Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Curious Case of Kirill Kabanov

Most of the talk following the successful Blue versus Orange scrimmage last week has centered around young prospect Kirill Kabanov. We had a few minutes alone with Kabanov after the scrimmage and asked him about his life leading up to his selection. He shed some light on what it's like to grow up playing hockey in post-Soviet Russia, as well as his desire to make the NHL. While he can at most times be charming and engaging, there still seems to be an impish side to him lying just beneath the surface.

The impression that most people took away from his performance last Saturday night - and it was a performance - is that Kabanov is a uniquely talented showman. He loved being the center of attention, it seemed, and wanted to give the people what they paid to see. He tried shootout moves that dazzled, even if ultimately failing to put the puck in the net. But Kirill must know by now that hope is a plentiful commodity these days on the Nassau ice, and Kabanov did his best to add his brand of fuel to the speculative fire.

Afterward, Kabanov told us that practices in Russia can be a toil. Up at 6 AM, 4 hours on the ice a day before a full day of school, sometimes even waiting at the rink to practice. And that's before you factor in Moscow's traffic, which he said might mean another 3 or 4 hours per day in a car.

But since he has been a child his coaches have reared him on the dream of becoming an NHL player. Pressed for examples of his favorite players, he named two in Valeri Kharlamov and Ilya Kovalchuk; one a fine product of the old Soviet system and the latter a modern-day great. His commitment to his rigorous schedule and belief in reaching his goal seems genuine, contrary to the pre-draft cautionary tales that were as much associated with his name as his talent.

However, when confronted directly on that unsavory topic, Kabanov tried to deflect by half-heartedly saying things like "Sure, I'll do my best" and insisting that he really is, after all, a "good boy."

At this point in his development he has said all the right things about the Islanders, the fans, and New York. He went so far as to pledge that by this time next year he'll have a map of Long Island tattooed over his heart. One wonders, though, if this is genuine affection or just flattery.

You hope that for the sake of the young man and his team that it is all legitimate, because it would be a real shame if he wound up the NHL's version of 'Nook LaLoosh'. There is no question from the brief sample we saw that the talent on the ice is real. Does Kabanov have the complete package, including the maturity, to become a star? Time will tell.

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