MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Saint John Sea Dogs forward Jonathan Huberdeau is so well-regarded by scouts, his professional rights have been acquired four full weeks before the National Hockey League entry draft.
The catch? He was drafted in Russia.
“Yeah,” Saint John coach Gerard Gallant said Sunday, “I’m sure he’s just jumping.”
The 17-year-old was the fifth player chosen in the Kontinental Hockey League’s draft on Saturday, selected by Vityaz Chekhov. Huberdeau did not attend the draft.
“I don’t know why they drafted me,” he said Sunday, hours before stepping onto the ice with teammates to face the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors for the Memorial Cup.
Huberdeau joins a growing list of North American prospects drafted into the KHL, which still has no official player transfer agreement with the NHL.
Taylor Hall was among the first North American players selected when the KHL held its inaugural draft two years ago, going 89th overall to the Ak Bars.
He did not report.
“For sure, I don’t want to go there,” Huberdeau said. “I didn’t talk to anybody about that.”
NHL Central Scouting listed Huberdeau third on its final ranking of North American skaters, behind top prospect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer Rebels) and No. 2 Gabriel Landeskog (Kitchener Rangers). The NHL entry draft begins June 24, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Huberdeau finished third in scoring during the Quebec junior league regular season with 43 goals and 105 points in 67 games. He had 30 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games, and four points in his first three games at the Memorial Cup.
After he was drafted Saturday, Huberdeau became the object of some good-natured ribbing from teammates.
“You know what the kids are like,” Gallant said. “They just joke and talk about that. I’m sure Jonathan’s father is going to leave him in Canada next year, whether it’s in the National Hockey League or in Saint John. He’ll be doing his studies, and I don’t think he’ll be studying much in Russia.”
Gallant spent a decade in the NHL as a winger, but finished his career playing on the fringes of a minor league. He was asked Sunday if he wished the KHL had existed in his day.
“It would have been perfect at the end of my career, when they threw me out of the NHL,” he said with a chuckle. “Then I could have gone over there and made some big money.”
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