov is a promising defenceman drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft by Edmonton, and turns 21 on Tuesday. He quarterbacked the Russian power play at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver and Victoria, producing a goal and three assists at his second world juniors, and after a rocky first season of pro at AHL Bakersfield he would have taken on a bigger role there in 2020-21.

Included in this discussion, of course, is Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland.

“The most important thing is that he is a developing 20/21-year-old player,” Holland said. “If North American hockey doesn’t start again until December, we’re not sure, he has a unique opportunity here. The KHL is an excellent league and it’s right in his backyard.”

How big a blow is this for the Oilers?

Though it is not Holland’s preferred path, the Oilers general manager does have a history of allowing young European players to spend their first couple of years as a professional at home, as exhibited by the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit, and more recently Oilers first round pick Philip Broberg.

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The fact that Samorukov has agreed to only a one-year deal leaves the door open for him to return at age 22. He leaves with two years still owing Edmonton on his entry level contract, which must be resumed upon his return. In these uncertain times, this move should not yet be seen negatively in terms of Samorukov’s long-term future with the Oilers.

“There is an unknown here — when the North American season is going to start,” Holland said. “If he does play in the KHL in the 2020-21 season, he’ll come back here to play in either Bakersfield or Edmonton the following year.”

Samorukov lies below Evan Bouchard and Broberg on the Oilers depth chart of young defencemen, with Broberg expected to spend his second season playing for Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League in 2020-21. Samorukov and Bouchard, foes at the world juniors but teammates at training camps and then AHL Bakersfield in Edmonton’s organization, became good friends.

After scoring 10 goals and 45 points in 59 games for Guelph in his final OHL season, Samorukov found the transition to the AHL difficult, producing just two goals and 10 points in 47 games this past season. That’s par for the course for young D-men, and from a team that recently produced Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, Holland was hoping that Samorukov would grow in a second AHL season, with no pressure to make the NHL team yet.

But often the money calls for younger Russian players.

He was due to make a base salary of $70,000 US in the AHL next season, with possible bonuses that could touch $100,000 US. His NHL salary would be $800,000, but it is highly unlikely he would spend much time in Edmonton.

Even though Samorukov would not be a star player in the KHL, it is estimated he would still earn $250,000-$300,000 US, with a lesser tax rate than he would pay in North America.

The son of former professional soccer goalie Andrei and Svetlana, a diver, Samorukov grew up in the Red Army system where his brother also played soccer. He left Russia in his draft year to play for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, though he did speak of missing Mother Russia even then, in an interview posted on The Hockey Writers in January of 2018.

“What do you miss more than anything living in Canada?” he was asked.

“My family, my parents, my grandparents, my brother,” he replied. “I would like to spend a night dining with my family, but they understand. I’m always busy, but I choose this path myself.”

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