In the past, a handful of hockey players made the decision to put their National Hockey League careers on hold by heading off to various leagues across the pond.
Some of the notable NHL names who played in Europe at some point in their careers includes Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr who spent three years with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, former Red Wings superstar Pavel Datsyuk, or 2011 Stanley Cup champion goaltender Tim Thomas who developed his talents in Finnish leagues until he helped the Bruins win their first Cup since 1972. The other examples are Alex Radulov who made his NHL return with the Canadiens last season after a four-year hiatus in Russia, ex-Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk who decided to leave North America for the opportunity to play with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, and the late Pavol Demitra. He spent the 2010-11 season with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl until his team's plane crashed and ultimately lost his life.
Aside from those players who made their NHL mark, there are the lesser-known players who exiled to Europe that fans probably forgot about in the current era. Let's review 15 other former NHLers that you didn't know continued playing hockey overseas.
15 NIGEL DAWES
Nigel Dawes had a brief yet promising start with the New York Rangers. He scored 14 goals and 29 points for the Blueshirts in 2007-08, his first full year with the team. But for the next few seasons, his point totals rapidly declined apart from a 30-point year with the '09-'10 Calgary Flames.
Dawes had an underwhelming 212-game career in the league with five different teams and 84 points until he found an opportunity to play in the KHL with Astana Barys. The move to Kazakhstan proved to be a fruitful one for Dawes, having a pair 50-point years from 2014-16 and over 60 points last season for Astana where he's played the entirety of his KHL career. The larger rinks and increased playing time helped him emerge as an offensive weapon for Astana. A year ago, Dawes stated to Sportsnet.ca that he was at peace with his NHL tenure and it appears he'll remain overseas for the time being.
14 ALEXANDER FROLOV
Alex Frolov was a fixture on the Los Angeles Kings roster during the 2000s. The Moscow-born forward achieved most of his success in L.A. during his eight-year career, recording 71 points during the Kings' 2006-07 season. Frolov had some 50-point years as well, although a disappointing one-year stint with the New York Rangers marked the end of his NHL tenure before he turned 30.
Before the 2011-12 KHL campaign began, the winger moved back to Russia and played his first three KHL seasons with Avangard Omsk. He picked up 76 points in 123 games there until they dealt him to his hometown team, CSKA Moscow during the 2013-14 campaign.
The move proved to hurt Frolov's offensive production, amassing nine points in 29 games. Despite a one-year retirement in 2014-15, Frolov came back to play two more seasons with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo but wasn't the same player offensively. He failed to crack the 20-point plateau with the Torpedo, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he permanently retires from pro hockey.
13 DEREK ROY
Derek Roy came into his own as a play-making center and a consistent point producer for the Buffalo Sabres. From the '06-07 to '09-10 seasons, Roy had at least 60 points or more. It seemed like he would blossom into a respectable star until a forgettable 2010-11 season, where he collected 35 points for the Sabres, considering he nearly reached the 70-point mark the year before. Although Roy made brief stops with five different Western Conference teams, he struggled to achieve the success he had earlier in his career.
Although Roy had modest success during a 46-game stint with Edmonton, he signed a contract with SC Bern in October 2015. Roy showed the Swiss league that he's still capable of getting on the scoresheet, scoring 30 points in 36 games. The next season, he split time with Omsk and Chelyabinsk of the KHL. However, it is unknown if Roy wants to continue his career or retire from hockey.
12 SHAONE MORRISONN
Some Washington Capitals fans may remember defenseman Shaone Morrisonn as a true stay-at-home defenseman who played during the early portion of Alex Ovechkin's tenure. Morrisonn played six seasons in Washington, earning a career-high 14 points in 2005-06, but found himself in the sin-bin with over 100 PIMs during the 2006-07 season. He joined the Sabres in 2010-11, but his tenure lasted one year.
During the 2012 NHL lockout, Morrisonn went to the KHL following a brief American Hockey League stop in Rochester. He split time with their two Moscow-based teams, Spartak and CSKA, but scored two goals all year. The next year, he joined TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League and had a fine season with 16 points in 54 games. But for the last few seasons, Morrisonn went back to the KHL and hasn't fared well in his return. He played three years for Zagreb and last year with Admiral Vladivostok, so this veteran blueliner isn't getting any younger.
11 VILLE LEINO
To Flyers fans, Ville Leino is remembered for a jaw-dropping playoff performance in 2010. He scored seven goals and 14 assists in 19 playoff games that year, but the Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks. Leino followed up his unlikely success the next year with 53 points in 2010-11, which enticed the Buffalo Sabres to offer the free agent a six-year deal worth $27 million. Unfortunately for Leino, he struggled under the weight of the contract, recording 25 points through 71 games during his first season, then failed to score a goal during his third year in Buffalo.
The Sabres bought out the last three years of Leino's contract, which put an end to his NHL career that saw him collect 119 points in 286 games played. Since the buyout, Leino has played a couple years in the KHL, spent the last two seasons with Vaxjo HC of the Swedish Hockey League, and started his own clothing line called "Billebeino".
10 Sergei Kostitsyn
Really, we probably could have counted Sergei's older brother Andrei here as well, but at least Andrei Kostitsyn was an NHL regular for several years and had some success with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs seemed to give Sergei every chance to succeed, but he constantly had attitude problems and the coup de gras was when rumors started flying around that the Kostitsyns were involved with the Russian mafia in Montreal.
He's still just 30 years old and he has put up some good stats in the KHL, with 135 points in 226 games. So playing hockey and making it a career won't be an issue for him. But we'll likely never see him back in North America again, even with a 31st team looking for talent.
9 MARCEL HOSSA
Marcel Hossa may have lived in the shadow of older brother Marian during his brief time in the NHL, where he tallied 61 points in 237 for three different teams, but he's carved out a respectable career in the KHL.
Hossa began playing in the K since 2008-09, beginning with a solid two-year stint for Dinamo Riga in Latvia. He amassed 99 points in 108 games for Riga. Hossa had two more stints with Riga (2011-12, 2013-15) but spent the 2010-11 season with Ak-Bars Kazan, played 35 games for Moscow Spartak in '11-'12, and went to Prague the following year.
Then Hossa became a journeyman player across Europe, joining HK Dulka Trencin in his native Slovakia, MODO Hockey of the Swedish Hockey League, then Plzen and Trinec Ocelari of the Czech league in 2015-16. Hossa completed his second stint with Dulka Trencin last season, where he scored 22 goals for the third time since he left the NHL nearly a decade ago.
8 NIKOLAI ZHERDEV
The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Nikolai Zherdev fourth overall in the 2003 draft, but came to the NHL with mixed results.
Zherdev debuted with the Blue Jackets in 2003-04, then tallied a career-best 27 goals following the 2005-06 regular season. However, he struggled defensively during his Columbus tenure and they traded him to the Rangers in July 2008. He fared pretty well during the 2008-09 season with 58 points under then-Rangers coach John Tortorella, but was a no-show in the playoffs. He opted to join the KHL's Mytishchi Atlant the next season and had a 30-point season.
Prior to 2010-11, Zherdev decided to have another run at the NHL by signing a one-year deal with the Flyers. He underperformed in Philly with 16 goals and six assists. That ill-fated comeback attempt marked the end of Zherdev's time in North America, so he resumed his KHL career in 2011-12 and has joined seven different teams since. Zherdev played last season for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo, his second year with the club.
7 ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY
Unless you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you might still remember Alex Ponikarovsky. The Ukrainian forward played 678 career NHL games and tallied 323 points with the Leafs, Penguins, Kings, Hurricanes, Devils, and Jets. Ponikarovsky also helped the Devils reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the underdog Kings, but his former team went on to beat them in six games.
Ponikarovsky opted to join SKA St. Petersburg before the 2013-14 KHL campaign, where he reunited with former Devils teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. Although Ponikarovsky was a disappointment for SKA with 27 points in three seasons, he helped the team win the Gagarin Cup in 2015. He recently played a fourth season with Kunlun, the KHL's newest franchise in China, then tallied seven goals in 52 games. Still, who knew the K wanted to grow the game of hockey outside of Russia?
6 ROB SCHREMP
The Edmonton Oilers selected Rob Schremp in the first round of the '04 draft after a standout OHL career for the Mississauga Icedogs and London Knights. Schremp collected a whopping 384 points at the major junior level. In 2004-05, he played on a Knights team full of future NHL players in Corey Perry, Marc Methot, and Dave Bolland, then helped them win a Memorial Cup. He played seven career games in Edmonton
Schremp collected a whopping 384 points at the major junior level. In 2004-05, he played on a Knights team full of future NHL players in Corey Perry, Marc Methot, and Dave Bolland, then helped them win a Memorial Cup. He went on to play seven games in Edmonton, then became a bust with 54 career points in 114 NHL games for the Oilers, Islanders, and Thrashers.
Since 2011-12, he's been playing all over Europe joining the likes of MODO, Skellefteå AIK, Dinamo Riga, EC Salzburg, the SCL Tigers and even the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German DEL last season. Additionally, Schremp attempted an NHL comeback in 2015-16 by joining the AHL's Portland Pirates and enjoyed a 40-point season, but never got called up by the Florida Panthers.
5 MAXIM AFINOGENOV
To Sabres fans, it seems like a while ago when winger Max Afinogenov treated them with his underrated skill and speed for almost ten seasons. He spent the majority of his NHL career in Buffalo with three 20-goal seasons, but couldn't lead the club to a Stanley Cup title.
Afinogenov's last NHL season came in 2009-10 for the Atlanta Thrashers, where he teamed up with fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. He tallied 24 goals and 61 points, but they missed the playoffs. Afinogenov finished his time in the NHL with 395 career points for Buffalo and Atlanta. Afinogenov has played in the KHL since the fall of 2010, joining SKA St. Petersburg from 2010 to 2013, and has been a member of Vityaz Podolsk for the last few years. Even at age 37, his point production hasn't slowed down with 47 points last year for Vityaz.
4 NIKITA FILATOV
Let's now focus on another ex-Blue Jacket, Nikita Filatov. Despite being drafted sixth overall by Columbus in 2008, the Russian winger really struggled once he reached the NHL level. Filatov recorded 13 points in three underwhelming seasons with the Jackets. He would be traded to the Ottawa Senators during the 2011 offseason, but his struggles continued with one assist in nine games. Filatov bolted for the KHL during the 2011-12 season, where he's remained since that time.
Unfortunately for Filatov, his goal-scoring struggles from his NHL days carried over to Russia's highest leagues. Despite scoring a KHL-best 19 goals in 2016-17 for Tolyatti Lada, he's pretty much failed to reach the 20-goal plateau over there. Columbus must be thrilled to have parted ways with this draft bust.
3 GILBERT BRULE
What is it with the presence of former NHLers who played for the Blue Jackets? Gilbert Brule was also selected sixth in the 2005 entry draft by Columbus that included future Penguins star Sidney Crosby and goalie Carey Price who's still with the Habs.
The Edmonton native spent most of his NHL career as a bottom-six forward who brought energy and grit to his team. He played eight seasons for the Jackets, Oilers, and Coyotes until retiring from the NHL three years ago. Brule headed over to Russia and joined Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg for their 2014-15 season, but he contributed with ten goals and five assists in 44 games. Brule then played two more KHL seasons for Medvescak Zagreb, then Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk during the '16-'17 season.
2 LINUS OMARK
Linus Omark might go down as one of the most overhyped prospects and draft busts the Edmonton Oilers ever had.
Best known for his dazzling shootout goal for Sweden in 2009 that went viral on YouTube, the team selected Omark during the fourth round of the '07 draft. After enjoying a solid '08-'09 season with Lulea HF of the Swedish league, he made his NHL debut in 2010-11 with the Oilers. Ultimately, Omark did not pan out with the club. He managed to amass 27 points for Edmonton during 2010-11 but had an awful -16 rating. Omark split the 2011-12 season with the Oilers and their AHL farm team in Oklahoma City. After a solid 2012-13 campaign with Zug EV of the Swiss-A league, Edmonton dealt him to the Buffalo Sabres in December 2013, but dressed for 13 games that season.
Omark left the NHL for good after a forgettable career with 32 points in 79 games. He returned to Lulea for five games in 2013-14, then briefly joined Jokerit Helsinki and Ufa of the KHL for the last three seasons.
1 CAM BARKER
Cam Barker was one of the Blackhawks' rare misses on draft day in the 2000s. Back in the 2004 draft, the Blackhawks took him third overall and Barker went on to have some decent seasons in Chicago, but ultimately he was run out of Chicago. He bounced around from Minnesota, to Edmonton and finally Vancouver before he found himself out of the NHL, ending his career with 96 points in 310 games.
It's likely Barker's NHL days are over at 31, but not to worry; he's still out there playing in the KHL and he has posted some decent numbers there with 77 points in 154 games. So it looks like he'll still be able to earn a good living playing hockey for a while.
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