Maple Leafs Sign Korshkov: Solution or Unknown?

As Kyle Dubas has noted, signing Mitch Marner is his No. 1 priority. However, it obviously isn’t the only thing he’s been thinking about. In one of the priorities further down the list, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they had signed Yegor Korshkov from the KHL.

Korshkov, a right-winger, was the team’s second-round draft pick in 2016. On May 1, he signed a two-year, entry-level contract at $925,000 per year that starts next season. Korshkov also signed a pro tryout with the Marlies for the remainder of their playoff run.

This isn’t the first time the Maple Leafs have dipped into the KHL well, and fans have watched two former KHL free agent signings Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov play with the team this season. In fact, since Brendan Shanahan came to the Maple Leafs in 2014, the team has chosen five Russian prospects from the KHL in the NHL Entry Draft and have also signed six Russian free agents.

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They’ve been one of the busiest NHL teams scouting in Russia. By and large, those efforts have paid off. Certainly, former Maple Leaf Leo Komarov’s penalty killing was missed this season and he continues to play an important role for the New York Islanders in the playoffs.

Who Is Yegor Korshkov?

Yegor Korshkov played with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season, but many Maple Leaf fans know him as the player the Maple Leafs selected in the 2016 Draft ahead of Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat, who just finished his second season, had an amazingly good 2018-19 campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 41 goals and 35 assists (76 points) to go with a strong rookie 2017-18 season with 28 goals and 24 assists (52 points).

In truth, Korshkov was chosen as the 31st pick in the draft and DeBrincat was chosen 39th, so more teams than the Maple Leafs missed the tough, but diminutive sniper. Furthermore, Korshkov can’t be blamed for not being DeBrincat.

The fact is Maple Leaf management must have seen something in their scouting early that makes them trust Korshkov’s abilities. Although he helped Russia win silver at the 2016 World Junior Championship and finished the tournament 10th in scoring with eight points, he hasn’t had much to show this season or recently in the KHL.

Yegor Korshkov
Yegor Korshkov. (Photo: RIHF)

Korshkov has not been fortunate. He suffered a broken leg and a shoulder injury during his past three seasons and only played 19 games this season. So, in truth, we don’t know much about him from his numbers.

That said, Korshkov is an interesting prospect if only because he’s young, has shown skill, has under-developed size, and comes cheap. At 22 years old, he might have a good chance soon to show what he can do. Along with his entry-level Maple Leafs contract, his professional tryout with the Toronto Marlies would allow him to play during their second round of the AHL playoffs against Cleveland. [Note that the Marlies beat the Monsters 5-2 on Wednesday night, and were led by Trevor Moore with a goal and an assist.]

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If Korshkov should show well with the Marlies, he wouldn’t be the first player to make an impact. Last season, both Carl Grundstrom and Pierre Engvall were added to the Marlies’ lineup late in the season and contributed to the team’s Calder Cup championship.

A Chance to End the Season Well

Given his injuries and his frustration about not playing, it must have been a tough season for the young Russian. It would be fun to see him play with the Marlies during this season’s playoffs. There’s little doubt Korshkov’s experience gives him an opportunity to make a quick impact. He’s among the oldest Maple Leaf prospects and has played 172 games against professionals in Russia. That Andreas Johnsson had a solid 2018-19 season with the Maple Leafs as a 24-year-old rookie offers hope that Korshkov might also have an edge over other skilled, but younger prospects.

I’m sure the Maple Leafs will be anxious to see him in action. If he actually plays for the Marlies, that would be great. However, the fact that he will be able to practice with the team now is a bonus, because – even if he doesn’t play – he’ll be able to learn more about how the Maple Leafs and Marlies expect their players to play.

It’s an important chance for Korshkov. If, at his “advanced” age, he doesn’t show skill and readiness for the NHL, he might quickly be gone. However, if he shows well, he’s just the kind of player the Maple Leafs need to rely on as they build a competitive team in the face of the well-discussed salary cap limit that looms for them next season.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Marner Negotiations: Welcome to Uglyville

As I have noted before, I believe the Maple Leafs fourth line must average under $1 million per man if and when the team signs Marner to a market-value contract. That makes contracts like Korshkov’s crucial.

Korshkov’s Potential

I’m hoping Marlies’ coach Sheldon Keefe, who has a history of quickly incorporating new players into his lineup, lets fans see what Korshkov can do. The bad-lucked, young Russian is obviously skilled and, at 6-foot-4, has some size. If he can become part of a young cadre of successful Maple Leaf prospects, he might have a chance to earn a place on the team next season. Stranger things have happened.

And, by the way, if DeBrincat can score over 40 goals at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, perhaps Korshkov’s 185-pound frame might one day have a chance to do the same.