Maxim Kazakov (via KHL/YouTube)
Only 14 games into the KHL season, Maxim Kazakov has already set career highs for goals, but it’s going to be hard for him to score one with as much flair as his Sunday tally against Ak Bars Kazan. Kazakov beat four players before out-waiting the netminder for a highlight-reel goal.
If you’ve never heard the name Maxim Kazakov before, you wouldn’t be alone, but the 22-year-old Russian left winger is doing his best to change that this season.
Through 14 KHL games this season, Kazakov, who plays for Mettalurg Novokuznetsk, has notched seven goals and 13 points, which makes for the first time in his career that he has eclipsed the 10-point plateau in the KHL. Suffice to say, he’s en route to setting some personal bests in the primarily Russian league.
No matter how many goals he scores in 2015-16 while setting his career high point total, it’s hard to imagine Kazakov will best his tally from Sunday’s contest against Ak Bars Kazan. Late in the first period, Kazakov flew down the ice, burst past four Kazan defenders and tucked the puck home after making Ak Bars netminder Jussi Rynnas bite hard on a backhand.
That Kazakov is playing so well this season is incredible, especially considering he didn’t crack the Avangard Omsk roster for a single game in 2014-15. Instead, he spent the entire year in the VHL — the KHL’s version of the AHL — with Sokol Krasnoyarsk, where he collected 14 goals and 22 points in 46 games. He’s on pace to best that production in a more difficult league.
Kazakov was never drafted to the NHL, though he did get brought over to the QMJHL through the import draft. In 2010, Kazakov was selected 27th overall in the import draft by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, with whom he spent one season and scored seven goals and 12 points in 51 games.
If Kazakov keep this scoring up for the remainder of his KHL contract — it runs through to 2016-17 — he could find himself landing a free agent deal overseas. Fellow Russian Artemy Panarin signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent this off-season after a breakout season in the KHL.