Even as somebody who often spends their mornings catching up to the ongoings of the KHL, I was a little shocked when the Toronto Maple Leafs announced Yegor Korshkov as their 31st overall selection. Shocked might even be a generous word; I was straight up disappointed. After all, a lot of “scores all the points” darlings like Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat (who just signed his ELC yesterday) players were still on the podium, and here the Leafs were using the highest second round pick possible on an overager that had twelve points in what would usually be his Draft+1.
But I warmed up to the selection a little bit as time progressed, and as I’ve done that, Korshkov has heated up.
In fairness, Korshkov’s season didn’t exactly start off red-hot. In fact, he was held off the scoresheet entirely for his first five games, before rallying back with an extremely impressive three-assist effort against Spartak Moscow on September 26th. That was the start of a bit of a tear for the youngster, in which he had two goals and seven assists in eight games leading up to October 10th. Once again, Korshkov has found a degree of chemistry with regular linemates Pavel Kraskovsky (Winnipeg) and Alexander Polunin (undrafted) on Lokomotiv’s kid line; and now that they’ve earned a degree of trust from their coaches, they’ve been allowed to play more significant offensive minutes.
Put into context
As it stands, Korshkov is having one of the most offensively impressive Age-20 seasons of any KHLer to date. Since the league’s opening year in 2008/09, only eight skaters have had a higher points-per-game at the same age. Many of these eight have become bonafide NHLers (Vladimir Tarasenko at 1, Evegeny Kuznetsov at 2, Artemi Panarin at 7, and Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich at 5), some are still waiting for their shot (Islanders prospect Anatoly Golyshev at 3, Kings prospect and potential Leafs interest Nikolai Prokhorkin at 4), while a couple are lesser knowns (Ziyat Paigin at 6, Emil Galimov at 8).
Here’s how that group of nine stacks up, and, for reference, where the others were at come the 25 game mark of their seasons.
In something that runs relatively consistent with pretty much every league ever, there isn’t a significant uptick in the back half of the season, save for Paigin’s late-season run last year. If anything, a few players see slight dips in the back-end of the year, likely due to general wear and tear and teams being more prone to match against them.
You would think that young kids that come out of nowhere to start producing would get an uptick in minutes as the year progresses, but the fact of the matter is that it takes an impressive talent to even make it into the league at that age. Younger players are usually placed on the roster simply to fill requirements and aren’t trusted, which means that to get regular minutes from the start, you either have to be very good or on a smaller-market team.
Korshkov is a bit in the middle, in that regard. He’s got a veteran’s body, towering in at over 6’3 and 185 pounds. He plays for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who have made valiant efforts to rebuild in the years following the tragic plane crash that killed their entire team back in 2011, but still aren’t in the same tier as say, SKA St. Petersburg or CSKA Moscow, who remain the league’s powerhouses. This means that they have to get creative with their acquisitions, and that includes having a second line of 19 to 20-year-olds. Funnily enough, Lokomotiv’s two highest-profile veteran forwards are ex-Leafs Brandon Kozun and Petri Kontiola, with Kozun making waves in the KHL scoring race.
While Korshkov isn’t exactly putting up the same numbers as some of the high-flying scorers on the list, the fact that he’s in the conversation is encouraging; especially given that his responsibility goes beyond putting the puck in the net. Outside of the points that he’s put up, he’s drawn penalties in more games (8) than he’s taken them (6), he’s delivered a little more than a hit per game, has only gone through three games without taking a shot on goal, and has generally made himself a noteworthy contributor for his club as they attempt to hold onto home ice advantage come playoff time.
He’s even getting some attention from the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. He, along with Kraskovsky, was recently named to the Karjala Cup roster. While the individual tournament doesn’t really have much North American clout, it is part of the “European Hockey Tour” that you find associated with many Russian, Finnish, Swedish, and Czech players, and in many cases like Korshkov’s, is the initial stepping stone for players looking to represent their country at the adult level. A good showing in a few of these mini-tournaments could give him a chance at playing in the World Championships, which would be a stellar come up.
For now, we still don’t know where Korshkov’s future lies. He’s still very raw and in an early stage in the development spectrum, and with the depth that the Leafs have up front, they’re in no rush to answer the question. But as it stands, the fact that he is contributing at an above-the-curve level for his age and a solid level for any KHLer so soon after the questions of draft day is definitely encouraging.