There’s no doubt that the NHL is still the world’s best hockey league, but more and more players are now carving out careers in the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League), especially when their time in North America has passed them by. But for different reasons, some players are also returning to Europe during the peak of their careers, such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Vyacheslav Voynov of Russia. Kovalchuk made the move shortly after signing a huge NHL contract while Voynov didn’t really have much of a choice since he was facing jail time and/or deportation in the U.S.
Some players aren’t paid as much, but can still make a good living in the KHL. It’s especially attractive to those who are older and find it hard to land an NHL contract during the twilight of their careers. This is a list of 18 former NHL players who have left North America and are still playing the game in the KHL. Most fans will be familiar with them and may be surprised to hear they’re still active. Most of them are from Russia or other parts of Europe as the majority of Canadians who skate in the KHL are journeyman.
The KHL was founded back in 2008 and consists of 28 clubs that are based in Russia, Finland, Belarus, Croatia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia. The league is regarded as the best in Europe and it plans further expansion to other countries. The League basically took over from the old Russian Super League and most Russian stars who made it to the NHL, such as Alexander Ovechkin, played in one of those two leagues before launching their careers in North America.
18 Lubomir Visnovsky
The Los Angeles Kings selected Slovakian defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky with the 188th draft pick in 2000 and he remained in the NHL until the end of last season. The small, but gifted blue liner also had stints with Edmonton, Anaheim, and the New York Islanders. The 39-year-old played 883 regular-season games in the NHL over 14 seasons and had 128 goals and 367 assists for 495 points. However, he appeared in just 28 playoff games and added eight assists. He played 32 games for his hometown club Slovan Bratislava of the KHL in 2012-13 and skated in nine more this season. Visnovsky has scored 26 points in 41 KHL games, but probably won’t add to that total since he’s planning on retiring.
17 David Booth
Detroit native David Booth was last seen in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014-15 when he posted just 13 points in 59 games as a depth forward. Booth is now with Admiral Vladivostok and had 16 points after 23 games with the club. He was drafted 53rd overall by Florida in 2004 and played a total of 520 regular-season contests with the Panthers, Vancouver, and Toronto, racking up 231 points along the way. Booth was never a big scorer, but posted a decent .46 points per games while in the NHL. He ended up with the Leafs after the Canucks bought him out. I wouldn’t expect Booth to return to the NHL at this stage of his career though.
16 Sergei Kostitsyn
Montreal Canadiens fans will remember forward Sergei Kostitsyn of Belarus as being an underdog after the club took him with the 200th pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. The brother of Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei played 353 NHL games and chipped in with 176 points and had 15 points in 40 playoff contests. Kostitsyn spent the last two seasons of his NHL career with Nashville before moving to Avangard Omsk in 2013-14. The 29-year-old scored 10 goals and 10 assists with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod this season and now has 109 points in 181 regular-season KHL appearances.
15 Niklas Hagman
Speedy Finnish forward Niklas Hagman joined the KHL in 2012-13 and has skated with Jokerit for the past two seasons. He scored 14 points in 44 games this year and has racked up 62 points in 139 regular-season contests. Hagman played 770 NHL games with Anaheim, Calgary, Toronto, Dallas, and Florida after being taken 70th overall by the Panthers in the 1999 NHL Draft. The 36-year-old Hagman, who is the son of former NHL’er Matti Hagman, totaled 147 goals and 154 assists for 301 points during his NHL days.
14 Niko Kapanen
Forward Niko Kapanen of Finland played in 397 NHL games before deciding to join Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL in 2008-09. He was drafted into the NHL by Dallas with the 173rd selection in 1998 and also skated with Atlanta and Phoenix before leaving for Europe. Kapanen chipped in with 126 NHL points during his career with another nine in 18 playoff outings. He played with Jokerit for the past two seasons and scored 26 points in 53 games this year along with three points in four playoff games. Overall, the 37-year-old Kapanen has appeared in 399 regular-season KHL games with 234 points to his name.
13 Ladislav Nagy
Slovakian forward Ladislav Nagy skated in 435 NHL games and contributed with 115 goals and 196 assists for 311 points. He was taken 177th in the 1997 NHL Draft by St. Louis and also played with Phoenix, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Nagy was effective in the NHL with .71 points per game, but joined Severstal Cherepovets of the KHL in 2008-09 after leaving the Kings. He’s now slowing down at the age of 39 and chipped in with just 15 points in 48 games with Slovan Bratislava this season. Nagy has played in 230 regular-season KHL games so far and has scored 123 points.
12 Andrei Kostitsyn
Winger Andrei Kostitsyn of Belarus is the brother of former NHLer Sergei Kostitsyn, who’s now also skating in the KHL. Andrei was drafted 10th overall by Montreal in the 2003 NHL Draft and appeared in 398 games in the NHL with his final 19 being with Nashville. Kostitsyn scored 103 goals and 119 assists for 222 points and added 23 points in 49 postseason matches. He joined the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk in 2012-13, but is now with HK Sochi. The 31-year-old Kostitsyn had 20 goals and 41 points this season and now has 128 in 202 KHL games for an average of .63 points per game.
11 Martin Erat
Thirty-four-year-old right-winger Martin Erat of the Czech Republic carved out a pretty good NHL career after going 191st overall in the 2005 NHL Draft to Nashville. The speedy winger was basically a 20-goal player who also skated with Washington and Phoenix for about a year each before joining Avangard Omsk this season. Erat appeared in 881 NHL games with 176 goals and 369 assists to his name for 545 points. He also added 23 more in 50 playoff encounters. Erat has been mildly effective in the KHL with 24 points in 40 games, but was better in the playoffs with nine points in 10 outings.
10 Wojtek Wolski
Wojtek Wolski is only 30-years-old, but left the NHL after the 2012-13 campaign. The Polish-born winger was chosen 21st overall by Colorado in the 2004 NHL Draft and also played with Phoenix, the New York Rangers, Florida, and Washington. He played in 451 regular-season contests and posted 99 goals and 168 assists for 267 points for .59 points per game and had 17 points in 29 playoff encounters. Wolski scored 47 points in 54 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season after playing the previous two years with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo. He’s played a total of 160 regular-season KHL contests with 128 points for a pace of .80 points per game along with 13 points in 24 playoff games.
9 Alexei Ponikarovsky
Ukrainian native Alexei Ponikarovsky is a big winger with a decent scoring touch who returned to Europe after the 2012-13 season. He’s been with St. Petersburg for the past three years, but his scoring touch has vanished. He managed four points in 38 games this year after scoring just eight points in 32 contests last season. Ponikarovsky’s now played 153 KHL games with a total of 45 points. He’s been worse in the playoffs with three points in 20 appearances. He was better in the NHL as he contributed 323 points in 678 games with Toronto, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Carolina, Winnipeg, and New Jersey after being drafted 87th overall in 1998 by Toronto.
8 Maxim Afinogenov
Russian right-winger Maxim Afinogenov may be the brother-in-law of Montreal Canadiens’ star Max Pacioretty, but he was also a fine NHL player in his own right. The 36-year-old was drafted 69th by Buffalo back in 1997 and used his speed and stick handling skills to rack up 158 goals and 237 assists for 395 points in 651 games with the Sabres and a season with Atlanta. He went home to join St. Petersburg for the 2010-11 campaign and has been with Vityaz Podolsk for the past three years. Afinogenov had 28 points in 56 games this season and has a total of 134 points in 263 KHL contests with 13 points in 36 playoff appearances.
7 Dmitri Kalinin
The Buffalo Sabres drafted Russian defenceman Dmitri Kalinin with the 18th overall pick in 1998 and he stayed with the club until the end of the 2007-08 season. Kalinin then split his final NHL campaign with the Rangers and Coyotes before heading home to join Salavat Yulaev Ufa. After two years he joined St. Petersburg and scored nine points in 44 games this season. Kalinin now has 141 points in 347 KHL appearances with 29 points in 76 playoff games. During his NHL career, the 35-year-old Kalinin scored 162 points in 539 contests with nine more in 37 postseason outings.
6 Alexander Frolov
Left-winger Alexander Frolov of Russia was quite an effective NHL player who played 579 regular-season games and posted totals of 175 goals, 222 assists, and 397 points. He played just six playoff games, but had four points in them. Frolov spent his last NHL season with the New York Rangers in 2010-11 after skating the rest of his career with Los Angeles. The Kings took him 20th overall in the 2000 NHL Draft and he scored over 30 goals for them twice and cracked the 20-goal barrier on three other occasions. Frolov played his first three seasons back in Russia with Avangard Omsk and missed the 2014-15 campaign. He returned with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod this season and posted 19 points in 47 games. Overall, Frolov has played 199 regular-season KHL games with 104 points on the board.
5 Nikolai Zherdev
Ukrainian-born Nikolai Zherdev was taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played 421 games in the league with Columbus, the New York Rangers, and Philadelphia scoring 115 goals and 146 assists for 261 points. The winger joined HK Atlant of the KHL for good prior the 2011-12 season after leaving the NHL to also play for the team in 2009-10. Zherdev is now with his sixth KHL club since 2013 and split this season with Sochi and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. He scored 21 points in 49 contests this year and has totaled 178 points in 284 regular-season KHL fixtures. The 31-year-old has also added 19 playoff points in 47 playoff matches.
4 Jonathan Cheechoo
Canadian right-winger Jonathan Cheechoo is 35-year-old now, but still going strong with Dinamo Minsk where he scored 38 points in 54 games this season. Cheechoo was originally drafted 29th overall by San Jose in 1998 and scored 305 points in 501 games with 170 goals and 135 assists and another 35 in 59 playoff encounters. He became a household name in 2005-06 when he scored 56 goals with the Sharks to lead the league and then followed up with 37 more the next season. He spent a season with the Ottawa Senators in 2009-10 and then joined Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL for a year in 2013-14 prior to signing with Minsk. Cheechoo still knows where the net is and has 124 points in 157 KHL games.
3 Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin was an enigma in the NHL as the Russian winger seemed to have all the skills in the world, but didn’t always apply them even though he was well paid to do so. The 32-year-old burned the last of his bridges this season when the Montreal Canadiens released him and he returned home to play with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Semin had four points in 15 games with the Habs this campaign and added 14 more in 20 games in the KHL. Semin was taken 13th overall by Washington in the 2002 NHL Draft and also played with Carolina for three seasons. He skated in 650 regular-season games with 517 points under his belt with another 34 points in 51 playoff games. Semin also played in the KHL during the NHL lockout in 2012 and has 31 points in 40 games and seven points in a dozen postseason appearances.
2 Andrej Meszaros
Offensive defenceman Andrej Meszaros of Slovakia was the 23rd overall draft pick in 2004 when the Ottawa Senators took a chance on him. He had three pretty good years in the Canadian capital before heading to Tampa, Philadelphia, Boston, and Buffalo. Overall, Meszaros appeared in 645 regular-season contests and posted s respectable 238 points. He played with the KHL’s Sibir Novosibirsk this season and chipped in with nine points in 28 games and another four points in nine playoff fixtures. Meszaros is still only 30 and there’s a chance he could return to the NHL one day.
1 Vyacheslav Voynov
Russian defenceman Slava Voynov would still be playing in the NHL with Los Angeles if he wasn’t charged with domestic abuse a couple of years ago. The 26-year-old was taken by the Kings with the 32nd overall draft pick in 2008 and scored 18 goals and 63 assists on the West Coast in 190 games. He also added 25 points in 64 playoff encounters and helped the Kings win two Stanley Cups. Voynov wasn’t very effective with just nine assists in a combined 36 regular-season and playoff games with St. Petersburg this season. His legal troubles in the U.S. mean he’ll likely never be back in the NHL.