The 2019-20 NHL season remains on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop the Toronto Maple Leafs from bolstering their roster. Alexander Barabanov and the Leafs agreed to terms on a one-year, entry-level deal bringing the Russian forward to the team in 2020-21.
In Barabanov the Leafs are getting a 2018 Olympic gold medalist, a two-time Kontinental Hockey League Gagarin Cup champion and two-time World Championships Bronze medalist. Over 43 games with SKA St. Petersburg this season, Barabanov scored 20 points on 11 goals and nine assists (he added three points on a goal and two assists over four playoff games).
"He's a very strong winger. Tremendous playmaking ability, skill level in tight," Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said on a March 31 conference call with reporters. "But one of the other things that we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him, and (he) uses his strength to be able to do that."
Barabanov will join fellow Russian Ilya Mikheyev in Toronto. Mikheyev impressed in his first season with the Leafs, amassing 23 points over 39 games. Toronto is hoping Barabanov, who at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds is undersized for his position, can make a similar impact.
But before Barabanov arrives, the Maple Leafs are hoping to finish the 2019-20 NHL season and playoffs. If the season ended with the current standings, the Leafs would be in the postseason for a fourth straight season.
The KHL, which Barabanov played in his entire professional career, canceled its season mid-playoffs in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. That's a fate the NHL is looking to avoid, but while teams wait, they can look toward the future with moves like Toronto's acquisition of Barabanov.