The KHL season is now complete, and as of today NHL teams can sign KHL free agents to contracts. That’s of note for the Edmonton Oilers, because one of their top goaltending prospects is now a free agent in the world’s second-best league. The expectation, according to reports from Russia, is that Ilya Konovalov will make the jump across the Atlantic and sign with the Edmonton Oilers.
Mikhail Zislis, hockey reporter for Sport Express in Russia, first broke the news of Konovalov’s intention to come to North America on Friday.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 22-year old goalie Ilya Konovalov decided to pursue his career in North America. Expect him to sign contract with Edmonton Oilers in a few days. He was drafted 85-th overall in 2019 NHL draft #LetsGoOilers #nhl #khl @SportsnetSpec
— Mikhail Zislis (@MikhailZislis) April 30, 2021
Mark Spector of Sportsnet followed up the report by confirming that the Oilers are in communication with Konovalov’s agent, but that the club is not intending on the netminder playing games this season in the AHL or NHL.
Konovalov, selected 85th overall by the Oilers in 2019, has done nothing but impress in the KHL. Prior to being selected by the Oilers, Konovalov posted a 25-15-1 record with a .930 save percentage and a 1.89 GAA with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. Remarkably, Konovalov also posted ten (!) shutouts during the 2018-19 season with Lokomotiv.
His numbers dipped in 2019-20, but he was still a quality goaltender in the KHL. In 40 games, Konovalov went 14-18-6 with a .912 save percentage, 2.45 GAA and four shutouts. Konovalov started the season slowly, but was strong as the year went along.
This past season, also with Lokomotiv, Konovalov saw his workload decrease. After playing over 40 games in each of the last two seasons, Konovalov played just 19 games in 2020-21. He went 9-7-2 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA, and did not play in the playoffs.
Former AHL star Edward Pasquale stole the job from Konovalov this season, through no fault of the young goaltender.
Should Konovalov sign his entry-level contract, he’ll join a crowded pipeline in Edmonton. The Oilers have prospect Olivier Rodrigue, drafted 62nd overall in 2018, slated for a season in the AHL in 2021-22. Both Dylan Wells and Stuart Skinner are RFA’s, and their futures are up in the air.
Wells almost certainly will not receive a qualifying offer, but Skinner has played exceptionally well in AHL Bakersfield this season and has likely earned himself another contract. With Mikko Koskinen under contract at the NHL level, and the Oilers likely looking for an upgrade on the aging Mike Smith, there isn’t a lot of room.
That said, the Oilers would not sign Konovalov and bring him over to not play. He’s likely to get a heavy workload for AHL Bakersfield, and could give Skinner a real fight for the starting gig.
Here’s a quick look at Konovalov’s scouting report via All About The Jersey.
He doesn’t have the type of size teams are usually looking for in goalies but he’s quick and agile, isn’t afraid to leave the blue paint to challenge attackers, and he has a good glove as well. His situation is a bit similar to Veini Vehviläinen’s, another average-sized goalie who was also passed over thrice but finally got drafted after proving himself at the pro level.