With the National Hockey League regular season officially over, hockey fans out there like you and I can look forward to the excitement of the playoffs.
While we wait for the NHL’s second season to begin, I want to take a look at the top 15 players currently not in the league.
While the NHL is clearly a cut above every other league in the world, there are plenty of quality players around the world. Players who can no longer find jobs in the NHL take to Europe to ply their trade, be it in the Swedish Elite League, Switzerland, Germany, or in the KHL, whose lack of a salary cap made it an attractive option for players during the NHL's recent lockout. It also lured Ilya Kovalchuk out of New Jersey and back home.
Players aren't the only ones who go across the Atlantic when looking for a job in hockey. We've seen coaches like Bob Hartley, Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford make the jump and Hartley's success in Switzerland helped him land a job with the Calgary Flames, a team he's now surprisingly led to the playoffs.
We're also going to be looking at junior hockey though, as this draft class is set to be the best one in a long time, led by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, who will undoubtedly be the first two picks and many would make the argument they were good enough to play in the NHL this past year (did you see that Buffalo Sabres team?)
From the Kontinental Hockey League, to the Swedish Elite League, to right here in North America with the numerous junior hockey and NCAA programs, there are a lot of great players out there. We'll be seeing some of these players in the NHL soon enough, but some may find it difficult to leave a league like the KHL, unless it goes under.
Here we go:
15 Jack Eichel – Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
We begin with the odds on favorite to be the 2nd player chosen in this June’s NHL Entry Draft. The 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner leads all NCAA players in goals with 26, and +/- with a staggering +51. Time will tell whether or not he grows to be a better player than the next person on the list. In most years, Eichel would have been the top pick, and it's crazy to think that he's going to be seen as a consolation prize, as the winner of the lottery will take McDavid.
14 Dylan Strome Erie Otters (OHL)
Despite the fact that Conor McDavid gets most of the attention, his partner in crime Strome –the younger brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan Strome-is just as dangerous offensively.
Strome, who stepped up huge when McDavid was out of action with a broken hand, finished the regular season as the OHL’s leader in assists and points with 84 and 129 respectively. It will be interesting to see how NHL scouts see him- will they view him as his own man? Or will they see him as a guy riding McDavid's coattails?
13 Connor McDavid – Erie Otters (OHL)
The man who made fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, and Arizona Coyotes openly root for their team to tank.
The Newmarket, Ontario native who finished tied for 4th in OHL scoring with 44 goals and 3rd in points with 120 is the consensus no.1 overall pick in this summer's NHL Entry Draft.
McDavid surely would have finished first in both categories had he not suffered the aforementioned broken bone in his right hand during a game in November, which caused him to miss five weeks of action.
12 Alexander Perezhogin – OMSK Avangard (KHL)
Previous NHL Experience: Montreal Canadiens
Many Montreal Canadien fans are familiar with the former Habs’ first round pick.
While the Kazakhstan native struggled to consistently find his footing here in North America during his time with the bleu, blanc, et rouge, that hasn’t been the case in mother Russia.
Since moving to Russia for good in 2007-08, the 31-year-old has been a consistent point producer year after year.
11 Vladimir Sobotka - Avangard Omsk (KHL)
NHL Experience: Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Sobotka left the NHL this past off-season when he elected to sign a three-year deal with Avangard Omsk. Known as a very effective two-way forward, the 27-year-old went to the KHL for a more lucrative deal.
The move paid off for his new team as well, as Sobotka finished tied for second on his team in assists with 28 and third in points with 38.
10 Anders Nilsson – AK Bars Kazan (KHL)
NHL Experience: New York Islanders
No hockey list would be complete without at least one goalie.
If you can get past his 9-8 regular season record, the 25-year-old from Lulea, Sweden has looked good in nets as he has posted an impressive 1.71 GAA, and a .938 SV% in his first KHL season. His playoff numbers look even better as he has posted 12 wins and six shutouts to go along with a 1.24 GAA and a .947 SV% in 17 games.
9 Alexander Burmistrov – AK Bars Kazan (KHL)
NHL Experience: Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets
The former 8th overall pick by the Thrashers in the 2010 draft comes in at no.9 on our list.
Despite the fact that it feels like Burmistrov has been around for a long time, especially since he played for the Thrashers, the fact remains that the talented Russian is only 23 years old.
Burmistrov, who led his team with 37 points this season, will be a KHL free agent this summer. The Jets still hold his NHL rights. Perhaps Burmistrov will be more inclined to return to the NHL now that the Jets are a contending team.
Will we see him donning a Jets jersey this fall, or will he be staying home in the KHL? This summer should be interesting.
8 Broc Little – Linkopings HC (Swedish Hockey League)
NHL Experience: None
The former Yale Bulldog currently leads the Swedish Hockey League with 28 goals. He is also tied for third overall in points with 41 in 55 games played this season.
While Little is one of the few professional players on the list to not have had a taste of the NHL, the 27-year-old, has averaged almost a point per game in every other league he has played in. That list includes the SM-Liiga, Elitserien, and the AHL.
7 Roman Cervenka – St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
NHL Experience: Calgary Flames
Despite turning pro 12 years ago, Roman Cervenka is still only 29 years of age.
In 457 career games in Europe, the center has 366 points.
He picked up two goals in five in the last Olympic Games for the Czech Republic men’s Olympic hockey team.
This season for St. Petersburg, Cervenka finished tied fifth in goals and assists with 13 and 23 respectively.
6 Steve Moses – Jokerit Helsinki (KHL)
Yes I am aware of the fact that Steve Moses recently signed with the Nashville Predators. But, he is signed for next season, so that’s good enough for me to put him on the list.
The former University of New Hampshire product set a new KHL record for goals this season by scoring 36 in 57 games.
The 25-year-old added five more goals in 10 playoff contests recently before his team was eliminated.
5 Eric Perrin – JYP HT Jyvaskyla (SM-Liiga)
NHL Experience: Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers,
The diminutive forward out of Laval, Quebec made a brief NHL cameo during the Lightning’s 2004 run to the Stanley Cup. While he ended up getting his name on Lord Stanley’s prize, it wasn’t enough to keep Perrin in the sunshine state for long.
After spending two full seasons in the AHL, Perrin returned to the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers. He recorded 68 points in 159 games for the franchise, but left for the KHL in the 2009 offseason.
In 2010-11, Perrin ventured back to Finland where he started his professional career, to rejoin his old team (JYP).
In the five seasons since he returned, Perrin has recorded nearly 300 points.
Even now at the age of 39, Perrin still hasn’t lost his touch. This season alone he has registered 12 goals, 43 assists, and 55 points.
4 Nigel Dawes – Barys Astana (KHL)
NHL Experience: New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers, and Montreal Canadiens.
While the former Rangers’ fifth round draft pick has played for more NHL teams than anybody on this list, he never really found his niche in the league.
In the KHL however, the 30-year-old left winger has turned into an offensive threat as he uses his speed on the bigger ice surface to create scoring chances.
This year Dawes finished with the team lead in goals with 32, and tied for second in points with 56.
In seven playoff games this year, the Winnipeg native has registered seven points.
3 Ilya Kovalchuk – SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
NHL Experience: Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils
One of the top players of his generation no matter what league he plays in. The 31-year-old who is a former winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy as the leading goal scorer in 2004, is the ultimate point per game producer. In 816 career NHL games, the Russian sniper had 816 points, which ranks him fifth in all time points in NHL history by a Russian born player.
Kovalchuk even did one better in his first two KHL seasons, as he recorded 82 points in 81 games.
With rumors swirling recently about a possible NHL return, who knows how long Kovalchuk will be eligible to stay on the list.
2 Alexander Radulov – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
NHL Experience: Nashville Predators
The former Pred comes in at number two on our list, and with good reason. Any time Radulov steps on to the ice, he is instant offense.
After years of playing second fiddle to Kovalchuk, the 28-year-old defeated his fellow Russian for first place in the KHL points race with 71.
What made the accomplishment more impressive is the fact that Kovalchuck played in eight more regular season games than Radulov did.
Radulov also holds the KHL record for most career points with 427, and most points in a season with 80 during the 2010-11 season.
1 Sergei Mozyakin – Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
While his name might not right a bell in North America, the former Columbus Blue Jacket draft pick has been an impact player for a long time.
The 34-year-old Russian who last year helped lead his team to the Gagarin Cup, (the KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup) also led the league in points last year, and has done so an astonishing four out of the last seven seasons.
The aforementioned Radulov took the title the other 3 years.
I’ll never be accused of being a math major, but by my count, Mozyakin has the edge by one. That’s why he gets the top spot.
That’s it for the list. I hope you enjoyed it.
I am sure I’m not the only one that noticed that a lot of these players played for the Thrashers organization at one time in their careers. Is it a coincidence that the franchises’ fans gave up on the team just like the team appeared to have given up on some of these guys a little too soon, just to see them flourish elsewhere latter on?
I guess we’ll never know.