There are a number of players who come through the National Hockey League’s annual Entry Draft with plenty of expectation. First and second round selections who showed promise in major junior hockey leagues like the Western Hockey Association or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. There are more who come from overseas who show promise as international prospects.
But not all of them can find the success of stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane. Some struggle to find consistency at the NHL and others can barely advance beyond playing for a minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League or the ECHL below that. In many cases, their future is destined to playing overseas; never to return to the NHL or affiliate leagues again.
Not all former NHL players who go overseas are 100 percent guaranteed to never return to North America. At least Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in making a return to the NHL for the 2017-18 season. The former No. 1 draft pick from 2001 spent 12 seasons with Atlanta and New Jersey before leaving for Russia after the 2012-13 season.
One popular place that teams like to go is the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. But there are several leagues that are home to those who struggled in the NHL. These leagues are scattered throughout a number of European countries like Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Some have done well and others are likely to be done overseas.
Additionally, there are players who had long NHL careers, but wanted to continue to play despite being past their prime. The following 15 are NHL players who have or will likely end their professional hockey careers overseas. And unlike Kovalchuk, these 15 are highly unlikely to come back to play in North America at any level.
15 Slava Kozlov
For a third round selection in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Vyacheslava "Slava" Kozlov didn’t do too bad in the league. He played 10 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before a one-season stop in Buffalo led to him playing seven seasons for the Atlanta Thrashers. Overall, Kozlov played in 1,182 games in 18 seasons; tallying 853 points. But in 2010 he would play in Russia’s KHL for CSKA Moscow.
He would play for a few more teams in the KHL before retiring after the 2014-15 season at age 42. Kozlov would remain return to Moscow Spartak as an assistant coach for the 2015-16 season. It was a rough season as the team finished second to last in their division. Kozlov did not return to the club this past KHL season.
14 Miroslav Satan
After being selected in the fifth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Miroslav Satan had a long run in the NHL that took him around the continent. After a few seasons in the minors, he finally debuted with the Edmonton Oilers during the 1995-96 season. His career took him to the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders before arriving in Pittsburgh; where he was part of the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.
After 1,050 NHL games, Satan would then go overseas, playing for Bratislava Slovan in the Slovakian Extraleague from 2010 to 2012. He also played for the team when they joined the KHL for another two seasons before retiring from professional hockey in 2014. Overall, he played professional hockey for more than two decades.
13 Nigel Dawes
Nigel Dawes never quite found his niche in the NHL. During his five seasons in the league, Dawes played for five different teams and played in 212 games; scoring 39 goals and 45 assists. His best season came with the Calgary Flames in the 2009-10 season when he had 14 goals and 18 assists in 66 games. It was after his time with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010-11 when he left to go play in Russia’s KHL.
Overseas, Dawes has had some better numbers with a total of 161 goals in the last six seasons with Astana Barys. That includes the 36 goals he scored in 59 regular season games. Dawes was the leading offensive contributor for the team. But don’t expect he’ll be making any return to North American hockey.
12 Vitaly Vishnevski
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks went with a defenseman with the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft in Russia’s Vitaly Vishnevski. He was an impressive defender during his junior hockey career overseas. He had a chance to debut during the 1999-00 NHL season with 31 appearances. He was a regular player for the next five seasons before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers just before the 2006-07 season.
Vishnevski was traded again during that same season to the Nashville Predators before playing one more season with New Jersey, who waived him after the 2007-08 season. Overall, Vishnevski played 552 NHL games with a minus-29 rating. Since then, he’s represented Russia in the 2006 Olympics and World Championships in 2009. He would play in the KHL until 2015. He was invited to Ducks camp in 2015, but never made the team.
11 Robert Nilsson
It’s safe to say that Robert Nilsson was a bit of a disappointment after being selected 15th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He didn’t make his NHL debut until the 2005-06 season when he finished with a total of 20 points in 53 games. He then ended up with Edmonton and was mostly playing in the AHL before having his “best” NHL season in 2007-08 – 10 goals and 31 assists in 71 games.
The first round bust center would play with the Oilers organization until 2010 when he made the jump to the KHL in Russia. He spent two seasons with Salavat Yulayev Ufa before he was traded to Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo, where he played until 2013. Since then, he’s played with Zurich SC in the Switzerland National League A. This past season, he scored 14 goals and 37 assists in 46 games.
10 Tyler Redenbach
Unlike a lot of the players on this list, Tyler Redenbach was never really able to play a game in the NHL. He was a third round selection in 2003 by the Phoenix Coyotes. But the center was never able to live up to the expectations after a big season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League in 2003-04 – 31 goals and 74 assists in 71 games. He had some moderate success with the Providence Bruins in 2005-06 with 58 points.
But he was never able to produce consistently at the AHL level. Eventually, he ended up having to go the Odense Bulldogs in Denmark and for a variety of teams in Switzerland. He would spend two more seasons with Paradubice HC in the Czech Republic League where he combined for 58 points from 2015 to 2017. Last season, he played just nine games for the league’s Trinec Ocelari HC.
9 Petr Taticek
The Florida Panthers decided to go with Czech center Petr Taticek with the ninth overall selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. After three seasons playing junior hockey in the Czech Republic, Taticek had a good season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League – 21 goals and 42 assists in 60 games. He would follow that up with a 57-point season in 2002-03.
But Taticek would spend most of his time playing in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage before making his debut with the Panthers during the 2005-06 season – playing in just three games. Moving around to different AHL affiliates, he spent one season with HC Rabat Kladno in 2006-07 before playing for HC Davos in Switzerland from 2006 to 2013 – tallying 151 points in 250 games.
8 Nikita Filatov
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a feeling they had a special young star in the making with Russian left wing Nikita Filatov. He was drafted as an 18-year-old with the sixth overall selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. But he only played a total of 44 games with the Blue Jackets in three seasons; scoring a total of 13 points. Filatov was traded to the Ottawa Senators, where he played only the 2011-12 season.
It was an unforgettable year that would turn out to be his last in the NHL. Filatov was forced to leave hockey in North America because of gambling debts that he said he wouldn’t be able to play off playing in the AHL; where he was destined. He has been playing in Russia’s KHL since then and had a 40-point season with Tolyatti Lada this past season.
7 Igor Knyazev
Another first round selection to fall short of expectations was defenseman Igor Knyazev. The Russian-born Knyazev was the 15th overall selection by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2001. He struggled in his first season with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL in 2002-03 with just seven points (two goals, five assists) in 68 games and a minus-22 rating. It wasn’t much better in 2003-04 with the Springfield Falcons with a minus-10 rating and only seven points in 71 games.
It didn’t take long for Knyazev to go back to Russia to play for the Voskresensk Khimik of the Russian Elite League. He bounced around to a new team in each of the seasons from 2004 to 2008 before joining the Balashikha MVD HC to the KHL. His last year of professional hockey was in 2010-11 with Tolyatti Lada of the Vysshaya League in Russia – finishing with a minus-14 rating in 43 games.
6 Alexander Svitov
Russian center Alexander Svitov had a lot of hype after a successful season with Omsk Avangard in Russia during the 2000-01 season. He was also a very physical player who accumulated 115 penalty minutes in 39 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning decided to select him third overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and he would have a chance to play right away in the 2002-03 season. But during 63 games, he had four goals and four assists with a minus-4 rating.
Svitov continued to struggle at the NHL level, which led to him being expendable in a trade to Columbus. He showed promise with the Syracuse Crunch in 2004-05 with 19 goals and 23 assists in 69 games. But after a disappointing 2006-07 season with the Blue Jackets (76 games, 18 points), he would go back to Russia to play for Omsk Avangard in the KHL. He’s played for a few more teams. He just had one of his best stat lines this past season – 27 points in 57 games.
5 Vojtech Polak
After being selected in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, right wing Vojtech Polak continued to develop in the Czech Republic League up until the end of the 2004-05 season. He showed some promise during his first professional season in 2005-06 with the Iowa Stars in the AHL – 12 goals and 22 points in 60 games. He also had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 67 games for Iowa in 2006-07.
But Polak would only play five games in the NHL for the Dallas Stars; recording only one shot per game. Polak would then spend one more season in the AHL in 2007-08 where he scored just six goals in 35 games for Iowa. Polak then bounced around leagues in the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Finland from 2008 to this past season. He played 42 games with Cherepovets Severstal of the KHL; scoring nine goals and 22 assists.
4 Hugh Jessiman
The New York Rangers used the 12th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft on right wing Hugh Jessiman while he was still playing at Dartmouth College. After reporting to the AHL in 2005-06, Jessiman bounced between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. He would never play for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. He actually never got a call up to the NHL until a two-game stint with the Florida Panthers in 2010-11.
Jessiman struggled to score and become an offensive threat as he spent about 99.9 percent of his professional hockey career in the minor leagues. He played a total of eight seasons in the AHL with seven different NHL affiliates. He spent one season with Zagreb Medvescak in the KHL before one season with in Vienna, Austria. Jessiman retired in 2015.
3 Kyle Beach
As the Chicago Blackhawks were able to build up their dynasty in the late 2000s, the organization wasn’t 100 percent on all of their draft picks. Their biggest bust in recent team history was easily left wing Kyle Beach; chosen 11th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Beach had a few good seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, including back-to-back 60-point seasons from 2006 to 2008.
In between time with the Rockford Icehogs, Beach also had 52 goals with the Spokane Chiefs in the 2009-10 WHL season. But he was never able to develop into a consistent offensive weapon in the Blackhawks minor league system. Eventually, he played himself out of the AHL and into the Austrian League with Salzburg EC (2014-2016). After an attempt to play in the ECHL in 2015-16, he has spent the past two seasons mostly with Graz EC in Austria.
2 Angelo Esposito
Angelo Esposito had a lot of hype as a 16-year-old phenom scoring 98 points in his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2005-06. He scored 39 goals in 57 games with the Quebec Remparts. With a Memorial Cup in hand, he was a first round selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. But the young star fizzled out in the AHL and moved around to the Chicago Wolves, San Antonio Rampage and the Texas Stars.
He would end up in playing for the Pelicans of Finland’s SM-Iiiga for the 2012-13 season. After that, he played for Bolzano HC in Austria before getting a one-game shot for the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL in the 2014-15 season. Esposito last played for Cortina SG in Italy before retiring in 2016.
1 Teemu Riihijarvi
Technically, right wing Teemu Riihijarvi may be viewed as someone who never played in the NHL. But he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. Not only that, but the Finnish-born skater was selected 12th overall in the draft’s first round. One has to question the Sharks’ scouting team since his numbers weren’t particularly spectacular playing for Kiekko-Espoo of Finland’s SM-Iiiga.
Not only that, but it would essentially remain at the SM-Iiiga. His best professional season was with the Pelicans team in 2000-01 – 18 points in 51 games. He followed that up with SaiPa Lappeenranta with another 18-point season. He would then make a change to the Swedish Hockey League and play two seasons for Sodertalje SK before a five-game stint with SM-Iiiga’s Blues before retiring in 2006.