At this point in the season, Toronto Maple Leafs fans are looking to the future. So when the team announced Friday evening it had signed free agent KHL forward Nikita Soshnikov, it piqued the collective interest of Leafs Nation.
With that in mind, here’s what Maple Leafs fans need to know about Soshnikov.
Weight: 185 pounds
Drafted: Went undrafted in NHL
Contract status: Three-year, entry-level deal.
He has shown tremendous progression throughout KHL career
Since being drafted by Moscow Oblast Atlant in 2010, Soshnikov’s play has steadily improved. He spent three full seasons in the MHL – the KHL’s junior league – where his point totals increased each year. During the 2012-13 campaign he had 38 goals, 72 points, 47 penalty mintues and a plus-44 rating in 59 games for Atlant’s junior affiliate. The next season he made the leap to the pros where he had a meager five points in 33 games as a rookie. However, this past season he registered 14 goals, 18 assists and 22 penalty minutes in 57 games. Interestingly, all 14 of his goals were at even strength and his 32 points ranked third in the KHL among players younger than 23.
He is damn exciting to watch
The speedster is aggressive, has some nifty moves, play-making ability and can bury the puck. The clip below shows what he’s capable of. Keep in mind this entire highlight reel was compiled with footage all from one game last season against SKA St. Petersburg.
He has ties to the Radulov brothers
Soshnikov hails from Nizhny Tagil, the same place in Russia that produced Igor and Alexander Radulov. Soshnikov was teammates with Igor Radulov — that name will be familiar to Chicago Blackhawks fans — for the majority of the past two seasons before Igor was traded to Sochi. NHL fans will remember Alexander from his time with the Nashville Predators before bolting to the KHL mid-contract then returning four years later for nine games then leaving again. Alexander is one of the best non-NHLers in the world and led the KHL in points in 2014-15 with an incredible 71 in 46 games.
He is confident and opportunistic
Soshnikov mulled a contract offer from the Leafs for the last month, but they weren’t the only team to show interest. Soshnikov said he feels since the Leafs are in rebuild mode there’s a solid chance he can make their roster rather than toiling away with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, something he admitted he’s still willing to do.
He needs to keep his head up!
When Soshnikov comes to North America, he’ll need to adjust to a more physical style, so as to avoid plays like this one where he was hammered by defenceman Andrew Kuteikin in a game last season..
He wears No. 90, which is relatively uncommon
It’s unclear at this point what number he’ll wear if he cracks the Maple Leafs lineup, but if he wears a No. 90 jersey like he did in the KHL he’d be the first player in Maple Leafs history to do so, according to Hockey-Reference.