TORONTO– Leo Komarov is ready to make his dream come true, whenever the NHL decides to resume playing.
Komarov spent the last seven seasons overseas playing professionally and decided that this would be the year to come to North America. However, with the NHL lockout in effect, the timing couldn’t have been much worse.
“I heard about it but I didn’t believe it,” said Komarov when asked what he knew about the potential for an NHL lockout. “Nothing you can do anymore. Just try to be ready when it starts.”
Born in Estonia, Komarov moved to Finland when he was five and was already playing pro in the SM-liiga when the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in 2006.
He spent four years playing in Finland’s top pro league and then joined HC Dynamo Moscow of the KHL in 2009. He played three seasons with the Russian club and last year won the league championship, the Gagarin Cup. He also suited up as the team captain for 15 games.
“I’m 25 years old. It’s not old, but I’m not 18 anymore,” said Komarov. “I like Russia and I like the KHL, but it’s always been a dream to play in the NHL and I want to try and see if I can make it.”
With his KHL club, Komarov had his most productive offensive year in 2010 when he scored 14 goals and 26 points in 52 games. Last year, on a championship team, he had 11 goals and 24 points in 46 games, which was third on his club in scoring. While those numbers aren’t the most appealing to North American critics, the KHL has never been a league that produces elite offensive numbers. Plus, his game has more to it than just putting up points.
“I played a lot of games in good leagues. I can score and pass but I’m not a points maker so no one should expect 80 points from me,” said Komarov.
Not necessarily a fan of the description “agitator”, Komarov still admits his game is physical and that he enjoys getting under the skin of the opponent. His penalty minutes have always been amongst the top of every team he’s played on and sometimes he even crosses the line; as seen in last season’s KHL playoffs when he received a one-game suspension in the opening round for hitting from behind.
“I just try my best and give 100 percent,” said Komarov about his style of play. “I know a lot of players hate me (in Europe), but when I come off the ice I’m a good guy. I won’t try to do anything stupid but you never know. It’s hockey.”
On top of his pro experience, Komarov has also played with Finland’s national-team program since 2006, when he won a bronze in the junior world championships, and was part of Finland’s 2011 World Championship gold medal squad as well.
With no NHL to play in, Komarov has accepted the idea of suiting up with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies to start the 2012-13 season.
“I got a two-way contract and I knew it could happen,” he said.
Komarov has been skating in Toronto all week in preparation for the upcoming Marlies’ training camp that starts on Thursday. He noted that Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf were all a big help in his transition to Toronto, yet he’s still taking time to figure out some of the differences in North American Hockey.
“It’s pretty tough actually. Small rink and everybody says, ‘yeah it’s a small rink,’ but it’s a big difference,” he said.
How much longer Komarov will have to wait to play in the NHL will only be decided when the lockout is over and games resume. The length of the lockout will determine what happens to his future so until anything is resolved he will make the best of his time in the AHL and not look at heading back to the KHL, yet.
“For now I’m going to play here,” said Komarov. “It’s nice to be here. Canada is good people everywhere. Over here everybody speaks to you, and you have fun, I like it.”