The Kontinental Hockey League, or KHL, is one of the best professional hockey leagues in the world. Many European players, and quite a few North American players, have decided to play the game in this Russian-based hockey league.
It’s a competitive league, both in play and in pay. There were reports, not too long ago, of the KHL offering to pay players more than the NHL was paying them. That, of course, will attract some of the finest players to show their stuff in the KHL. Indeed, the KHL does have some of the best players in the world. Ilya Kovalchuk, a former number one draft pick, famously decided to leave the NHL to go play in his home country for SKA St. Petersburg.
Some players decide to head over to Russia to play in the KHL rather than accepting less than consistent playing time in the AHL or NHL. We’ve seen an influx of American and Canadian born players join the ranks of the KHL recently.
All this being said however, the NHL remains the best hockey league around, hands-down. There are exceptional players in the KHL who can and should be given a look to play in the NHL. Many of these players have proven that they can play at a high level in one of the best professional hockey leagues, but haven’t yet been given a fair chance to shine in the NHL.
NHL teams are always looking for depth-players. The KHL is a source of players who can round out an NHL roster. It’s also a potential location to mine some younger prospects who would fare well in the North American game. Just look at the success Artemi Panarin had this past season in Chicago. The 24-year-old came over from SKA Saint Petersburg and put together a 77-point season in Chicago. He's likely going to win the Calder Trophy. Those are the types of players we'll be looking at here. Potential hidden gems waiting for a chance, not former NHL castoffs.
Here are the top 15 KHL players NHL teams should sign this summer.
15 Danis Zaripov
Danis Zaripov is a left-shooting forward who has played extensively in the KHL. In the 2015-16 season, Zaripov showed that he can score when it counts, leading the league with eight game-winning goals. In total, the alternate captain for Metallurg Magnitogorsk scored 22 goals with 32 assists in 60 regular season games. Zaripov is second all-time in KHL goals, with 183, behind only Sergei Mozyakin.
If they could lure him away from Russia, a team like the New Jersey Devils or Vancouver Canucks could use a goal-scorer of Zaripov’s ability. He would be a short-term fill-in to help advance the team, as he’s already played most of his professional career in the KHL. Given that he hasn’t already tested the NHL waters, Zaripov may be content to remain in Russia.
14 Chris Lee
Chris Lee played quite a bit at the ECHL and AHL levels, but did not get a chance to show his stuff in the NHL. For the past three seasons, Lee has been plying his trade in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He is an adept skater, with excellent passing ability, who is a valuable asset on the power play. Lee had a strong 2015-16 season, coming in third overall in the KHL for assists by a defenseman with 28. Lee also helped guide his team to the KHL Championship, notching 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 22 playoff games.
Lee could provide some depth in the NHL for a team looking to make a push for the Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals might be a team which could sign Chris Lee to a short-term deal, adding more offensive ability to their corps of blueliners.
13 Yegor Averin
Averin, a 26 year-old left-shooting forward, played for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL last season. A pure shooter, Averin notched 21 goals in 49 games for 2015-16. That was the most in a single season for Averin, since he joined the KHL with Omsk Avangard in 2008-09. It was also the ninth-highest number of goals during the KHL regular season.
When you consider that Averin put up that many goals in just 49 games and 16:32 of ice time per game, it becomes more impressive. Putting up 36 points in total this past season, Averin was plus-19 on-ice. He was also named the alternate captain for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. As Averin’s game trends upward, NHL teams would be smart to give him a shot to play in North America, if he wanted to give the best league in the world a chance.
12 Vadim Shipachyov
Shipachyov, a 29 year-old pivot hailing from Cherepovets, Russia, has played his entire professional hockey career in the KHL. A superb skater, Shipachyov has also shown the ability to put the puck in the net. This past season, Shipachyov was fourth overall in the KHL with 60 points for SKA St Petersburg, in 54 games. Only Alexander Radulov had more points in less KHL games in 2015-16. Shipachyov has increased his overall points total in each of the past two seasons, indicating his game has shown improvement. On the international stage, in the last World Championship tournament, Shipachyov played well, notching 9 points in 10 games, en route to a silver medal for Russia.
11 Artyom Alyayev
Alyayev, a 21 year-old defenseman, has played parts of two seasons in the KHL with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo. In 48 games during the most recent regular season, Alyayev put in 10 goals, for one of the highest goals-per-game marks by a defenseman in the KHL. He also added 13 assists for 23 points total to go with a plus-5 on-ice rating. He’s young and has lots of potential at the point.
One of the things which might make NHL teams shy away is his size. Listed at 5’8, Alyayev is not big for an NHL player, particularly for a defenseman. Having proven he can score at a high level in one of the best professional hockey leagues in the world though, Alyayev should be given a shot to show what he can do in the NHL.
10 Alexei Murygin
Playing in 34 regular season games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2015-16, goaltender Alexei Murygin had a miniscule 1.13 GAA, and a strong .954 save percentage. Murygin also led the KHL in shutouts with 13. The 29-year-old netminder has played his entire professional hockey career in the KHL, with this past season being his finest. As a goaltender who has improved his game dramatically over the years, NHL teams should consider Murygin.
The Edmonton Oilers would be wise to give Murygin a closer look. Murygin would likely want to head to a team where he’d get serious consideration to start, or at least get a share of the net, considering the amount of playing time he’s seen recently in the KHL.
9 Nick Bailen
Nick Bailen was a standout player for RPI in the NCAA. In his senior season, Bailen put up 31 points in 35 games. He wasn’t drafted but got a chance to play briefly with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. The following season, Bailen found himself in the SM-liiga with Tappara Tampere. For the past two seasons, the defenseman has played for Minsk Dynamo in the KHL. In his most recent season, Bailen put up 25 assists in 40 games, for one of the best assists-per-game averages in the KHL. He also logged a hefty 28:07 of ice-time-per-game.
Although he isn’t a big player, at 26 years old he can set up his teammates to score from the point, and should be given a look by at least a few NHL teams this summer.
8 Nigel Dawes
Nigel Dawes wasn’t playing consistently in the NHL, which is one of the reasons he wound up playing in the KHL. After toiling for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, Dawes took a chance on the KHL. He’s been there now since the 2011-12 season. Most recently, the native of Winnipeg was second overall in the KHL for goals scored with 31. While not a large player at 5'9, Dawes is built solidly and can hold his own. Showing he still has the ability to play the game well, Dawes could be an asset to several NHL teams.
The New Jersey Devils could use another goal-scorer like Dawes. The question here would be around Dawes’ interest in coming back to the NHL without the promise of consistent playing time.
7 Alexander Salak
Alexander Salak is a 6’3 netminder who had a cup of coffee in the NHL. The 29-year-old goalie played briefly for the Florida Panthers during the 2009-10 season, getting into two regular season games. That same season, Salak appeared in 48 games for the Rochester Americans of the AHL, putting up a .910 save percentage. The quick and athletic Salak has played in the KHL for the past four seasons, most recently with Novosibirsk Sibir. In 52 regular season games this past season, Salak ranked third overall in the KHL with a .938 save percentage. He also had a strong 1.89 GAA to go along with six shutouts.
Showing that his game has matured in one of the best hockey leagues around, there are at least a few teams who should give Salak another shot to compete for a spot in an NHL net.
6 Mat Robinson
He’s not a big player, but he can move. Mat Robinson is an offensive-minded defenseman who most recently played for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Robinson played college hockey at the University of Alaska before playing in the ECHL. He had a handful of games in the AHL as well, suiting up for the Binghamton Senators. The 29 year-old right-shooting blueliner recently scored 14 goals and tallied 24 assists in 58 games for Dynamo. His on-ice rating of plus-31 shows his value both offensively and defensively. A team such as the Vancouver Canucks or Carolina Hurricanes could use a defenseman who can contribute on the score sheet.
5 Brandon Bochenski
Most recently, Brandon Bochenski has been playing for Barys Astana in the KHL. In fact, he has been with that team since the 2010-11 season. This past season, Bochenski averaged more than a point-per-game with 61 total. The forward, although he has been in Russia for several years, hails from Minnesota. He played his college hockey at the University of North Dakota and was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2001 NHL draft. Bochenski had a journeyman career in the NHL, playing for several teams. His last stint in the NHL came in 2009-10, when he scored four goals and nine assists in 28 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Philadelphia Flyers, now coached by former associate and head coach of North Dakota, Dave Hakstol, might want to give Bochenski a shot as a depth forward this summer.
4 Sergei Mozyakin
Sergei Mozyakin is a pure goal-scorer with excellent stickhandling ability. He was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002, but did not play with the team. Other than a brief stint in the QMJHL with Val-d’Or Foreurs, Mozyakin has played his hockey in Russia. For the past six seasons, Mozyakin has played with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL. In 2015-16 he led the league in points with 67 (32 goals, 35 assists) in 57 games. Not only was Mozyakin tops in points for 2015-16, he is the all-time points leader in the KHL.
While he can clearly produce in the KHL, it is a bit of a wonder why he hasn’t played in the NHL. It could be that he just prefers playing in Russia, and would refuse any teams who pursued him to play in North America. With his proven ability to score, it would certainly be worth a few NHL teams’ time to persuade him to come overseas.
3 Jan Kovar
A native of the Czech Republic, forward Jan Kovar began his professional hockey career with HC Plezen of the Czech League. Prior to that, Kovar had a strong showing with the Czech Under-18 team. In the World Junior Classic Under-18 category, Kovar had 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists) in five games. For all international play at that level, he notched 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) in 23 games. Kovar played in the Czech League through the 2012-13 season, accumulating 162 points (60 goals, 102 points) in 236 games.
For the past few seasons, Kovar has been playing with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. While in the KHL, Kovar has averaged more than a point-per-game. A solidly built forward, Kovar could be an asset to several NHL teams looking for additional offense. In particular, the Toronto Maple Leafs should give Kovar a close look.
2 Dominik Furch
Dominik Furch, a 26 year-old goaltender hailing from the Czech Republic, played in the Czech League for Slavia Praha HC over six seasons beginning in 2007-08. Prior to that, he was named the best goaltender in the Under-18 World Junior Championships. Furch had his finest season in the Czech League during 2012-13 when he notched a 2.04 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
Most recently, Furch has played in net for Omsk Avangard of the KHL. In 49 regular season games this season, Furch put up a very impressive 1.77 GAA and .933 save percentage, the best marks of his professional career. There are several NHL teams who could do worse than to bring Furch in as a backup or even to compete for a starting job.
1 Anatoly Golyshev
Anatoly Golyshev is a 21-year-old forward from Russia. During the most recent KHL regular season, Golyshev notched 25 goals and 19 assists in 56 games playing for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Impressively, Golyshev put these numbers up in just 17:14 of ice time per game. His 25 goals were good enough for fourth overall in the KHL this past season. It was also two more than Alexander Radulov scored and nine more than Ilya Kovalchuk. Golyshev actually scored more goals than any under-23 player in KHL history. Playing on Russia’s Under-20 team in last year’s World Juniors, Golyshev also picked up three assists in six games.
With the ability to score in heaps, NHL teams should be looking at Golyshev as a potential add. One attribute that might cause teams to shy away is his stature at 5’9. That should not be a large concern, however, as many players that size or smaller have found success in the NHL, particularly when they can put the puck in the net.