The NHL is by far the best professional league for hockey players to play in. The NHL is the home of the best hockey players in the world. What happens however, when you are a good player but not good enough for the NHL?
There are many other top leagues around the world (mainly in Europe). Deutsche Eishockey Liga, National League A, and the Swedish Hockey League have long been the home for NHL players who are past their prime and also for young Europeans who haven’t made their mark in the NHL yet.
In 2008 the Kontinental Hockey League was founded. It helped change the game. Elite players in their prime like Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Kovalchuk left the NHL to join the upstart league. The KHL is still operating in numerous European countries now as it tries to establish itself as a solid 2nd option to the NHL. However with the Russian Ruble taking a hit, the financial stability of the league is on shaky ground.
For the purpose of this list players like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk will not appear. Most hockey fans know of those players playing overseas. So without further adieu let’s start this countdown of 15 ex-NHL players you didn’t know were still playing overseas with…
15. David Booth
David Booth had a lengthy career in the NHL. He was drafted 53rd overall by the Florida Panthers in 2004. He would make his NHL debut during the 2006-07 NHL season. David Booth reached career highs during the 2008-09 NHL season with 31 goals and 29 assists. His career was plagued by injuries. Booth was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Booth continued to struggle in Vancouver, and the Canucks used their last compliance buyout on Booth in 2014. He signed a one year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014 but he struggled to only 13 points in 59 games.
After a failed PTO with the Panthers in 2015, Booth joined Admiral Vladivostok of the KHL. He made one more failed NHL attempt in 2016 (with the Anaheim Ducks). Booth returned to the KHL this time with Avangard Omsk. Thus far this season, Booth has 7 points in 16 games.
14. Kyle Chipchura
Kyle Chipchura was a huge draft bust for the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens selected Chipchura 18th overall in 2004. He made his NHL debut during the 2007-08 NHL season. He would only play 68 games and only scored 14 points over three seasons with the club. He was traded to the Ducks in 2009 and carved a role as a checking forward. The Ducks let him go as a free agent after the 2010-11 season. Chipchura would play the next five seasons with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes franchise. He hit career highs during the 2013-14 season with 20 points in 80 games. Kyle Chipchura left the NHL after the 2015-16 NHL season. He signed a deal with HC Slovan Bratislava. Chipchura has 11 goals and 13 assists in 57 games this season.
13. Derek Roy
Derek Roy had a great career in the NHL. Roy was selected 32nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2001. He would play 738 games in his NHL career scoring 189 goals and adding 335 assists. He reached career highs during the 2007-08 NHL season with 32 goals and 49 assists in 78 games. Roy played eight seasons with the Sabres. After leaving the Sabres, Roy became a bit of a nomad. Roy played three seasons after leaving the Sabres with five clubs. He last played in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15. Roy had 22 points in just 46 games with the Oilers.
After a failed PTO with the Capitals, Roy joined SC Bern in 2015 where he won the Swiss championship. In July of 2016, Roy signed with Avangard Omsk. He now plays for Traktor Chelyabinsk, where he has 22 points in 53 games.
12. Cristobal Huet
Cristobal Huet had an up and down career in the NHL. He was drafted 214th overall by the L.A Kings in 2001. Huet would play for the Kings, Canadiens, Capitals and the Blackhawks. He had 26 wins during the 2009-10 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. He struggled down the stretch of the 2009-10 season and was replaced by Antti Niemi. The Blackhawks loaned Huet to HC Fribourg-Gotteron due to salary cap issues. After the 2011-12 season, Huet’s contract expired and his loan to the club was over making him a free agent. Huet has played with Lausanne HC since 2012. Cristobal Huet is having his best season in Europe this year. He currently has a record of 22-13-0.
He’s proven that players can carve out a nice career for themselves overseas.
11. Steven Reinprecht
Steven Reinprecht had horrible luck in the NHL. Every time he seemed to get things going he would suffer an injury. In 11 seasons in the NHL (split between the L.A. Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and the Coyotes), Reinprecht would only play 663 games and have 382 points. Reinprecht spent one season in the AHL before moving on to the DEL in 2012. Steven Reinprecht has been one of the best players since joining the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers. Reinprecht had 70 points in just 49 games during the 2013-14 season. This season, Reinprecht is among the top scorers in the league with 40 points in 42 games thus far.
Perhaps his body is just better suited to playing for the less rigorous DEL.
10. Linus Omark
Linus Omark was another frustrating case of unfulfilled potential. Omark dazzled in the shootout but he had no ability to play defense. Even on a poor Edmonton Oilers club, Omark struggled to make any impact. Omark’s NHL career would only last 79 games over three seasons. Omark had 8 goals and 24 assists. Omark took his talents overseas during the 2013-14 season after refusing to report to the Sabres’ AHL club. Linus Omark has become a legitimate star in the KHL. This season Omark has 14 goals and 42 assists in 55 games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Obviously, Omark is in a better position to succeed, as the NHL calls for more of a 200-foot game than out in the KHL. Even though he has the talent to play in the NHL, perhaps Omark is where he’s meant to be.
9. Jonathan Cheechoo
Jonathon Cheechoo shocked the NHL when he scored 56 goals during the 2005-06 NHL season. He doubled his goals from the previous year’s. Unfortunately for Sharks fans he would drop in goals each season after his breakout (56, 37, 23, 12). The Sharks moved him to the Ottawa Senators in the Dany Heatley trade. The Sens bought him out after one season where Cheechoo actually played some time in the AHL. After three more seasons in the AHL, Cheechoo joined the KHL signing with Medvescak Zagreb. This season Cheechoo is with HC Slovan Bratislava, where he has 14 goals and 25 assists in 58 games.
It’s still shocking to think that Cheechoo was once a 50-goal scorer in the NHL, even if it was due to playing alongside Joe Thornton.
8. Gilbert Brule
There sure are a lot of failed first round picks on this list eh? Gilbert Brule definitely fits that category. Brule was selected 6th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005 (one of the best drafts in NHL history). Brule could never put it together with the Blue Jackets. He was traded to his hometown Oilers in 2008. He had his career-best season with the club, scoring 17 goals and adding 20 assists during the 2009-10 season. Brule left the NHL after the 2013-14 season with 95 points in 299 career games. Brule joined the KHL in 2014 signing with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. He has split this season between Medvescak Zagreb and HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Brule has 17 goals and 21 assists in 50 games this season.
7. Viktor Fasth
Viktor Fasth had a long road to the NHL. He wouldn’t make his NHL debut until he was 30 years old. He had his best statistical season that first year. Fasth had a record of 15-6-2 in the 2012-13 NHL season. The Edmonton Oilers saw something they liked in Fasth and acquired him to compete for a starting position on the club. Fasth was a huge disappointment. His record was 9-18-4 as a member of the Oilers.
The KHL came calling in 2015 and Fasth signed with CSKA Moscow. Fasth has revived his career in the KHL. Last season he went 13-4-1 and thus far this year he is 15-2-2 with a 1.69 GAA. Fasth has shown he has the ability to be a good goalie in the KHL. Only time will tell if it leads to another try in the NHL.
6. Mark Arcobello
There really seems to be a lot of ex-Oilers on this list…not intentional I promise. Mark Arcobello was a speed demon in the NHL. He played great in the AHL, scoring 22 goals and adding 46 assists in 2012-13. The 2014-15 season was a long one for Arcobello, as he played for four teams that season. He was constantly claimed on waivers but scored 17 goals and added 14 assists in 77 games. Arcobello signed with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16 but only had 4 points in 20 games. Mark Arcobello signed with SC Bern and so far he has been lighting the NLA on fire. Arcobello has 23 goals and 24 assists in 44 games. We’ll have to see if that eventually leads to an NHL return.
5. Nikita Filatov
The KHL has become a home for Russian players who struggled in the NHL and wanted to extend their careers at home. Nikita Filatov clearly fits into this category. A failed draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets (6th overall in 2008) Filatov was a giant headache for the Blue Jackets and the NHL. Even joining the Blue Jackets led to a huge investigation involving the KHL, NHL and the IIHF. Filatov proved to not be worth the headache as he struggled to only 14 points in 53 games over four NHL seasons. Filatov returned to Russia for good in 2011, spurning the Ottawa Senators. Filatov has been a much better fit in the KHL, as he has 19 goals and 20 assists in 55 games this season.
4. Marc-Andre Gragnani
Marc-Andre Gragnani was selected 87th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2005. He was thought to be a great addition as an offensive defenseman. In his first year in the AHL, he had 52 points in 78 games. He did not show any of this offensive flair in the NHL. He played 78 games over five seasons and only scored 3 goals and 15 assists. Gragnani went overseas for the first time in 2013. He played for HC Lev Praha in the KHL. After the team folded he joined SC Bern of the NLA and he had a great season. With 37 points in 49 games, he made his way back to the NHL. He got into four games with the New Jersey Devils last season but scored no points.
He returned to the KHL this season, signing with HC Dinamo Minsk. Gragnani’s offensive flair has returned this season as he has 4 goals and 28 assists in 53 games.
3. Maxim Afinogenov
Maxim Afinogenov was known as a speed demon in the NHL. Maxim was selected 69th overall in the 1997 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Afinogenov was solid offensively but struggled with his two-way game in the NHL. He had a career-high 73 points during the 2005-06 season. After nine seasons in Buffalo, Afinogenov made the Atlanta Thrashers team after a tryout. He scored the most goals of his career with 24 that season. Maxim would go to the KHL in 2010, signing with SKA St. Petersburg. Afinogenov was then named the captain of HC Vityaz in 2013. This season Maxim has 20 goals and 27 assists in 56 games. It seems his career will last quite a while in Russia, but it definitely wasn’t going to pan out in the NHL.
2. Robert Nilsson
Robert Nilsson was a huge bust in the NHL. Drafted 15th overall in 2003 by the New York Islanders, Nilsson would struggle in the NHL. He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, but the Oilers were among the worst teams in the league and Nilsson still failed to have any success. His NHL career ended after the 2009-10 season with only 118 points in 252 games. Nilsson debuted in the KHL for the 2010-11 season. He would jump over to the NLA in 2013 and joined the ZSC Lions.
Nilsson has been a top point getter in the NLA. Last season he scored 12 goals and added 40 assists in 48 games playing with Auston Matthews. This season has been more of the same as Nilsson has 40 points in 44 games.
1. Nigel Dawes
Nigel Dawes has to be one of the most frustrating cases of a player achieving success everywhere but the NHL. Dawes was a top scorer in the WHL and even in the AHL, yet struggled mightily in the NHL. He scored his first goal during the 2006-07 NHL season with the New York Rangers (his only goal that season). Dawes was traded in 2009 to the Coyotes. Teams kept picking Dawes up thinking they would be the ones that would get him to reach his potential. From 2009-2011 Dawes would join four different NHL teams and failed to achieve any success. Dawes would leave the NHL in 2011 with only 84 points in 212 games. He joined Barys Astana of the KHL and has been one of the best scorers in the KHL. Dawes ranks 10th all time with 284 points in 328 games. This season Dawes has 60 points in 56 games.