Ilya Nikulin (Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Veteran Russian blueliner Ilya Nikulin appears set to leave the KHL for a shot at the NHL. According to a report, the 33-year-old defenseman is looking to sign a deal in North America after spending the past decade with Ak Bars Kazan. Nikulin’s teammate, Evgeni Medvedev, signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Philadelphia earlier in the off-season.
Yet another veteran Russian defenseman is leaving the KHL to try his hand at NHL action.
Earlier this off-season, 32-year-old Evgeni Medvedev left the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan, where he had played the majority of his career, to sign a one-year, $3 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. And while terms and location have yet to be decided, it appears Medvedev is about to be joined by 33-year-old former Team Russia captain Ilya Nikulin.
According to Sports-Express.ru’s Slava Malamud, Nikulin has decided to leave the KHL and head to the NHL, though it’s uncertain where the veteran blueliner will land at this time.
Most shocking about the report is that Nikulin, who has been a staple of the RSL and KHL throughout his career, is choosing to leave shortly after he had become the captain of Russia’s national team. For much of the past four seasons, Nikulin has been either the captain or a veteran leader on Russian national squads that competed at the World Championship, European Hockey Tour, Olympics and other international events.
It’s not as if Nikulin hasn’t been considered for the NHL before, though. At the 2000 draft, the Atlanta Thrashers selected Nikulin with the 31st overall pick, the first pick of the second round. Nikulin has yet to come over to North America, however, spending 10 of his past 15 seasons with Kazan.
In Kazan, Nikulin has been part of the leadership group for the past two seasons, wearing the ‘C’ in 2013-14 and an ‘A’ in 2014-15. But with his teammate — and one of Kazan’s other alternates — Medvedev heading overseas, Nikulin is going to take the opportunity to test his game at the NHL level.
If he signs an NHL deal, Nikulin would come over to the NHL as a four-time Russian champion — twice in the Russian Super League, twice in the KHL — and is a two-time first-team all-star. If he accepts a lower salary to come to the NHL, he could be a fantastic addition as a depth defenseman who can provide some serious upside. Over the past two seasons, Nikulin has scored 18 goals and 53 points in 110 games patrolling the Kazan blueline.