General Manager Tom Fitzgerald was not done with signing players that needed deals beyond this season. Yesterday, the team announced a Really, Really Big Deal for The Big Deal; an eight-season, $64 million extension for Jack Hughes. Today, the team announced a different kind of signing. Specifically, for the third first round selection from the Devils’ 2020 NHL Draft Class. The team announced that they have signed defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin to a three-season entry level contract. Terms were not fully disclosed. And he is not coming to North America just yet. In the release, Devils also stated that he has been loaned back to Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League, the organization that Mukhamadullin has been playing with for years now.
Why make this move now? Simply to secure Mukhamadullin’s future. There were rumors that he was negotiating a new contract with Ufa, as referenced in this recent article about Devils prospects by Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler at The Athletic ($). From that same article, assistant GM Dan MacKinnon told The Athletic that the team felt he could sign a contract with New Jersey after the KHL deal ended. The recent rumors forced the Devils to act sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they would risk having to wait until after Mukhamadullin’s next contract ends and who knows how long that would be. Instead, the Devils reached out to Mukhamadullin and his people, made an offer, and got his signature first. Credit to Fitzgerald, MacKinnon, and the staff for doing so. I do not know the exact terms of the loan. I think he could still come over to play after Ufa’s season ends regardless.
From the surface and what I could glean from Brian’s weekly prospect posts, it appears he has continued to improve as a player. In his third season with Ufa, Mukhamadullin is now a regular defenseman with the sixth highest time on ice per game among Ufa defenders. His ice time and shifts per game have increased for the third straight season. While he is mired in a production slump, the soon-to-be 20 year old is still getting regular minutes in most games. He still on pace to break the 10 points he put up last season as he currently has 7 in 34 games. Mukhamadullin is still a part of the Russian national team set-up at the Under-20 level. He is expected to a return to the World Junior Championships for Russia as he was announced as part of their WJC camp. These are all good signs for any prospect.
It is a bit unclear where he fits in the larger timeline. Among defenseman prospects, Mukhamadullin is easily behind Luke Hughes in terms of expectation and upside. While Hughes is likely to stay in college for two seasons (see: Quinn Hughes, Owen Power, Zach Werenski, etc.), the Utica blueline is still filled with players. All six defenseman currently with the Comets - Walsh, Bahl, Vukojevic, Groleau, Russo, and Okhotiuk - are under contract through 2022-23. There will be no open spot available for a prospect to just step right in. This will mean Mukhamadullin will need to compete for minutes. That is not a bad thing in of itself. However, prospects do need to play somewhere to develop and so the Devils and Comets will need to oblige him somehow in case he falls short.
That is an issue for next year, though. For now, Mukhamadullin’s goal is clear: keep progressing at Ufa. The ideal situation is that he continues to play regularly for Ufa, continues to develop his game in both ends, does well at the WJCs for Russia, and does not get hurt again. Again? Mukhamadullin did undergo shoulder surgery prior to this season. With 34 games played so far this season, it is clearly not anything to worry about. But it is something to note in general.
With this signing, Fitzgerald has one fewer decision to make about a prospect by the offseason. Given that Mukhamadullin was a first-round pick, it was important to take care of him first. His rights are indefinitely held, but again, another contract with Ufa could have led to a longer wait for Mukhamadullin to even come across the Atlantic. According to the reserve list at CapFriendly, there are only three players that the Devils need to sign before June 1, 2022 to keep their rights: Benjamin Baumgartner, Eetu Pakkila, and Jaromir Pytlik. Baumgartner, Pakkila, and Pytlik are signed with their current teams beyond 2022 per their respective EliteProspects pages. I am not sure if the Devils will pay out - or if they can, I’m not knowledgable about transfer agreements with the NHL and European leagues. Still, the big one was the remaining first round selection from the 2020 draft class and the Devils got that one done and announced it today.
Congratulations to Mukhamadullin for signing his first NHL contract. I hope he continues to play at Ufa and is able to compete for a spot in at least Utica next Fall. Now I want to know what you, the People Who Matter, think. Are you pleased to see Mukhamadullin signed to an ELC? Do you think he will take a spot in Utica next season? What do you want him to do in the meantime? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Mukhamadullin in the comments. Thank you for reading.