Ivan Chekhovich loaned to KHL club for 2021 season

The winger is taking his development to Russia, for now.

The San Jose Sharks have loaned forward prospect Ivan Chekhovich to the HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s top men’s league, for the entirety of the 2020-21 season. The KHL team announced the signing this morning.

Chekhovich was an exciting late-round selection, snagged by the Sharks in the seventh round (212 overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He was a single point shy of being a point per game player with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL during his draft season, his first year in North America. He scored at a similar rate when he returned the next year, but as a third-year player, he lit up the Q with a wild 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) in 66 games.

But when Chekhovich joined the San Jose Barracuda for a full season last year, he was underwhelming, with just four goals and eight points over 42 games. To be fair, the Barracuda were the worst team in the AHL’s Pacific Division, but Chekhovich was expected to one of the team’s stars in the making.

Instead, he had trouble finding his game. He disappears away from the puck. His speed and his shot are there, but turning that into a complete game has been a struggle for the now 21-year-old.

Several teams have begun loaning prospects to different international leagues, who are currently playing with various levels of protections against coronavirus, varying from country to country. It makes sense to take advantage of competition where it’s able to exist while it can’t do so in North America.

In Chekhovich’s case, he’ll be spending the entire season in the KHL, qualifying this as a full loan, unlike the “COVID loan,” the club has used for Marcus Sorensen (HockeyAllsvenskan), Joel Kellman (HockeyAllsvenskan) and Antti Suomela (Liiga). When and if play resumes in the NHL/AHL, Chehovich won’t get recalled.

Though a player moving further away from the NHL while also moving further away from their draft year might feel like a step backward, it’s hard to argue against the move. It’s unlikely he’d be looking at NHL time this season — and I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this, but next season isn’t going to be normal, no matter what the NHL tries.

This is an opportunity to take a struggling player and let him go play in his home country to find his game again. The KHL is still a men’s league, and a pretty good one, at that. He’ll almost certainly benefit from a year there instead of a weird year in the AHL, where the team is also unlikely to improve.

Chekhovich signed an entry-level contract with the Sharks on April 20, 2018 worth up to $2.71 million, including potential performance bonuses. His first year slid into the 2019-20 season, meaning he’ll face restricted free agency in the 2022 off-season.