Hockey everywhere has been put on hiatus due to the coronavirus. So here is a look at some non-NHL free agents that the Maple Leafs have shown interest in.
Teams often look for free agents from the NCAA or European leagues to fill a need. The Maple Leafs are no different. Over the years the Maple Leafs have used this method to sign players such as Ilya Mikheyev, Calle Rosen and Kasimir Kaskisuo among others.
Konstantin Okulov C/RW
Right now the Montreal Canadiens are the frontrunners to sign Okulov, but the Maple Leafs are still showing interest. I would expect that interest to remain until Okulov is signed. The 25-year-old has recorded 62 goals and 61 assists for 123 points in 248 games playing in the KHL.
Okulov spent his first four seasons in the KHL playing for Sibir Novosibirsk. His KHL career got off to a slow start as he split time between the KHL and MHL during his first three seasons. In 2016/17 Okulov played his first full season with Sibir Novosibirsk playing in 59 games that season. He only recorded 35 points in 109 games for Sibir Novosibirsk.
In the 2017/18 season, Okulov began playing for CSKA Moskva. In three seasons there Okulov found much more success. He recorded 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points in 139 games. Many scouts are saying that Okulov could turn out to be this year’s version of Ilya Mikheyev. If Okulov is able to have the same NHL start that Mikheyev had, then the Maple Leafs (if they can sign him) would be very happy.
For a goaltender who is only 5’10, Bilyalov has been putting up very impressive stats. In 32 games this season with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, he has a 1.45 Goals Against Average (GAA) and a .943 Save Percentage (SV%). In four playoff games, this season Bilyalov has a 0.71 GAA and .975 SV%. There is no wonder why so many NHL teams are showing interest in this guy. With stats like that, it is no surprise that Bilyalov had the longest shutout streak in KHL history. He went just over 316 minutes (316.09) without giving up a goal. That is just over five games of shutout hockey.
Now until Bilyalov plays in the NHL, there is no telling if he will be able to post similar numbers. Many goaltenders have played well in other leagues only to end up failing in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs have at least one more season with Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell as their goaltending duo. With Kaskisuo most likely leaving as an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) this summer, that leaves just youngsters Joseph Woll and Ian Scott on the depth chart. If the 24-year-old Bilyalov can play at or close to the same level that he has in the KHL, then he would be a much-welcomed addition. He could be a nice stop-gap for the Maple Leafs until Woll or Scott is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Final Thoughts on These Free Agents
Signing free agents from the KHL or any other European league can be tricky. Success overseas does not always translate into success in the NHL. It is a gamble and sometimes you win big and other times you’re left shaking your head. The Maple Leafs won big with the signing of Ilya Mikheyev and it would be nice to see them win big again. If I had to choose between either of these two players, I would rather the Maple Leafs take a shot on Bilyalov. The Maple Leafs have plenty of depth at their forward positions, goaltending is where they need added depth.
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