Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov, who reportedly was picked up by law enforcement in Russia last week ahead of a planned move to the U.S., is now at a remote military base in northern Russia, his agent said Tuesday.
The agent, J.P. Barry, spoke with The Associated Press amid speculation about Fedotov's well-being. The situation raised fresh concerns over whether Russian players will be willing or able to join National Hockey League teams that draft them this week as the war in Ukraine continues.
The 25-year-old Fedotov is considered one of the top goaltenders in the world outside the NHL, and the Flyers expected him to compete for a spot on their roster next season. He won the silver medal as the Russians' starting goalie at the Beijing Olympics in February and led CSKA Moscow to the Gagarin Cup as KHL champion.
He was a seventh-round pick of the Flyers in 2015 but has since played in Russia, with CSKA retaining his rights. The NHL and KHL do not have a transfer agreement for players and Fedotov was eligible to sign with Philadelphia in May only because he did not have an existing contract in Russia for next season.
CSKA, whose name translates to "Central Sports Club of the Army," was founded as the Soviet army's hockey team in 1946 and still has traditional ties to the military.
The first sign something had gone wrong for Fedotov came Friday. Russian media said he was picked up by law enforcement outside a hockey rink in his home city of St. Petersburg, where he'd been filming a documentary with a TV crew, and taken to a military enlistment centre. Local news site Fontanka reported he was suspected of evading compulsory military service required of Russian men.
Alexei Ponomaryov, a lawyer representing Fedotov, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday that Fedotov had been taken to a military hospital with apparent stress-induced gastritis. Ponomaryov said he and Fedotov's relatives had not been allowed to visit.
The Russian Defence Ministry hasn't commented on Fedotov's location. Russian newspaper Sport Express published Monday what it said were photographs showing Fedotov at a military base in Severodvinsk, a naval city with shipyards on Russia's north coast, though there have been conflicting reports about exactly where he is.
"We have a draft in line with the law, so any emotional commentaries would be utterly inappropriate," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday when asked about Fedotov's case. "There are certain reasons for deferments and various ways of undergoing military service for athletes."
Russia was aiming to conscript more than 130,000 men for a year of military service this spring. The law allows for 21-month alternative civil service in facilities like hospitals for those who object to military service, but requests can often be ignored. In theory, Russian men can be conscripted between the ages of 18 and 27, though some never serve at all.
Russians often seek to avoid or delay being drafted with medical or educational exemptions, and athletes are no different. Some arrange to be signed up with universities on years-long programs of distance learning while they continue their sports careers.
The military also has special units for elite-level athletes who can keep competing while they serve. The defence ministry boasted of numerous athletes with military ranks competing at recent Olympics in sports ranging from judo to skiing.
The NHL and Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher have said the team is aware and investigating. As recently as last week, Fletcher said he expected Fedotov to compete for a spot on the roster next season.