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Deconstructing the Alexei Kolosov Rumors

May 17, 2024, 10:49 AM ET [1 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
On Tuesday, Belarushockey.com reported that highly regarded Flyers goaltending prospect Alexei Kolosov may seek to return to the KHL next season to play for Dinamo Minsk. The 22-year-old netminder reportedly was struggling to adapt to life in North America during his brief stint with the Phantoms.

According to a Flyers organizational source, the team is aware of the report. They were unaware of any plan on Kolosov's part to return to the KHL next season, but also could not refute that he has that intention. Nothing had been communicated in that regard.

Kolosov signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Flyers on July 9, 2023. As part of the agreement, the Flyers agreed to loan Kolosov to Dinamo Minsk for the 2023-24 KHL season (burning the first year of the ELC because Kolosov's contract was not slide-rule eligible). In return, the Flyers were granted open communication lines between their relevant hockey ops staff and the player. Additionally, Dinamo pledged that Kolosov would be free to come to North America after the season.

To reiterate, the arrangement was ONLY for 2023-24. Thereafter, per the agreement with Kolosov and Dinamo, the Flyers would have the same leeway to determine where Kolosov would play -- the NHL with the parent club, the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms -- for the duration of his NHL contract. Contractually, Kolosov does not have right to jump back to the KHL without the Flyers' permission via another loan arrangement.

Kolosov officially joined the Phantoms on April 2, not long after Dinamo was eliminated in the KHL's Gagarin Cup playoffs. The main purpose was not for him to play extensively for Lehigh Valley during the late stretch drive and Calder Cup playoffs. Rather, it was for him to get a head-start on preparing for next season and get his feet wet in a little bit of game action (two starts). He dressed as Cal Petersen's backup in each of the six playoff games that the Phantoms played, relegating Felix Sandström to being a healthy scratch. Kolosov did not see any playoff game action.

In full, Kolosov spent roughly a month in North America. As the only Russian/Belarusian player on the Phantoms, it's quite possible that Kolosov felt a bit homesick and lonely. He speaks very little English, and there's a significant lifestyle change off the ice as well as on-ice adjustments that he still needs to make. However, for a player whose ultimate goal is the NHL, a desired return to Belarus after such a such period of time would not be much of show of commitment.

Kolosov has already had some success in KHL play. However, from a hockey standpoint, the scouting word on Kolosov even before he arrived was that he'd need to make adjustments in his game before he'd be NHL ready. He's on the smaller side for a current-day NHL goalie and his stance makes him look even smaller. He's extremely athletic and very aggressive but can take himself out of position. Stylistically and physically, Kolosov is very different from goliath Flyers goaltender Ivan Fedotov.

Speaking of Fedotov, it's unclear if the two-year contract extension he signed with the Flyers after his belated arrival from CSKA Moscow played at all into Kolosov's reported desire to go home. Realistically, Kolosov would not seriously challenge for an NHL job out of training camp this coming September regardless of which goalie was brought in to play behind Samuel Ersson at the NHL level. As far as being behind veteran goalie Petersen in the 2024 Calder Cup playoffs, Kolosov knew beforehand that his end-of-season time with the Phantoms would be mostly about getting acclimated rather than being thrown right into playoff game pressure.

I tend to believe that whatever was on Kolosov's mind was/is more about feeling overwhelmed by the initial day-to-day stuff than about anything related to AHL playing time or an expectation of immediate NHL promotion. But I don't know this for a fact. What I do know is that Kolosov is contractually committed to the Flyers for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons.

It is NOT uncommon for young European players in general and players from the Russian Federation in particular to be negatively inclined to spend prolonged stints in the American Hockey League. Many Russian Federation players would rather be at home in the domestic top league than in the AHL. However, this tends to apply a little bit less to goalies than to position players because of the steeper development curve involved.

Would it be the end of the world if Kolosov spent one additional season in the KHL and then returns at age 23? No. It wouldn't kill his development. However, at this stage of his development -- viewed strictly in hockey terms -- is the AHL in 2024-25 the better avenue to test his NHL readiness come the year after? I'd say yes. Off-ice readiness may be another story.

At any rate, Thursday's report is not cause for panic. There are ways to help him get better acclimated around the team if he spends next season with the Phantoms. And if he actually does want to request a loaned to Dinamo again -- a necessary step to avoid being in breach of contract with the Flyers -- it can be worked out. Plenty of goalies come over age 23 (or later) and do just fine.

First, though, more clarity is needed to separate fact from rumor and speculation. That Kolosov felt homesick after a few weeks is very realistic and plausible. The premise that he already had a change of heart about playing over here is strictly speculatory at this point.

*******

I can think of only one situation in Flyers history where a player packed it in after just a few weeks with the club. There were several others who gave it one season or barely more.

In 1986, the Flyers drafted a highly regarded Finnish forward named Jukka-Pekka Seppo with the 23rd overall pick (a second-rounder in that era). He was a gifted offensive player with a high ceiling. The Flyers brought him in for training camp. Mike Keenan decided right off the bat to test Seppo's resolve by being extra tough on the player. Midway through camp, Seppo went back to Finland. He never returned to North American hockey, even after Keenan was gone.

No, I don't think Kolosov's situation will turn out anything like Seppo's. That was a different era. Former Phantoms defenseman Joonas Lehtivuori spent an unhappy season-and-a-half living and playing in Glens Falls during the Phantoms Adirondack era. Midway through his second season, he left and went home to play for KalPa Kuopio the rest of the season. But at least he gave it about 15 months before returning to Europe.

Among North American players, there was Fred Arthur's situation -- he decided to pursue a career in medicine and quit hockey after just one full season. That turned out to the right decision for him, as Dr. Fred Arthur went on to long medical career in Ontario. Todd Bergen made an immediate splash in the NHL in his only pro season (1984-85). However, he detested Keenan, wanted to pursue a golfing career and then had a career ending injury after a holdout from the Flyers and a trade to Minnesota.

At any rate, those were all outlier situations. Far more common is a temporary return to Europe or a "break" from hockey, followed by a return.
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