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NHL and KHL suspend communications, potentially complicating the arrival of Blue Jackets’ top prospects

Taking a look at which players could be impacted by current sanctions.

KHL Western Conference Semifinal, Leg 2: SKA St Petersburg vs Dynamo Moscow Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

I want to preface this article by stating that I completely understand that hockey is totally minuscule when compared to the events unfolding right now with Ukraine and Russia. It is quite simply a human tragedy, and the hockey implications of these current events absolutely pale in comparison to the real life ones that those directly involved in the conflict are experiencing.

That being said, it’s completely reasonable to wonder what those hockey-related implications may be, considering yesterday’s ruling by the NHL. In case you missed it, the NHL — like most other corporate entities — has made moves to distance itself from Russia amidst its invasion of Ukraine.

Just last week the league announced it was ceasing operations on all Russian content, including terminating the NHL’s broadcasting agreement with the nation and eliminating the country from hosting any future events involving the NHL. They then hardened their stance, announcing yesterday that they would suspend all communications with the KHL, as well as Russia-based agents representing players in the league. Signing players from Russia is still technically doable, but things just got a whole lot more difficult. Considering the Jackets’ history with Russian prospects it is understandable to have some concerns in regards to this news.

There are many, many factors for Russian prospects to consider when deciding to leave home and further their career in North America, even without geopolitical tensions. I couldn’t imagine having to grapple with the additional stress these individuals are under currently in terms of making decisions for their future.

Here are the players in the Blue Jackets system who could potentially be affected by the league’s decision.

Kirill Marchenko

Marchenko is a name we have heard for years now. He’s always been that mysterious, alleged high-end prospect developing in Russia. It’s hard to believe it has already been four years since Jarmo Kekalainen took a swing and drafted Kirill in the 2nd round (49th overall) of the 2018 Entry Draft.

Barring a cold-war era embargo on Russian talent, I’d imagine the Jackets will be employing Marchenko’s talents sooner rather than later. Marchenko is in the final year of his KHL contract, leaving him free to leave Russia and head over to North America to pursue a career in the NHL, assuming he is able.

He seems like a player who should be itching to come to play for a team that is yearning for his skillset in the lineup. Marchenko has been the victim of a few “slights” from his coaching staff this past year, leaving some to wonder if he was being punished for most likely leaving for North America in the future. At his left wing position, he is behind former NHLers, Nikita Gusev and Leo Komorov, not to mention KHL veteran Andrei Kuzmenko. As the depth chart has shaken out, there simply hasn’t been a ton of minutes for the Blue Jackets prospect. The KHL is a very seniority-based league and many promising young talents have been overlooked by their clubs. Marchenko isn’t the first and definitely won’t be the last.

There have been multiple instances of healthy scratches or playing as the extra forward for his KHL club this year. Still, he has managed to put up 20 points in 39 games played. He’s currently playing for the VHL team in the playoffs, competing for the Petrov Cup. Can’t imagine he wants to spend much more time toiling in lower leagues, or getting very few minutes at the top level.

He was named to the active roster for the Russian Olympic team, only to be relegated to reserve status, failing to see a single game. Upon arrival in Beijing, Marchenko tested positive for COVID-19, making the Olympics a further disappointment for the young Russian forward.

Marchenko could unfortunately be the prospect whose North American debut could be most impacted by the current sanctions, considering his anticipated arrival to the Blue Jackets is most imminent. He is represented by agent Mark Gandler, who is based in North America and also certified by the NHL Players’ Association, meaning the Blue Jackets are at least allowed to communicate with the player’s camp. Assuming nothing changes in the current restrictions, the Jackets should have minimal issues negotiating Marchenko’s arrival to North America when the time comes.

Dmitri Voronkov

Dmitri Voronkov is another player that Jarmo Kekalainen has been anxious to get to Ohio and under contract. Although it was denied, it was rumored that he attempted to snatch Voronkov away from Kazan Ak Bars prior to the season. The organization is definitely high on him and his style of play.

Voronkov, unlike his future teammate Marchenko, managed to get into the lineup for Russia at the Olympics. He appeared in 6 games and had one assist, while amassing 12 penalty minutes along the way. In the gold medal game, he was on the ice for both Finnish goals in their 2-1 defeat. It was a disappointing finish, but a silver medal is nothing to be ashamed of.

Voronkov’s team is in the midst of the playoffs, with his club trying to stave off elimination from the defending Gagarin Cup champions, Avangard Omsk. His current contract with Ak Bars runs through the 2022-23 season. A lot can happen in that time frame and Jackets fans (as well as the rest of the world) can only hope the situation will be resolved long before then.

Nikolai Makarov

I’ll admit I forgot about Makarov. With all the young talent in the system, I required a reminder about the young defenseman the Blue Jackets snagged in the 5th round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Makarov has gotten his first taste of KHL action this season with CSKA Moskva, but has spent the majority of his time this season at the lower MHL and VHL level. He has posted strong number in the MHL (Russian Junior), posting a 4-10-14 stat line in 22 games played.

Makarov is most likely years away from coming to North America to potentially take a run at cracking an NHL lineup. Already at 6’4”, 234lbs at the age of 19, he’s definitely worth of keeping an eye on.

Again, none of this is important in the grand scheme of things right now, and we can only hope that the hardline approaches taken by much of the world towards the Russian government will put an end to the suffering sooner rather than later.