The Kontinental Hockey League, or KHL for short, is home to some of the greatest hockey players on the planet. Being the most prominent hockey league in Eastern Europe, the KHL attracts a lot of talent including some former NHL stars, headlined by the likes of Datsyuk and Kovalchuk.
More and more talented players are making the jump from the KHL over to North America to try out the NHL and there's been some great successes as well as failures. A notable success is Artemi Panarin who just finished out his second NHL campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks - he scored 30 or more goals in both seasons. Panarin was picked up out of nowhere and has been a huge contribution to the Blackhawks.
Much like the Blackhawks, more and more teams are looking towards Eastern Europe for sleeper pickups like Panarin. Currently, the KHL is riddled with tons of talent and prospects. The players know the NHL is the biggest stage, but many players also like being close to home with a cushy salary and less pressure in the KHL. I think I speak for most of us when I say that I want more KHL players to come over and display their talent.
In this list, we will be reviewing 15 of the top players in the KHL and choosing a possible NHL landing spot for them. I've selected five forwards, five defencemen, and five goalies to look over. This list exclusively features players who have never played in the NHL.
With all of that out of the way, let's get into it!
15 Kirill Kaprizov: Minnesota Wild
The first entry in this list is the 135th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Kirill Kaprizov. The Minnesota Wild selected this Novokuznetsk, Russia native in the fifth round because of his pure offensive potential. The 19-year-old is continuously improving and in his third KHL season (this season), the young Russian notched 20 goals and 22 helpers in 49 games - the left-winger finished just shy of top 20 in KHL scoring. I'd expect the Wild to be trying to bring him over to North America soon.
The Wild are very strong at forward but could use a talented winger to add just that much more offensive flare to their bottom six. With Zach Parise leading the left wingers, Kaprizov would have one of the best to learn from. I'd recommend giving Kaprizov a year or two for development in the AHL but after that, I think he'd be a great third or possibly even second line fixture in Minnesota.
14 Jakub Jerabek: New York Islanders
The 25-year-old, Jarabek, is currently playing in his first KHL season. After eight seasons with the Pizen HC of the Czech league, the young defender decided to try out his talents in the KHL with the Chekhov Vityaz. In his past three seasons of hockey, Jarabek has contributed 30+ points - in this season he chalked up 35 points in 60 games. His offensive production has earned him fifth in KHL defensive scoring and he was in contention for possibly even upwards of second on the list.
A team that could benefit from Jerabek's offensive gifts alongside his solid defensive game, is the New York Islanders. Jerabek would provide a great offensive spark to the Islanders' second pairing and give some support to Nick Leddy who led the team's D-men with 46 points. Jerabek would add depth, offence, and alleviate pressure from Nick Leddy who I believe is capable of upwards of 50-60 points.
13 Igor Shestyorkin: New York Rangers
In at the lucky #13 spot and the first goalie on this list is Igor Shestyorkin, a Moscow, Russia product. The New York Rangers selected the young tender 118th overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft. Shestyorkin has yet to sign an entry-level contract with the Rangers and continues to develop in the KHL. He's a very agile goalie with great reflexes and lateral movement. He is currently playing for the St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL and this season won 27 out of his 39 games, allowing only 60 goals and closing the door for eight shutouts.
The New York Rangers have an excellent goalie program and Shesyorkin would learn a ton with them, especially behind the great Henrik Lundqvist. The thing about goalies though, is that their potential is so hard to predict - you never know when they are going to peak and become capable NHL starters. The Rangers are stacked as far as goalie prospects go, but Shestyorkin could easily steal a position on their AHL club and hopefully, eventually crack the NHL squad.
12 Jan Kovar: New Jersey Devils
The next forward on this list is Jan Kovar, the 27-year-old Czech. Kovar is currently playing in his fourth KHL season and he's been well over a point-per-game in three of them. In 59 games this season, Kovar scored 23 times and added 40 apples. Kovar is an offensive weapon who would be a great second line asset to most teams in the NHL. The NHL's lack of intrigue in Kovar is likely due to his inconsistencies during international tournaments.
As I mentioned, Kovar would be a great addition to most NHL teams, but I think the New Jersey Devils could perhaps benefit the most. The Devils need some secondary scoring, among other things, and Kovar could be the perfect addition to the offensively slumping Devils. Kovar could even roll on the first line with his point production but I do believe the second line is the perfect placement for him - alongside Palmieri or Cammalleri.
11 Oscar Fantenberg: Colorado Avalanche
Out of Ljungby, Sweden is the next defender in this list, Oscar Fantenberg. The 25-year-old, Fantenberg is a good two-way defender that is really finding his game as of late. Equipped with a good shot, agility, physicality, and sound positional play, Fantenberg is a solid addition to many NHL teams' bottom four. He just finished up his first KHL season and managed to tally 23 points in 44 games with the Sochi HC.
Fantenberg is just now coming into his prime and would be a good pickup for an NHL squad looking to add some defensive depth to their second or more likely third pairing. I'd look no further than the Colorado Avalanche as they need pretty much everything. Fantenberg would add some much-needed stability to Colorado's back end as well as increase the team's terrible offensive production. With the Avalanche, Fantenburg could probably play on their second pairing.
10 Pavel Francouz: Columbus Blue Jackets
The next goalie of this list is Pavel Francouz, the 26-year-old Czech. Francouz is currently playing in his second KHL season for the Chelyabinsk Traktors and won 14 of his 30 games during the regular season - he posted five shutouts and 41 goals against for a GAA of 1.43. Francouz is one of those unpredictable goalies who is randomly starting to showcase talent capable of holding a spot on an NHL roster.
As of now, Francouz could probably hold a split-starter position with an AHL club before cracking an NHL spot - he still needs some development. A team that could use a solid netminder is the Colombus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets need a new backup to Bobrovsky and/or an AHL starter that can make the jump when he's ready. Curtis McElhinney just isn't up to par at this point in time (current backup).
9 Nikita Gusev: Tampa Bay Lightning
Out of Moscow, Russia is the next entry on this list, Nikita Gusev. The Tampa Bay Lightning drafted the talented forward 202nd overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft. Gusev is extremely skilled and an offensive threat but he's also very undersized, standing at 5'9" and weighing around 165 lbs. The 24-year-old, Gusev has now played his seventh KHL season and just finished up his career best season with 24 goals and 47 helpers in 57 games.
Gusev has expressed his reluctance to play in North America but has since grown as a person and as a player. With the young Russians that the Lightning have, it could definitely give Gusev some incentive to join the Lightning. On top of the Russian players, the Lightning also employ some undersized players like Johnson and Drouin who could mentor Gusev. He would be a great fit with the Lightning and add some more potency to Tampa Bay's already stellar offence.
8 Juuso Hietanen: Pittsburgh Penguins
The next D-man of this list is Finnish born, Juuso Hietanen - a current member of the Moscow Dynamo in the KHL. Hietanen is a great two-way defender capable of producing around 30 points-per-season on top of being defensively sound. The 31-year-old has continuously improved throughout his long, 13-season professional hockey career. This season saw the smooth defender chalk up 12 goals and 30 points in 57 games, finishing eighth in defensive scoring for the KHL.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could put some use to Hietanen as a sixth or seventh defencemen to add some stability and consistency to a constantly shifting defensive core. Hietanen's play style compliments the Penguins style of play perfectly and I believe they could gel quite well. Realistically, Hietanen isn't a top four D-man but he is just gliding into his prime so in a season or two he could potentially play a bigger role with the "Pens".
7 Emil Garipov: Philadelphia Flyers
Emil Garipov is one of few Russian goalie prospects that show promise in terms of making the transition over to the NHL from the KHL. Garipov is a proven elite KHL goalie and could definitely fill a backup position on many teams and eventually become a prominent starter. Garipov was the KHL's top goalie for the 2013/14 season and consistently puts up impressive stats including GAA and SV% - this season, Garipov posted a GAA of 1.85 and a SV% of .933.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been a team struggling between the pipes for quite some time, constantly bouncing between starters. Garipov could potentially be the missing puzzle piece the Flyers have been searching for and provide a solid backup or even take over as a starter. Garipov has proven himself in the KHL and now it's time for the 25-year-old Russian to take hockey's biggest stage.
6 Vadim Shipachyov: Montreal Canadiens
Vadim Shipachyov is a very smooth skating Russian forward known for his soft hands and ability to offensively take over hockey games. Out of his nine KHL seasons, Shipachyov has finished well over a point-per-game four times - this season he finished with 26 goals and 50 helpers in just 50 games. He is one of St. Petersburg SKA's best players of the KHL and could easily step into a second or even first line role in the NHL.
The Montreal Canadiens have previously had talks with the highly touted Russian, but they've yet to come to an agreement. Shipachyov would be a great fit in Montreal and add some more firepower to a team that could maybe use just a dash of more offence. The Canadiens already have a strong presence of Russian players and multiple Russian prospects so I think it would be a fairly easily transition for the now 30-year-old forward.
5 Bogdan Kiselevich: Boston Bruins
In at the #5 spot is the Russian defenceman, Bogdan Kiselevich - currently a member of the CSKA Moscow of the KHL. Kiselevich just finished his eighth KHL season for his second team and has continuously improved his play alongside his point totals season-by-season. This season was his career best and it saw to him notching 23 points in 45 games while sitting on a +7 rating. Kiselevich is skating into his prime at 27 years of age and is definitely ready to transition over to North America.
The Boston Bruins could use a bottom four D-man to stabilize their deteriorating back end - with that being said, Kiselevich might need to fight for a spot. Kiselevich's style would fit into the Bruins' style of play perfectly. He is also more than capable of cracking a roster spot, especially within the next season or two as he further develops into his prime as a defenceman. It's definitely time for Kiselevich to make the leap.
4 Juha Metsola: Philadelphia Flyers
The next netminder of this list is Juha Metsola, a Tampere, Finland native. Metsola has come to be known as one of the better Finnish goalies out there, playing well on many stages ranging from the WHL all the way to international play. Perhaps what has prevented him from being drafted is his small frame that has him standing at 5'10". Despite his small stature, the Fin has proven his abilities and adapted to an unorthodox mutation of the butterfly style. Currently, Metsola resides with the Khabarovsk Amur of the KHL - he finished this season up with 21 wins in 54 games with a SV% of .933.
With the Philadelphia Flyers in dire need of goalies, I'd have to choose them as a possible landing place for Metsola. The 28-year-old could be a great NHL backup and if he polishes up his overall positioning style, he could possibly take over as the number one. Consistency is definitely a trait of Metsola and definitely not a trait of the Flyers' previous tenders - this reason alone makes Metsola a great fit for the boys in orange.
3 Sergei Mozyakin: St. Louis Blues
In at the #3 spot is the last forward of this list, Sergei Mozyakin - a Yaroslavl, Russia product. Mozyakin is easily one of, if not the best players in the KHL, especially this season where he tallied an impressive 48 goals and 37 assists in 60 games, finishing first in KHL scoring ahead of Kovalchuk. The 36-year-old has played a long professional hockey career that's included nine KHL seasons, eight of which he's been well over a point-per-game in.
As I mentioned, Mozyakin is 36-years-old so he'd be god fit on an NHL team looking to add some experience and talent for a cup run. The St. Louis Blues could really use a player like Mozyakin to add some additional firepower. The Blues already have a handful of Russians, headlined by Vladimir Tarasenko who could be a lethal compliment to Mozyakin's game. As the Russian ages, I'd suspect it would take a big but short (high salary/low years) contract to bring him over to North America.
2 Chris Lee: Calgary Flames
Capping off the defencemen and the only Canadian of the list is Chris Lee, the MacTier, Ontario native. Lee is an offensive defenceman known for his incredible skating ability and offensive prowess. On the powerplay, Lee is a complete weapon and he is more than capable of contributing upwards of 60 points-per-season. He just finished his fourth KHL season and put up career-high numbers with 14 goals and 51 helpers in 60 games. Lee finished eighth in KHL scoring and first among defencemen by a big 24-point margin.
Lee is 36-years-old and a very experienced hockey player that would be a great addition to a young hockey club that could use some more flare on the backend. A perfect spot for Lee would be in his home country with the Calgary Flames. The Flames are currently on a quick rise to the top of the NHL with incredibly talented and young players backed by a good veteran core - all they need is a stronger defensive lineup with more offensive production and Lee would be perfect for them.
1 Alexander Yeryomenko: Philadelphia Flyers
Finishing up this list is a goalie out of Moscow, Russia, Alexander Yeryomenko. Being 37 years of age, Yeryomenko is a very seasoned goaltender that has seemingly just now reached his prime. He is currently in the playoffs during his sixth season with his current team, the Moscow Dynamo. During the regular season, Yeryomenko posted incredible numbers and labeled himself as the KHL's top netminder - he won 24 of his 37 games with nine shutouts, a remarkable 1.29 GAA, and a SV% of .950.
I have to go with the Philadelphia Flyers again for a possible landing spot. As I've mentioned a few times now (sorry), the Flyers need to sort out their issues between the pipes and if they can do that, they can be an elite NHL hockey club. Yeryomenko, if he can carry over his stellar play, could easily take a backup position and maybe even steal the starting position.I peg Yeryomenko as a late bloomer and I believe this would be the perfect time for the Flyers to look out east at the KHL.
Thanks for reading!
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