The approaching start to KHL free agency on April 30 has opened the doors for Russian players and KHL free agents to sign with NHL clubs, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are “not interested.”
Sources close to the situation told Pittsburgh Hockey Now the Penguins have not yet expressed any interest in the current crop of KHL talent, and haven’t done so for any players in the Russian league in the past two seasons.
One source close to the Russian league downplayed the Penguins presence in Russia, including scouting, but noted the stream of Scandanavian talent, including Juuso Riikola, Niclas Almari, Emil Larmi, and several recent Finnish draft picks. The acknowledgment included some disappointment.
KHL contracts expire on April 30, and unsigned players become free agents able to sign anywhere.
Not every team has eschewed the Russian pipeline. This week, the Penguins divisional rival Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who was the Buffalo Sabres 2012 first-round pick (12th overall). After some confusion on Grigorenko’s status, the NHL rejected the contract which was set to take effect on May 1. Instead, the deal will be submitted on July 1.
Other KHL free agents were able to sign for May 1, including 26-year-old goalie Vasili Demchenko who signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Alexander Barabanov signed with Toronto, Andrei Altybarmakyan signed with Chicago, and defenseman Artyom Sub will sign with Ottawa.
Including Pittsburgh Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin, there are only 50 Russian players under contract to NHL organizations, according to QuantHockey.com. There are about 40 players who will play in the NHL next season.
The last Russian player to sign with the Penguins was Sergei Plotnikov, who signed a deal before the 2015-16 season. He played 32 games without a goal for the Penguins before Penguins GM Jim Rutherford traded him to Arizona. He played 13 games for Arizona before returning to Russia, for good.