LOS ANGELES - The Islanders may have left California with the steal of the draft after selecting top-shelf talent Kirill Kabanov with the 65th overall pick in the third round Saturday.
That's the best-case scenario.
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In selecting the enigmatic 17-year-old Russian winger, the Islanders added a player with unquestionable skill, scoring potential and creativity. But they also took a bit of a risk on a player whose reputation caused him to drop in the rankings leading up to the draft.
That's a risk Islanders general manager Garth Snow was willing to take.
"You can't question his talent level," Snow said. "All things considered, he'd have probably been a first-round draft pick if it weren't for certain things that happened in the past. But you know what? He'll start with a new slate."
Kabanov had 10 goals and 13 assists although he was limited to only 22 games with the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats because of a wrist injury. Although he is low-risk from the Russian Kontinental Hockey League standpoint (he is banned from playing there after breaking his contract to play in Moncton), he was cut from the Russian Under-18 team this spring and dropped by agent J.P. Barry earlier this month.
Then there are the rumors, which Kabanov openly disputes.
"That I'm drinking, that I'm a rock-and-roller, that all my body is covered in tattoos. That's not true, just a couple," Kabanov said. "People say I'm bad like the devil, but I'm good like an angel."
He may seem like the prototypical bad boy, but he refutes the notion with a beguiling charm and refreshing candor.
"Everybody says I have a bad reputation, but hockey is a sport that has its ups and downs, like turbulence on a plane," Kabanov said. "It's not a big deal. I will try to do my best. I'll work hard and try to make it in the NHL as soon as I can."
And his motivation isn't just to be closer to his New York-based model girlfriend, Yasmina Muratovich. Kabanov wants to show he can play and prove his critics wrong.
"I want to be back and improve myself as a hockey player,'' he said. "I will show all my skills and work hard this summer."
If he doesn't, Snow won't be afraid to lay down the law, saying: "We'll set guidelines and ground rules to show him the way the New York Islanders do things."
Snow said he believes in second chances, and that's what he wants to provide Kabanov.
"I'm the first one to admit I wasn't a saint growing up myself," Snow said. "We all do things when we're younger that we may regret, where we'd like to take a mulligan. Here's his mulligan. You can't argue his talent, and the rest is up to him."