The Islanders have a kid in their training camp by the name of Kirill Kabanov. The 18 year old was a third round pick of the team in this June’s Entry Draft, after he fell from his original first round projection due to questions about his off-ice personality/attitude/maturity (call it whatever you want, since a number of words work in that spot). That tumble is already seemingly justified, as today he was late for his second practice of training camp in two weeks.
It makes me think back to a Russian player that passed through the Islanders during my PR days there, that also had all of the talent in the world, but a two cent head that held back his career and kept him from being one of the best D-men of the 90s. Most Islander fans remember Vladimir Malakhov very well.
In the summer before the 1992 season, we got word that Malakhov was on the verge of being signed. One of our players (I think it was Steve Thomas, but am not totally sure) played against him in that year’s World Championships and reported back that this kid was amazing to watch, not even knowing that he was one of our draft picks. He was drafted in a time well before Russians were going early in the Draft, and Bill Torrey shrewdly picked up his rights in the tenth round of the 1989 Draft just in case the wall fell one day and Russians starting moving to the NHL en masse. That day had arrived, and Malakhov (along with Darius Kasparaitis – a different, and much better, story for a different time) joined the team in time for the 1992-93 season.
It was apparent to all everyone away right that this guy was special. He was huge, an incredible skater, could make any pass at any time, had a cannon for a shot and was even willing to drop the gloves if he had to. I’ve long felt that his skill level was arguably better than anyone in the league, including any established superstars. He was THAT good, and it just seemed like a matter of time before his name was on the Norris Trophy.
Then, we got to know him. Or should I say, we didn’t, because he had no interest in that. In fact, he had no interest in anything, it seemed. At times, that lack of interest in the world included hockey. He was lazy and aloof. On the ice, he would disappear for long stretches. I’ll never forget the night the Islanders were trailing by one late in the game, with the goalie pulled, when the other team iced the puck. As always, time is of the essence in a spot like that, but not to Vladdy. He casually took his time to touch up for the icing, despite the entire building yelling at him to hurry up and get there (the sound is actually still vivid in my mind). On the ice, that play summed up Vladdy’s entire Islander career.
Off the ice, there is one story that I’ll never forget that tells you everything you need to know about Vladimir Malakhov the person. It was January of 1995, right after the end of the lockout. All of the players were at the rink in Syosset for the first practice back (poor Bob Beers was hit in the face by a puck that night, a sight I unfortunately got to see firsthand), and I was standing just outside the locker room watching the first guys on the ice, when someone started talking behind me, trying to get my attention. He kept calling me “Chris” (I assume that he meant Chris Botta). When I didn’t respond, since my name isn’t Chris, he tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and he looked me in the eye and said “Chris, can you help me with something?” We were both with the team for multiple seasons at that point, and everyone in the room knew me by first and last name for a long time, so I was a little taken aback. He looked at me again and called me “Chris”, but before he could say another word, I stopped him. I then told him point blank “My name is not Chris. You have played here a long time and should know my name. Go find out what it is, and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.” He walked away…and never bothered to ask me for anything again during his time with the team.
During that season, right after he gave up his number 23 so that it could be retired for Bobby Nystrom, he was traded as part of the Pierre Turgeon-Kirk Muller deal (a very overlooked piece of the deal, given everyone else involved, but one reason why that trade is not nearly as bad as everyone still wants to say it was). I don’t think he even cared about the uniform number, since he was hurt at the time, as was often the case. Malakhov never broke away from that image problem after leaving Long Island. He was run out of Montreal after going skiing while out of the lineup with a knee injury. He teased every other team he played for with his talent, but never stuck for very long anywhere because he frustrated everyone he was ever around. It should have been a brilliant, maybe even Hall of Fame, career, but was sabotaged by the lack of interest by the only person who could sabotage things…Vladimir Malakhov.
And that brings me back to Kabanov. I’ve never met the kid. For all I know, the only real similarities between him and Malakhov are their homeland and the last two letters of their last names. The red flags are there, however, and the sirens are going off. Tons of talent, acknowledged by everyone who watches him play, but what looks to be a two cent head.
Either way, let’s hope the Isalnders can figure out a way to get this kid fully committed to hockey, before spending their time and money waiting for that tantalizing talent to show up on a regular basis. Otherwise, it just might be more frustration than it is worth.
Just like the career of Vladimir Malakhov.
Tags: New York Islanders