Goaltender Anders Nilsson could be returning to the NHL next season after refusing to sign an extension with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, according to a report by Igor Eronko passed on via NBC Sports. Nilsson's NHL rights are held by the Chicago Blackhawks after the team acquired them as part of last year's Nick Leddy trade.
Nilsson, 25, was the No. 62 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the New York Islanders and made his NHL debut with the team in 2011. He would spend most of the next three seasons playing for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, however, except for a stretch as the Islanders' backup goaltender during the 2013-14 season.
That compelled Nilsson to leave the organization as a restricted free agent in May 2014 once it became apparent he wouldn't get the full-time starting job soon. The Islanders reportedly denied his request for a one-way deal during talks, and he wasn't willing to spend any more time in the AHL.
Now his rights are held by the Blackhawks after the Leddy trade, which also netted the team defensemen T.J. Brennan and Ville Pokka, and it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Chicago doesn't have a place in the NHL for Nilsson with Corey Crawford, Scott Darling and Antti Raanta still around, and it doesn't seem likely he would return to North America to spend most of his time in Rockford.
Maybe Nilsson becomes a trade chip for the team now, although it's hard to stay what kind of interest teams will have in him. His NHL numbers -- 23 games, .898 save percentage, 3.05 GAA -- were lackluster, and it's not like he was lights out in the AHL, either. He did perform well in the KHL, posting a .936 save percentage and 1.71 GAA in the regular season, then a .935 save percentage and 1.54 GAA in 20 playoff games, but those numbers don't often translate.
Still, teams are always on the hunt for talented goaltenders, and Nilsson is only 25 years old. There will surely be teams out there willing to take a chance on him if the Blackhawks decide there isn't room. At the very least, this opens up another intriguing possibility for the team with the offseason not too far away.