by PuckStopsHere on 11/04/08 at 04:10 AM ET
Last Friday I wrote about the leaky pipeline of Russian talent coming to North America that lost Pavel Valentenko. There have only been two Russian rookies to play in the NHL so far this season (Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets) and the NHL is on the verge of losing its second Russian prospect to the KHL. Alexander Nikulin, an Ottawa Senator prospect, has demanded that Ottawa trade him (with a deadline of tonight) or he will return to Russia.
UPDATE: It turns out that Nikulin is not leaving North America yet. He has been traded to Phoenix for Drew Fata.
Nikulin has been playing in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators. He has two points in five games so far this year. Last year, his first in North America, he spent all of it in the AHL except for two NHL games. He was Binghamton’s third highest scorer last year
Nikulin likely joins the ever increasing list of players who made a trip to North America, but returned to Russia before his NHL career ever began. It’s nearly impossible to trade a player who is so likely to go back to Russia and leave you with nothing in return.
Many Russian players remain in Russia because of better opportunities in the KHL. They will make far more money to stay in Russia than if they are sent to the minors on a two-way contract. The lack of a transfer agreement and other pressures (political and otherwise) make it hard for them to leave. Of the few who leave, many return to Russia when they are not instant NHL stars. This leaves a tiny trickle of Russian talent in the NHL. The number of Russians in the NHL has been in decline for several years now. This is not good for a league that claims to have all the best players in the world. One group of very good players is clearly excluded and this reduces the overall talent level.
I doubt that Pavel Valentenko and Alexander Nikulin are all the departures to Russia this season. Likely more will follow.
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