The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s top-tier men’s league, are in the midst of playoffs, competing for a chance to win the Gagarin Cup. It’s been a weird and long season due to the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the number of teams to 23 and displacing the Kunlun Red Star out of Beijing, China.
Still, they were able to field a 60-game season starting in September, with 16 teams progressing to playoffs at the beginning of March.
In October, the San Jose Sharks loaned prospect Ivan Chekhovich to the HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, where he would play out the rest of the season. Unlike other “COVID loans” made by the Sharks and other teams across the NHL, he was not going to be recalled at the start of the NHL/AHL seasons.
The hope, likely, was that consistent time in a men’s league in his home country would allow for better development in a year where the AHL season was uncertain. By taking advantage of the KHL season in the fall, he would get more playing time than if he had returned to the States, and he could still rejoin the Barracuda when the KHL season ended, unless the Torpedo made a deep postseason run.
The Torpedo ultimately made playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference, a nine-point gap above Sibir Novosibirsk, who finished in ninth and were among the four teams who did not qualify. For the opening round, they were matched against the Ak Bars Kazan — the top Eastern Conference seed with 90 points, missing out on the league’s top spot by just one win — and were swept in four games.
Hopefully, Chekhovich’s time in Russia helped him restore his confidence. Despite being a seventh-round pick in 2017, the winger has shined in juniors, NHL preseasons and shorter stints with the Barracuda. But last year’s campaign, his first full professional season in the AHL, was disappointing, putting up just four goals and eight assists in 42 games.
With the Torpedo, Chekhovich tallied 17 goals and assists, for 34 points in 43 games, ranking third on the team in goals, fourth in points, and tied for fourth in assists. He added two goals in four playoff games and was one of just two players to score in playoffs and was the only player to score more than once. The 22-year-old was also one of the youngest players on the team, with just four players younger than he is.
As first reported by Sheng Peng of SJ Hockey Now, Chekhovich will likely begin with the Barracuda when he returns to the Bay Area.
With a wonky AHL schedule, the Barracuda have 26 scheduled games remaining. They’ve gone 5-3-2 through 10 games, ranking second in the Pacific Division with a .600 points percentage — though they’ve also played fewer games than most of the teams due to coronavirus concerns.
Chekhovich will have to quarantine upon arriving to San Jose, so his season debut in teal is still around two weeks out, including travel. But it seems as though everything is going just as it was planned for him this season.