The 24-year-old, who has spent the whole season to this point with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, needed to be called up to the NHL roster by Tuesday, or else a clause in his contract would kick in that would allow him to opt-out and head to the KHL.
The Leafs indeed called Soshnikov up to the big club.
Speaking on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Tuesday, Soshnikov’s agent, Dan Milstein, said that kind of clause isn’t unusual (“it’s very customary for European players to have European assignment clause in their contracts”) and that he has a good relationship with Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello. Although the team didn’t alert him a call-up was coming, Millstein said he never doubted they would.
“I believe that Nikita has earned the right to be in the NHL, that he is an NHL player,” Milstein said on The Jeff Blair Show. “Look at his stats. He had a great AHL season so far.
“I believe he has earned the right to be called up and be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Soshnikov had played 14 AHL games so far this season and his second on the team with 12 points in 14 games. The left winger played 56 NHL games with the Leafs in 2016-17 and scored five goals and nine points while getting an average of 10:51 of ice time per game. He did not get into a playoff game.
The question now becomes how much will Soshnikov play with the Leafs, who don’t have another game until Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. Already full of young forward prospects, Milstein was asked if there was any concern over the still-developing Soshnikov getting less of an opportunity with the Leafs, versus playing a key role with the Marlies.
The agent said that question would be best answered by Lamoriello and Babcock who will oversee Soshnikov’s usage, but that the player would handle it professionally and continue working towards his goal of becoming a full-time NHLer.
“He’s a true professional. He’s always in the gym, he’s always working out, he’s always practicing, watching video, learning from others to be a better player.” Milstein said. “We basically knew the day was going to come and Nikita’s job was to play well and show everybody he understands nothing is given, it is earned in Toronto. And basically he concentrated on his game.”
When he does get back into the lineup, Soshnikov most likely figures to fit onto one of the bottom two lines as an energy player. He first came to North America in 2015-16 with the goal to make the NHL as a regular, and although he could have returned to Russia had he not been called up Tuesday, Milstein gave no inkling that he would have followed through on that possibility if Soshnikov was still with the Marlies today.
“I have conversations with most of my players on a daily basis so we discuss the different possibilities, but Nikita wants to play in the NHL. He came to North America a few years back fully understanding and knowing it would not be easy, it would be hard,” Milstein said. “He gave up his KHL career and came here to try and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and go through the American Hockey League system.
“He’s a true warrior. If he wanted to go back to Russia he could have, but there’s a reason he’s been working so hard here.”