Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Egor Korshkov Is Heading Back to Russia

A Toronto Maple Leafs prospect is heading back to Russia.

After being left off the Toronto Maple Leafs Phase 4 roster, it appears prospect Egor Korshkov will be moving back to the KHL.

It has been reported by Russian outlet Sport24 that he will be moving back to his previous KHL club, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, on a one-year agreement. Korshkov, the Leafs second-round pick back in 2016, had just completed his first season in North America, spending nearly the entire season with the Marlies.

With the hype of being drafted 31st overall in 2016, multiple strong campaigns in the KHL, and a massive six-foot-four frame, Korshkov intrigued most Leafs fans coming into this season.

Egor Korshkov and the Toronto Maple Leafs

He quickly adapted his game to North American ice, becoming a consistent scoring threat for the Marlies in a season where their scoring talent wasn’t near as strong as it had been in years past.

Korshkov scored 16 goals in 44 games in his rookie season with the Marlies, usually playing on the second line. He also got into one game with the Leafs, featuring on the fourth line, where he would score his first career NHL goal.

All signs pointed towards the 24-year-old making a push for an NHL roster spot next season, but the apparent move back to Russia has thrown a wrench into things…at least on the surface.

There are multiple factors that make this move much different than most NHL to KHL transfers, ones that make this reported transaction a very favourable one to all parties involved.

In most NHL to KHL transfers, a player is leaving with a minuscule chance of returning to the team. There are plenty of examples; Nikita Tryamkin, Ziyat Paigin, and Maxim Mamin are all recent players who have gone from the KHL to the NHL, only to return back to the KHL shortly thereafter.

In those cases, and many others, the players are signing in Russia with little to no expectation of returning to the team they are leaving.

That isn’t the case here with Egor Korshkov and the Toronto Maple Leafs. This move is purely for his development, with the expectation that he can challenge for a roster spot in the 2021-22 season.

It’s important to note the verbiage used by Sport24 in their report of Korshkov’s transfer. “Loan” instead of “sign” is used, meaning an agreement between the Leafs and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is being made, rather than Korshkov signing a separate contract to go back to Russia.

This is an important distinction as it hammers home the fact that all parties involved are on board with the decision.

Korshkov has one year remaining on his entry-level contract, making him an RFA at the end of the 2020-21 season. The Leafs do not risk losing his rights by allowing him to play in the KHL next season.

But why would the Toronto Maple Leafs want one of their prospects to go back the KHL?

It’s unusual for sure, but these are unusual times. As it stands today, there is no clear plan as to when the AHL and ECHL are returning to action.

Technically, they are independent leagues and as such could resume play as previously scheduled in October, or they could wait to realign their schedule with the 2020-21 NHL calendar and resume play closer to December/January.

The KHL, on the other hand, is fully on track to commence play for their next season on September 2.

This difference is a massive influence, and likely the reason why the Leafs would entertain this move at all.

Korshkov heading back to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl would allow him to play a full season as regularly scheduled, playing in Russia from September through March and returning to the organization ready to go for the 2021-22 season.

Getting in a full season and not missing months on end is especially important for Korshkov due to the extensive injury woes over his career. He has played over 50 games in a season just once, back in 2017-18.

Simply getting into games and building that season-long conditioning is just as important as skillset development for Korshkov.

Finally, the Leafs do not have to worry about a lack of ice-time for Korshkov with Lokomotiv. While most NHL teams dislike seeing their young prospects struggle for minutes as KHL thirteenth forwards and seventh defencemen, Korshkov will step into the top nine at a minimum with Yaroslavl.

It’s easy to forget but despite being drafted in 2016, Korshkov is already 24 years old. He has years of service with Lokomotiv already and given the exits of premier scorer Stephane Da Costa and top prospect Grigori Denisenko, there are spots to be filled by someone such as Korshkov.

Taking Lokomotiv’s final lineup from 2019-20, removing the players that have departed, and adding their current signings, there is a clear spot at second-line, right-wing that could be filled by Egor Korshkov.

It’s easy to see the headline “Korshkov Signs Back in Russia” and assume the Toronto Maple Leafs are losing a player for good here. In reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Taking all of these factors into account, this is a shrewd and tactical move by the Toronto Maple Leafs to help the development of a player they selected with a high draft pick. It’s certainly an unusual transaction, but it’s one that makes a lot of sense when you start to peel back the layers.