When he's not pursuing his goal of becoming the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, 17-year-old Kirill Kabanov helps out with renovations on the home of his host family in Moncton, New Brunswick.
"They treat me like a son," Kabanov said of his billets. "I want to help out any way I can. This is my home."
It will likely be for just one year. The super-skilled left wing is a certain top-10 pick in the draft next June. His decision to move from his native Russia to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season has elevated his already-lofty status in the NHL scouting community.
"If Kabanov stayed in Russia, even with all that uncertainty about contracts and the KHL, I still think he would have gone somewhere in the first 12 picks," said a scouting director for a Western Conference team. "Now that he's demonstrated the commitment to play in North America, he could go in the top five -- maybe the top three."
In a phone conversation with FanHouse, the amiable teenager did not try to play it cool when stating his intentions.
"It's important for me to be No. 1," said Kabanov. "I'm trying to be No. 1. Am I going to cry if I don't get picked first? Of course not. But this is one of the reasons I came to Canada."
Okay, but why is it so important to be the first overall pick?
"It means you were the best of all the great young players in the world," said Kabanov. "I always want to be the best. My goal is to help Moncton win a championship and to be No. 1 in the draft. For me, that would be a great year."
Realistically, the skinny, 6-3 left wing may have to settle for being second, third or a bit higher in the draft. Taylor Hall, a center with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, has been projected as a franchise player and the cream of the 2010 draft. Teams looking for a No. 1 defenseman with one of the top five picks will lust after Hall's teammate Cam Fowler.
Kabanov's playmaking ability and heavy shot are enough to have him near the top of most early-season draft lists. To have a chance of reaching his goal of being No. 1, Kabanov will have to show scouts all year in Moncton that he's more than just a gifted finisher, but a leader, a clutch performer, a true franchise player.
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|The 6-1, 200-pound left wing from Russia is moving up draft charts after an impressive start to his KHL season. "He is a bull," said one European scouting director for an NHL team. "He's a player a lot of teams are starting to watch more closely."|
"He made the right move to play this season in Canada. As a 16-year-old, he didn't match the year (Alexander) Ovechkin or (Nikita) Filatov had when they were his age. Now that he's in North America, he's learning it's a much different game than what he'd see back home. In Russia, Kabanov could make a pass and no one would touch him. Here, like we all saw Thursday, he made a pass and someone drove a shoulder into his chest. He has to prove he can battle. "
Early on, he has answered the bell. He has three goals and nine assists in his first eight games with the Wildcats. Entering a potentially difficult environment as a European teenager joining a team of Canadians (and one Slovak) a few weeks into the season, Kabanov has won everyone over with his work ethic and charm.
"Kirill is determined to be a star, but he's very down to earth," said Moncton general manager Bill Schurman. "He's always laughing and he's full of mischief. It didn't take long for him to start creating the pranks, instead of being on the other end of them. He's just a very likeable young man."
On game night, Kabanov -- who had a goal and an assist in his team's 5-3 win on Saturday in Rouyn-Noranda -- has made an immediate impact on a team that was predicted to contend in the QMJHL even before he arrived. "He's not just a good player, but a very exciting player to watch," said Schurman. "At our home games, there's been an electricity in our arena we haven't seen since Sidney Crosby used to come in with Rimouski."
Like most NHL scouts, the Wildcats GM is quick to point out that Kabanov is not in the Crosby-Ovechkin category. So is Kabanov himself. "No, no, no ... I'm not talking about that," he laughed. "One thing at a time. I'm in the Quebec League because it is my best chance to get to the NHL soon. No comparisons, please."
So Kabanov plays in the "Q" under Wildcats coach Danny Flynn, a former Islanders assistant who is highly regarded for teaching ability. On off nights, he watches the NHL Center Ice package -- keeping a close eyes on his longtime friend Filatov and the Columbus Blue Jackets. And whenever he has the time, he takes a break from building an NHL career by helping out at his home away from home.
"I like them and they like me," Kabanov said of his billets. "I feel like I'm where I belong, on the ice and in this house. Hockey is a like a religion in Canada. It's all good. It's all very exciting."