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Blackhawks hope to sign emerging KHL star Maxim Shalunov, per report

Shalunov, a 2011 fourth-round pick by the Blackhawks, has broke out as one of the top scorers in the KHL this season.

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The Chicago Blackhawks could be going back to the KHL well again next offseason. GM Stan Bowman said recently that the Blackhawks hope to sign forward Maxim Shalunov, their 2011 fourth-round pick, when the opportunity arises next offseason, according to The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Shalunov, 23, has emerged as one of the best players in the KHL as a member of Sibir Novosibirsk this season. He’s taken an unusual development path since being drafted by the Blackhawks in the fourth round (No. 109 overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, but now it’s looking like the selection could finally pay off for Chicago.

Powers has been reporting on Shalunov’s situation a good deal recently because of his monster breakout season in the KHL. There was some initial confusion as to whether the Blackhawks still held his NHL rights over five years after being drafted, but that appears to the case.

This could potentially be a huge deal. The Blackhawks had remarkable success bringing winger Artemi Panarin over from the KHL as an unsigned free agent in 2015, then went back to Russia to sign defenseman Michal Kempny last offseason. With Shalunov, the team could try to strike again, although this is a little different given he won’t be an unrestricted free agent.

However, in terms of talent, Shalunov has been a revelation. Last season, at age 22, Shalunov made his full-time debut in the KHL and recorded 30 points in 59 games. This season, he’s already recorded 30 points ... in just 29 games. He’s more than doubled his point production with 16 goals and 14 assists so far, and is now stacking up as one of the most effective players in the KHL.

He’s also an absolute shot machine, which tends to be a strong indicator of future goal scoring. This season, Shalunov has taken 102 shots on goal in 29 games, an average of 3.51 shots per contest. For some idea of how amazing that is, Ilya Kovalchuk — the KHL’s shots on goal leader — averages 3.95 shots on goal.

Shalunov is among the KHL’s elite in generating shots and points, which is something we saw from Panarin before he came over to the U.S. Here’s a quick side-by-side of Shalunov’s numbers compared to Panarin’s final KHL season:

Player Goals Assists Points PPG Shots Shots/G Games
Player Goals Assists Points PPG Shots Shots/G Games
Panarin 14-15 26 36 62 1.15 161 2.98 54
Shalunov 16-17 16 14 30 1.03 102 3.52 29

As you can see, Shalunov actually compares pretty favorably to Panarin in various categories. It’s only a half-season, yes, but the pace he’s setting is impressive. It’s also worth noting that Panarin played on a dominant line at SKA St. Petersburg alongside Russian superstars Evgeny Dadanov and Vadim Shipachyov, who are often considered as potential NHL options given their talent levels.

Shalunov hasn’t necessarily had the same kind of support, yet his numbers speak for themselves. In particular, you can see that his shot production easily outpaces Panarin, and he’s also getting enough assists that it’s not just a matter of him always looking for his own shot. And he’s built like an NHL player, too, with his official KHL page listing him at 6’3, 211 pounds. That would quickly make him one of Chicago’s biggest forwards.

What exactly do the Blackhawks have here in Shalunov? It’s difficult to say, but the numbers and size make him as intriguing as any player who could potentially join the team in the next year. After the success with transitioning Panarin into an NHL superstar, the team may have a good shot at convincing Shalunov he could follow a similar path.

Shalunov may not be the only Russian player getting attention from the Blackhawks in the summer, either. Russian outlet Championat recently reported Chicago could be interested in 23-year-old forward Vladimir Tkachyov from AK Bars, so that could be another potential target as Bowman looks to continue digging through the KHL for new talent.