By Dyan LeBourdais
Ever since being selected by the Islanders in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Kirill Kabanov has been one player that the New York media have flocked towards. That’s largely due to his expressive personality, but also because of a handful of difficult circumstances that the 18-year-old seemed to find himself in while adjusting to life as a professional hockey player.
He’s been unequivocally passionate and loud when speaking with the media, placing his heart in his convictions ever since his very first mini-camp. On one end of the spectrum he was thought of as a rambunctious teenager, but on the other hand, he had all the makings of a vocal leader, not to mention a top six NHL forward.
According to Jean-Francois Houle, Kabanov’s coach with the Lewiston MAINEiacs, the Moscow, Russia native made major strides both on the ice and in the locker room this past season.
“Everyone knows that Kirill can be charismatic, but the guys respected him and accepted him for who he is,” Houle said. “He was outspoken in the locker room. He tried to be a little bit of a leader and when he was playing well, he tried to step up. I was really pleased to see that the guys accepted him into the locker room and it showed in his game. That’s probably one of the reasons he played so well, because he felt comfortable.”
Finding his footing wasn’t easy, as Kabanov began the 2010-11 season with the Moncton Wildcats before he was traded to the MAINEiacs after just two regular season games. At first, his ice time was limited and his use on the power play rare, but as the third rounder developed more confidence and chemistry with his teammates, Houle began expanding Kabanov’s role.
“When he came here, he was working hard, but nothing was really happening,” Houle said. “I think because he had a late start and didn’t get many games under his belt at the beginning of the year it kind of hurt him. Towards the end, once he started playing a lot and got to know his teammates, he turned it on and was a different player.”
Kabanov’s regular season stats compared to his teammates fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. But Kabanov really didn’t begin to flourish until after the New Year. The left winger put up eight of his 11 goals and 13 of his 17 assists after January 1.
“He is very good offensively and he’s a playmaker,” Houle said. “He sees the ice well and any time he gets the puck, something happens. He’s very dangerous out there. It’s tough for a team to cover him because he’s kind of sneaky. He’s quick, he gets around you and then he has the good hands to go with that. For an opponent, that’s really tough.”
As Lewiston raced into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, Kabanov stayed hot. The MAINEiacs defeated Kabanov’s former team (the Moncton Wildcats) and the Montreal Juniors before pushing on to the playoff semifinals, where they fell to the eventual 2011 President Cup Champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs.
But that eventual defeat wouldn’t taint Kabanov’s breakout season. He shattered career records in every regular season and playoff category. His postseason numbers placed him second on the team in goals (8) and third on the team in assists (12), while he was tied for first on the team in points (20) and +/- rating with a +7.
Houle was just one of many who took notice.
“Towards the end of the year and the playoffs, he was outstanding,” Houle said. “His hands were on par with his quickness and his vision was unbelievable. I thought he was honestly the best player on our team and probably one of the best players in the league during playoffs. He was making plays and getting a lot of ice time. I really think he’s improving a lot.”
From rambunctious teenager to on-ice leader, Kabanov made giant strides this past season.
Kabanov In The Community
Not only did his game improve, but he was named one of three finalists for the QMJHL’s Humanitarian Player of the Year due to his contributions to the Lewiston/Auburn community.
“He was outstanding for us in the community,” Houle said. “He was going to schools and reading books to kids. He would serve food to people in the community that needed help and he skated with kids. It was unbelievable the amount of fan mail that he would get thanking him. He’s a very charismatic person and he relates well with kids. It was nice that Kirill had a positive influence on our community. I think that’s very important for us.”