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Penguins prospect suffers traumatic neck injury

Kirill Tankov, a 2021 seventh round pick, had to be stretchered off the ice after colliding head first with the boards following a hit from behind.

During the second period of a game between SKA-Neva and Dynamo St. Petersburg in the Russian second league, 2021 Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Kirill Tankov was stretchered off the ice following a head first collision with the boards.

Tankov was going hard into the corner to retrieve the puck when he was illegally checked from behind by Dynamo defenseman Artyom Maltsev. Tankov immediately crashed to the ice where he remained for several minutes while being attended to by medical staff.

Maltsev was assessed a penalty for the dirty check and ejected from the game. Reports out of Russia say he’s been suspended for a grand total of three games as punishment for the hit that sent Tankov off the ice in a neck brace.

Meanwhile, it’s expected that Tankov will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a serious injury to his neck region. Early indications are he fractured a vertebra in his neck but the extent of the injury is not fully known.

Taylor Haase, Penguins reporter for DK Pittsburgh Sports was following the incident as it happened and tweeted out updates as they came and filed an article with all the details known at the time.

Per Haase:

SKA-Neva head coach Alexander Titov didn’t have much of an update on Tankov after the game other than to say he had been taken to a hospital.

“An alarming situation,” Titov said. “Let’s hope everything works out. The player was taken to the hospital for examination, put a splint on his neck. He hit his head on the board, there was a push from the Dynamo player. We did not watch the video, but the push was visible from the bench. The officials watched the video for a reason. I hope that this injury will not be terrible and severe.”

The Russian national sports television station Match TV reported Monday evening that Tankov had fractured a cervical vertebrae in his neck (likely his C5 vertebrae, per the report) and is likely done for the season

As reported in Taylor’s story, the injury is believed to have occurred to the C5 vertebra located in the neck and makes up a portion of the cervical spinal cord. This is considered one of the worst areas of the spinal cord to sustain an injury due to its proximity to the central nervous system.

If you’re interested in learning more about Tankov’s suspected injury and what recovery could entail, the video below does a good job explaining everything that could be involved due to damage to the C5 vertebra.

After being taken off the ice, Tankov was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated further. As is often the case with these type of injuries, Tankov underwent surgery to repair any damage to his vertebrae.

On Tuesday, the team reported that his surgery was successful but there is currently no timetable for his return to action. At the very least, Tankov is expected to be out the remainder of the 2022-23 season.

Researching this type of injury produced varying timelines for recovery, mostly based off the severity of the injury to the neck and spinal cord. The worst case scenario is irreversible damage to the spine that could end Tankov’s career and forever alter his life.

On a more positive note, should the injury be limited to just the vertebrae and the surgery successful as reported by the team, Tankov should make a full recovery through rest and physical therapy, though the road back will still be a long one.

While Tankov is still developing in his native Russia and likely still some time away from coming to North America, he still made the cut for our annual “Top 25 Under 25” list, making his debut on the list at No. 21 this season.

What this means for Tankov’s future with the Penguins will not be known for some time and is furthest from what matters at this time. Right now the young forward should focus on his recovery and the next steps will play out as they will.

This is a very unfortunate situation that could have easily been avoided and now a promising young hockey player has seen his entire world turned on its head all because of a senseless, dangerous, and unnecessary play.

We all wish the best for Kirill and hope to see him healthy and back on the ice doing what he loves in the future.