Leafs Prospect Maksim Zhukov Signs in Czech Republic

Newfoundland Growlers photo/Jeff Parsons

Image: Newfoundland Growlers/Jeff Parsons

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending prospect Maksim Zhukov has signed with HC Dukla Jihlava of Chance Liga… but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Who is Maksim Zhukov?

Technically, Zhukov isn’t a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect directly. The Toronto Marlies signed him last summer after the Vegas Golden Knights, who drafted him in the 4th round in 2017, lost his rights.

Zhukov is young, but his numbers have dipped every year since his draft year. As expected, he didn’t turn them around in his first professional season. The Russian had the 3rd worst save percentage among goalies who played 10 or more games in the ECHL, with the two below him being similar prospects.

It’s not like Zhukov had it easy. Although the organization likely expected Zhukov to have a backup role in Newfoundland, an injury to projected Growlers starter Ian Scott resulted in Zhukov taking a larger role. At 20 years old, that’s not ideal. It took a while for the Growlers to find a better-suited starter, after which they found Parker Gahagen and Angus Redmond.

Still, a .871 SV% in 26 games isn’t ideal, even if he still had a winning record of 14-10-1. However, he’s very young, goalies are voodoo, and it’s clear that the Leafs believe in this prospect.

Special Circumstances

The circumstances around this move are very interesting (in the nerdiest way possible).

Last week, Samuel Tirpak reported that one of the Leafs’ goaltending prospects is set to play with HC Dukla Jihlava of Chance Liga (2nd Tier Czech Hockey), speculating that it was Ian Scott. He reported that Leafs management had been in direct contact with the team, likely to organize a partnership or loan for one of their prospects.

Today, the team announced that the goaltending prospect in question was Maksim Zhukov.

The team stressed that Toronto Maple Leafs management initiated the move, and their direct contact was a huge part in getting the partnership done quickly and smoothly. 

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending coach Steve Briere made the first contact.

One thing I thought was very interesting was the revelation that it wasn’t General Manager Kyle Dubas who remained in contact, nor Marlies General Manager and Leafs Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman. It wasn’t any of the Directors of Player Personnel or anyone who’s in charge of Player Development.

It was Brandon Pridham. Pridham’s role has usually been thought to be mostly cap-related, he was hired mostly for that role due to his extensive knowledge of the salary cap.

Instead, it looks like since being promoted to Assistant General Manager, Pridham has taken some other responsibilities.

HC Dukla Jihlava outlined some key parts of the move, though.

This move isn’t necessarily a loan, it’s not something where the Leafs can pull Zhukov to join the Growlers/Marlies whenever they want. The release from the Czech team makes it clear that HC Dukla Jihlava has the final say on any move involving Zhukov while he’s under contract with the team.

Another thing they made clear is that Zhukov isn’t guaranteed a place in the lineup. In fact, they made it very clear, considering that it’s in the headline of their release. 

Zhukov will have to fight for his role, although, if he can’t win a spot on the team, it may not be a great sign for things to come anyways.

Also, the Toronto Maple Leafs will cover all costs for Zhukov’s signing and the move in general.

HC Dukla Jihlava also has a history of developing successful goalies, including prospects Jakub Skarek and Josef Korenar, as well as the Flames’ David Rittich.

What’s Next?

This is a great move for all parties. Zhukov will get development time in a league that will be on a more suitable level, while still having tough competition. He’ll also get playing time earlier than he would in the ECHL.

The Leafs remain in close contact with one of their prospects and can monitor his progress while the AHL/ECHL season gears up to start.

HC Dukla Jihlava establishes a close connection with the Leafs organization and is compensated accordingly.

Hopefully, Zhukov can find his mojo as he plays out of the Czech city of Jihlava.

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