Following a stellar showing in 36 games as a rookie and an All-Star Weekend appearance to boot, Dadonov found himself caught in a numbers game with the amalgam of free agents the Florida Panthers took in during the off-season. With his entry-level contract expiring at the conclusion of this season, Dadonov was looking for a fresh start.
The Carolina Hurricanes were more than willing to welcome him in, as they sent Jon Matsumoto and Mattias Lindstrom to Florida for Dadonov and AJ Jenks
in a four-forward swap.
According to Jason Karmanos, vice president and assistant general manager of the Hurricanes, this was a move that was mutually beneficial to both teams.
“[Florida] had gotten to a point with both players where they felt they needed a change of scenery and better opportunity,” Karmanos said.
Matsumoto was set to become a class six unrestricted free agent and had made it clear through his agent that he would pursue other options during the summer, should it reach that point. Lindstrom was playing overseas in Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan league, a step below the top Elitserien league, which made it hard for the Canes to track his progress.
In return, the Hurricanes got the player they feel has the most NHL upside of the four in Dadonov and a player in Jenks, who has a familiar tie to the organization.
“Dadonov is a guy we saw first-hand when he was in Florida last year and various other points,” Karmanos said. “We recognized he had a certain skill level, and we had some interest in him just by the skill level and skating ability alone.
“We have some history with Jenks because he played in Plymouth,” Karmanos said. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos also owns the Plymouth Whalers, and there are a number of players in the organization that have been fostered in the Compuware hockey family. “He played with [Chris] Terry, [Michal] Jordan and [Brett] Bellemore at different points in times while in Plymouth, so he’s been in the organization to a certain degree in the past. We knew him as a person and felt that we had a better feel for his potential than Lindstrom.”
Last season with the Panthers, Dadonov had 17 points (8g, 9a) in 36 games. In 24 games with the Rochester Americans of the AHL, he had 16 points (8g, 8a). In his first season in the AHL, Dadonov was a 40-point player (17g, 23a). This season with the Panthers, Dadonov only cracked the scoresheet three times (2g, 1a) in 15 games.
“I had a few call-ups and send-downs this year, and I realized Florida has too many guys on one-ways right now,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for me right now. I’ve got another chance with a different a team. So I start building from the start.”
Dadonov will start with Charlotte, a team with which he will make his debut tonight against the Abbotsford Heat. Although he admits he doesn’t know much about the Carolina organization, he said he has already heard a lot of good things and is excited to get started.
His dominant memories of this area come from last year’s All-Star Weekend when Dadonov was one of the 12 rookies who participated in the SuperSkills competition. But he is careful not to let that honor affect him.
“It was good for me, for sure. Being around big NHL stars, it’s cool,” he said. “It’s big for me in my memory, but it’s not going to help me in the future if I don’t keep working hard.”
Dadonov will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season. There have been rumors suggesting Dadonov might go back to Russia’s KHL, a league in which the young forward played in as recently as the 2008-09 season. Even if he does defect to Russia, the Canes will still retain his rights.
“It’s certainly not a farfetched idea for a Russian player who has already played in the KHL to, when faced with playing in the minors, suggest that he’s contemplating going back home,” Karmanos said. “I think it’s up to how it plays out here with us, but even in the scenario where he goes to Russia next year, organizationally, we still think we’ve taken a step forward. It’s worth the chance to see what there is with this player and his potential.”
Dadonov said he can’t let the pending contract expiration weigh too heavily on him, especially now that he’s found a new home.
“I’m not really worried about [my contract]. I know I need to work hard anyway,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if my contract is expiring or not. I try not to worry about it and just play my best.”
Unfortunately for Charlotte, they lose their leading scorer in Matsumoto, who had 34 points (13g, 21a). And with Zac Dalpe
currently recalled, they have lost their two top centers. So, positionally speaking, this is a trade that could dent Charlotte in the short term. But looking long-term, Karmanos said it’s a move the organization had to make.
Though head coach Kirk Muller has yet to get an extensive look at Dadonov, he described him as a "nifty player" with "creativity, and that's not something you can teach." Dadonov is a self-described skilled, speedy guy that will "work hard and bring energy." Muller said that when time permits, he'd like to travel to Charlotte to watch the team practice and play to get a better feel for the players in the organization. At some point this season, Dadonov might come to him.
“We’ll see where [Dadonov’s] game is and certaintly wouldn’t be surprised if at some point he gets some time or gets a look at this level,” Karmanos said. “But that will be up to him to play well in Charlotte first.”
In all, this intra-divisional exchange made sense for both teams who had players with whom they’d reached a crossroads.
“With both parts of the transaction, I think it’s a case on both sides of getting a fresh start,” Karmanos said.