ON THE HORIZON – Kirill Kabanov, F, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

Some have called him difficult. Others have considered him un-coachable. Yet, if you poll all 30 National Hockey League general managers, they would all marvel at the gifted abilities possessed by New York Islanders prospect Kirill Kabanov. That assessment sounds eerily similar to a former five-time NBA champion, just recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Still only 19 years of age, Kabanov has high hopes of shedding that tarnished reputation and making 29 organizations rue the day that they let him slip into the third round (65th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

“I want to be in the N.H.L.,” said Kabanov, who just seven months prior to the 2010 draft was ranked fourth overall by the International Scouting Service, yet dropped out of the top 30 in its final rankings just a few months later. “I know how important it is for me to have a breakout season, and prove to everyone that I could be one of the better players in the league.”

While Kabanov currently plays right wing alongside Columbus Blue Jacket prospect Michael Chaput and 2012 draftee Anton Zlobin, forming the top line for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, one could easily describe his overall junior hockey playing days as topsy-turvy.

Back in 2007, a 15-year-old Kabanov signed a five-year contract with then-Russian Super League member HC Spartak in his native Moscow, Russia. That deal lasted one season, as the league dissolved in favor of the current Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Still a member of HC Spartak, Kabanov and his father tore up his original deal, and re-upped with the team for four seasons with an option to bolt for the National Hockey League at a moment’s notice.

In the 2008-09 KHL season, Kabanov was held pointless in 10 regular and postseason games for HC Spartak. Despite his struggles, his rights were subsequently sold to the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa for one million dollars following the campaign, with the hopes of a then 17-year-old Kabanov earning more playing time under the tutelage of Russia’s national team coach Vyacheslav Bykov.

In spite of the cash transaction in the KHL, Kabanov was also drafted seventh overall by the Canadian Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats in the 2009 Import Draft.

Before stepping foot on the ice for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Kabanov and his Russian mates traveled to the Czech Republic to compete in the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Kabanov excelled in tournament play, netting four goals and assisting on seven others in seven games as the Russians captured the silver medal. They succumbed to a powerful Canadian squad, 9-2 in the Gold Medal game.

Riding an adrenaline high after his play in the Czech Republic, Kabanov refused to report to the Salavat Yulaev Ufa training camp. Faced with a three-year ban from playing hockey in the KHL, Kabanov instead bolted to the QMJHL to play for Moncton. Furthermore, Kabanov petitioned the International Ice Hockey Federation to allow him to play in Canada, a wish that would be granted a few weeks later.

Once allowed to play in Moncton, Kabanov suffered a wrist injury. It put him on the shelf for the next three months, costing him not only a good part of the regular season, but also an invite to the 2010 World Junior Championships. Upon his return, Kabanov scored 23 points (10 goals and 13 assists) in 22 games, and helped the Wildcats into the postseason.

As the playoffs commenced, chaos ensued.

During an opening round game against Cape Breton, Kabanov committed a careless penalty midway through the first period in the midst of a Wildcat power play. He later committed a second infraction in the second period, and as he left the sin bin he had a shouting match with one of his teammates. Head coach Danny Flynn had seen enough, and summoned Kabanov to the dressing room. He never saw the ice again.

Following the 6-3 Wildcat victory, Flynn announced that he would shelve Kabanov for the rest of the postseason, stating that the team was better off without him.

Two weeks after his dismissal, Kabanov had hopes of playing for the Russian Under-18 world junior championships in Fargo, North Dakota, but he received the news that Team Russia coach Mikhail Vasiliev refused to include him on the tournament roster.

Vasiliev told Sovietsky Sport that adding Kabanov would cause “confusion to the entire team.”

Additionally, Kabanov was being dropped by his third agent in a calendar year.

According to former agent Ilya Moliver, as reported by Russian Hockey Fans.com, Kabanov’s undoing had little to do with Kirill.

“Sergei Kabanov (Kirill’s father) believes that an agent is a player’s servant. He doesn’t know how to communicate with people,” said Moliver. “I told Kirill that we either work with you or your dad. Kabanov’s dad is hard to please. I work with players and their parents since 1992, and I never had to deal with such a complicated person.”

Despite a tumultuous offseason, the Islanders nabbed the 6-foot-3, 176-pound Kabanov two rounds after he was originally expected to be selected. Hoping to find lightning in a bottle, the Islanders gave the then 18-year-old Kabanov all the advice he would need.

“The Islanders organization told me that I needed to prove worthy of being called up to the N.H.L.,” said Kabanov. “There was no time frame. It was all up to me.”

Despite making amends with the Moncton organization as the 2010-11 QMJHL season approached, Kabanov was quickly shipped off to Lewiston, just two games into the new campaign.

In 37 regular season games for the Maineiacs, Kabanov had 11 goals and 17 assists and finished with a +10. But alike his play back as a 17-year-old in the under-18 junior championships, Kabanov would step his game up in the postseason. Playing alongside former and future teammate Chaput, Kabanov scored eight goals and assisted on 12 others in 17 playoff games, as he helped the Maineiacs reach the QMJHL semifinals before bowing out to Jonathon Huberdeau and the eventual Memorial Cup champion St. John Sea Dogs.

Kabanov’s playoff production was all Garth Snow and the entire Islanders organization would need to see, as just two months later he was signed by the club to a three-year, entry-level contract.

After participating in the team’s training camp a few weeks later, Kabanov was returned to the QMJHL for a third season. With Lewiston folding its team after eight seasons for financial reasons, Kabanov’s rights were soon assigned to QMJHL affiliate Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Kabanov would not play for Armada, and was subsequently loaned to Farjestads BK of the Swedish Elite League, who in turn traded his rights to Shawinigan this past October. Shawinigan would be Kabanov’s seventh team in less than four years.

As a Cataract, Kabanov quickly found a fan in seventh-year head coach Eric Veilleux.

“Kirill has shown an eagerness to learn,” said Veilleux, who in his time leading the Cataractes has won over 270 regular and postseason games, as well as mentoring current NHL-er Benoit Pouilot of the Boston Bruins . “He also has hands that is rarely seen on a major junior level. Not many can control the puck like Kirill can.”

In 33 games, Kabanov has averaged over a point per game, scoring 16 goals and assisting 21 others. He has also helped the Cataractes lead the TELUS Eastern Division with 73 points (34-11-2-3), three ahead of second-place Quebec. As of today’s press time, the Cataractes also sit one point behind St. John in the overall league standings.

“Here in Shawinigan, I am with a very good organization,” said Kabanov, who mentions fellow Russian and current Detroit Red Wing standout Pavel Datsyuk as his NHL hero. “I can create offensively, make nice passes and really show the type of skill that I have.”

With hopes of leading the Cataractes to a President’s Cup championship later this spring, Kabanov still has an eye on joining the Islanders in the fall.

“It was really nice seeing all the boys this past summer (at the Blue-White scrimmage),” said Kabanov, who has built his body upwards of 20 pounds since his draft day selection. “Everybody also gave me advice on what I need to do to join the Islanders.”

Veilleux also believes that the NHL will be getting an all-around player and person in Kabanov.

“On the ice, Kirill sees all the passing lanes,” said Veilleux. “But off the ice, Kirill has become a great teammate. He brings life into this locker room.

“There is no reason why he can’t be all-star on the NHL level. It’s all about him pushing himself even more.”

Back in September, Kabanov was pegged as the “14th best NHL prospect”, according to Hockey Prospectus.com. Seven other Islanders made the top 100, including Ryan Strome (6th overall), Nino Niederreiter (30th), Calvin De Haan (47th), Scott Mayfield (59th), Kirill Petrov (84th), Matt Donovan (89th) and Anders Lee (98th).

With the current-day Islanders struggling to find consistent scoring punch from their wingers, Kabanov’s touch around the net might be seen on Coliseum ice in short order.

Only time will tell.