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.
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.
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.
12 Vadim Shipachyov
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6 Mat Robinson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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