Aug 192011

On Wednesday, Sports Daily in Russia reported SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in Russia had signed Blackhawks prospect Igor Makarov to a new three-year contract.

This move comes with one year remaining on Makarov’s existing two-year NHL agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Makarov, who will turn 24 next month, was a Blackhawks 2nd round pick (#33 overall) in the 2006 draft out of Russia’s tier-2 professional league.  While he attended some summer prospect and fall training camps in Chicago, Makarov did not make his official North American hockey debut until last season.

In 68 games with Rockford in 2010-11, Makarov posted 11 goals and 13 assists.

SKA is currently in Switzerland competing in a preseason tournament.  Makarov is now in St. Petersburg and will join his teammates after they return for a practice this coming Monday.  An official announcement of Makarov’s signing will probably come from SKA then.

Makarov spent three and a half seasons with SKA (2006-09) previously.  In December of 2009, he was dealt to Dynamo Moscow in exchange for former NHL forward Oleg Saprykin.  After the ’09-10 KHL season ended, Makarov signed his first NHL contract with the Hawks.

In 192 KHL and Russian Super League games over four seasons, Makarov had 25 goals and 51 points skating in Russia’s top league.  He also accumulated 195 penalty minutes.

Makarov’s decision to return to St. Petersburg came about this week.  His IceHogs’ teammate, language interpreter and roommate during the ’10-11 campaign, Ivan Vishnevskiy signed with the KHL’s Atlant Mytischi back in June.

In an interview with Sports Daily published Wednesday, Makarov claimed he was all set to leave for Chicago in preparation for training camp when SKA contacted him.

Makarov received the offer late last week and the deal was made late Monday and finalized Tuesday after details with Chicago were worked out.  He also indicated SKA wasn’t the first KHL team to contact him this summer.  He turned the other unnamed organization down.

Chicago will retain Makarov’s NHL rights.  It’s not known at this point if the second year of Makarov’s contract with Chicago will remain or if the two sides have worked out a release.  If not, Makarov’s contract would remain and count against the team’s 50-contract limit.

While Makarov told Sport Daily he felt he had a chance to compete for an NHL roster spot this season, he isn’t second-guessing his choice.

“I had one day to think about it,” Makarov said.  “But by and large there was no doubt.”

He also told the interviewer that the Blackhawks were opposed to his decision.

“At first they did not want to let me go,” Makarov explained.  “Fortunately, in the end, the Blackhawks went forward and we were able to straighten everything out.

“They released me on condition that I stay in their system.”

In other words, the Blackhawks retain Makarov’s rights and should he return to North America he would still be bound to the Hawks, or they’d have right of refusal on his services.

Makarov struggled to adapt to the North American style early on in Rockford.  In my personal view, I was very hard on him at first because while he wasn’t afraid to initiate contact, he was indecisive in every way. When he was on the receiving end of a collision, Makarov had a tendency to go down like he’d just been injected with euthanasia.  But around the midway point of the season his game begun to turn a corner.  My March he as a fixture on a line that drove the IceHogs for a stretch with Evan Brophey and Kyle Hagel.  He was patient, confident and strong on the puck in points he’d rush or be easily pickpocketed earlier in the year.  His shot was average, and while his 11 tallies my not indicate this, he did have a knack for scoring big goals.

While not a bluechipper, Makarov was an interesting project.  At 23, he’s still at an age his skills can mature.  He’s a good penalty killer, has a decent shot (which he doesn’t utilize nearly enough) and is physical to a degree.  While in and out of Bill Peters’ doghouse, Makarov maintained an upbeat attitude, and performances at the end of his run regained some optimism he’d take another step this coming season.  When asked before his season succumbed to injury in late March, Makarov said he wanted to return to North America for a second season.

His defection comes as no surprise, however.  Contrary to what he told Sport Daily, Makarov stood virtually no chance at making the NHL roster out of training camp.  There had been rumblings since April that Makarov would not return to Chicago.  At least according to Makarov though, he was a week away from doing so when SKA came calling.

The biggest mistake Makarov ever made though was waiting so long to move to America.  Staying in Russia restricted the sniper’s progress and stunted his confidence.

When Makarov last skated for St. Petersburg in 2009, he appeared in 26 games, scoring 4 goals and six points while averaging 9:45 of ice time per game as a 22-year old.  The trade to Dynamo didn’t offer him many more shifts.  Makarov averaged 10:24 of ice time in 25 games there, scoring just 1 goal in the process.

Though the Blackhawks have been fortunate with young prospects like Nick Leddy, Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland, who were able to make the jump to the NHL after a year or less in the minors, the majority of those who’ve past through their system and gone on to achieve success in the NHL (Keith, Hjalmarsson, Brouwer, Bickell to name a few) spent two or more years in the minors before they were ready.

On paper, SKA will have of the better rosters in the KHL.  Recognizable names such as Maxim Afinogenov, Sergei Brylin (now 37), Peter Prucha, Denis Grebeshkov, Dmitri Kalinin, Alexei Semenov and captain Vitaly Vishnevskiy will lead the way.  Makarov will fight for ice time up front with Sweden’s Mattias Weinhandl (SKA’s leading scorer last season), Tony Martensson, Norway’s Patrick Thoresen (leading goal scorer for Salavat in ’10-11) and native basher Evgeny Artyukhin.

So while Makarov has the skill to be a point producer in the KHL, ice time is no guarantee.  He’ll probably be utilized in a checking and penalty kill role by looking at SKA’s roster.  If that’s the case, even considering he’ll make five times what he would in Rockford, I’m pretty sure this is a terrible career choice.

SKA will be backstopped by Jakub Stepanek (who outperformed Evgeni Nabokov here last season) and Dmitry Shikin, goaltender of Russia’s silver-medal team at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Makarov earned a silver medal with Russia’s U20 World Junior team in 2007.

Alexei Yashin and Petr Cajanek are two players from last year’s roster who have moved on.

–Don’t have much time tonight, so just a few more quick notes….

Arguably the toughest Blackhawk of the past three decades, former Blackhawk player and coach Darryl Sutter turns 53 today (Friday).

–One-time Blackhawks blue liner, Robert Dirk will celebrate his 45th birthday tomorrow.

Update on some Blackhawk alumni whereabouts.

We mentioned his comeback trail on Monday and on Wednesday the Philadelphia Flyers offered Michael Nylander a chance to make their team.  Nylander will attend Flyers training camp on a tryout basis.  So while the odds are long, there is a chance of Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr skating on the same line in the NHL in 2012.

Eric Weinrich was an assistant coach in Portland (AHL) last season.  ‘Was’, because the Coyotes have changed affiliates from San Antonio to Portland (Maine), and Buffalo is moving from Portland back to Rochester this summer.  Weinrich is under contract to Buffalo but he won’t stay on as coach in Rochester.  Instead, he’ll remain with the Sabres in a dual scout/player development position.  The Coyotes were interested in Weinrich to fill the same assistant job with their organization but went with recently-retired and longtime NHL defenseman John Slaney instead.

Former Blackhawks coach Al MacAdam is also with the Sabres as an amateur scout.  You may recall MacAdam was brought to Chicago by Mike Smith to assist Alpo Suhonen in that brief, yet torturous debacle.  Following up on that, after Suhonen was let go, was the equally ridiculous “co-coach” experiment with MacAdam and Denis Savard.

Randy Cunneyworth got called up from Hamilton to an assistant coaching position on the Montreal bench.

New Dallas Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray is now dating WWE diva (women’s wrestler) Kelly Kelly, real name Barbie Blank.  I guess he’s into sharing.  Souray’s ex-wife is former model and Baywatch actress Angelica Bridges.  Souray and Bridges have two children.

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  9 Responses to “Igor Makarov chooses Russia, KHL”

  1. Makarov turned in some big time energy on the ice as the season went on. Late in the season he was on the penalty kill and out-hustled two opponents in their zone, dove for the puck and set up a key shorthanded goal that I believe won or tied the game. It was one of the best individual efforts I saw from a player down there last season.

    That said, I don’t think he was close enough to cracking the NHL roster to get too up in arms about his departure. It could be crowded in Rockford at forward.

    • Hey Jon,

      All I’ll add to this is even if he’s not on the cusp, so to speak, that doesn’t make this decision any less relevant.

      The AHL is there for a reason – for young players to adapt to the pro (or North American) game, mature and develop. I realize today we live in an instant gratification society, so fans will be inclined to write a player off based on the very little (or none, as is the case with most on the internet) first-hand observation of a player. But if organizations made cut and dry decisions on every player based on one year of minor league experience, that organization won’t develop many NHL players through their own system.

      Now this was clearly Makarov’s decision. Perhaps he wouldn’t have made or been a factor in the NHL if he ever were to make it. But that’s an unknown.

      However, in theory, Makarov is one year closer to a lot of the other prospects, outside of Morin and possibly Hayes, that scouts, and in turn fans, are excited over at the moment. With him being out of the picture now, that’s one less body who could potentially fulfill a role either late this season or during the 2012-13 season and a bargain cost. That’s relevant. Especially if you understand the Hawks’ perpetual cap confinements.

      Like i said. I’m not a huge fan of Makarov’s work. I don’t think anybody was harder on the guy than I was, but he’s a guy who had some talent and could have played a good-sized role in Rockford this year, possibly leading to a shot at the NHL. And for whatever the reason, he’s thrown that away. That’s a story.

      • And to clarify, I realize Jon you see a lot of Rockford and have a strong opinion on Makarov. That note wasn’t meant for you but general reaction i’ve seen so far on this development.

        • His departure is of significance, no doubt, to say nothing of his subsequent release. He loses much-needed development time. I guess it just means guys like Hayes are going to have one less guy to hurdle on their way to the NHL.

  2. Ironically, Barbie Blank is a much better wrestling name than “Kelly Kelly”.

  3. To update this story….

    Blackhawks and Igor Makarov have parted ways. They negotiated a release before he signed his KHL deal. So he’s off the 50-man roster. Chicago retains his NA rights.

  4. Chris, I figured makarov was gone once vish signed with the khl. Russians like to play with other Russians, that’s obvious. I would have like to see vish playing top 4 minutes and makarov playing top 6 minutes in Rockford. If they performed poorly, let them walk. I just hate to see a seond rounder from 2006 and a 1st rounder in2006 with Dallas just walk away. That’s 2 top 10 prospects from a year ago who pretty much believe they have no shot with the hawks.

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