Alex Radulov had 44 goals and 91 points in two NHL seasons before heading back to Russia. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Hello list lovers, welcome back.
With ex-Red Wing Jiri Hudler’s summer move to Dynamo Moscow and Tuesday’s report that ex-Ranger Nikolai Zherdev is set to sign with last season’s Kontinental League champs Salavat Yuleav Ufa, we decided to scour the KHL’s player pages and stats pack to find the 10 players we’d most like to see in the NHL, whether that means a return or a maiden voyage across the professional pond.
It’s not that we mean ill will against the KHL, simply that we’d like to see more of these talented skaters and it’s much easier to do so if they’re over here.
The KHL is home to a number of undrafted youngsters getting their first taste of pro hockey, but we’ve left them off this list because they aren’t NHL eligible. Hudler will be back after he makes his $10 million tax-free the next two seasons. Zherdev may never be back and, frankly, we’re not too upset about that. For those reasons, both didn’t make our list, either.
Here’s who did:
10. Pavel Brendl, RW, Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo
Brendl is one of the biggest busts in NHL draft history. The fourth-overall pick in 1999 by the Rangers set the Western League on fire during his draft season with 73 goals and 134 points, tops in both categories. He flamed out with 22 points in 78 NHL games with Philadelphia, Carolina and Phoenix, but is still just 28 and has averaged 33 goals the past three seasons in notoriously low-scoring Russia. In 2008-09 his 18 power play markers led the KHL.
9. Jaromir Jagr, RW, Avangard Omsk
Jagr was rumored to be on his way back to the NHL via the Edmonton Oilers last season, but that never materialized. Although definitely well past his prime, Jagr is still tantalizingly talented and, if willing to give 100 percent, would be a boon to any team. A good Olympic performance in February could portend an NHL return sometime this season for the 37-year-old Czech.
8. Dmitri Orlov, D, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
The 55th pick of this past June’s draft by Washington is a run-and-gun defender who would have gone higher if not for the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL. He’s agile, mobile, has an edge and likes being the go-to guy. With the stable of top-flight Russians on the Caps, Orlov may be convinced to make his trip to North America sooner than later.
7. Vasily Koshechkin, G, Tolyatti Lada
An eighth round pick (233rd overall) in 2002 by Tampa Bay, Koshechkin has been keeping the goal light from going on like few others in Russia the past few seasons. Amongst goalies with 20-plus games played last season, Koshechkin finished third in goals-against average at 1.65, third in save percentage at .934 and tied for second with eight shutouts playing for middle-of-the-pack Tolyatti. At 26 years of age, Koshechkin may just be coming into his own as a top goaltender, something the Lightning could badly use.
6. Kevin Dallman, D, Barys Astana
Dallman, 28, was never drafted, but saw action in 154 NHL games with Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles before heading to the KHL last season. The Ontario League grad proceeded to light up the Russian league upon his arrival, breaking blueliner scoring records set by Soviet legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Slava Fetisov. Dallman finished tied for fifth overall in KHL scoring with 58 points in 53 games; his 28 goals tied for seventh; his 30 assists were 10th; his 13 power play goals were fourth; his 137 penalty minutes were tied for eighth; and, he led the league in ice time by nearly a minute per game. Numbers like those mean some NHL team is likely to take a chance on Dallman, soon.
5. Sergey Mozyakin, LW, Atlant Mytishchi
Mozyakin, 28, was drafted in the ninth round (263rd overall) in 2002 by Columbus. His only previous North American experience came during four games with Val d’Or of the Quebec League in 1998-99, but we think the shifty winger could be an interesting find for an NHL team. Mozyakin led the KHL in assists (42) and points (76) last season. His 34 goals were tied for third as was his plus-34 mark. And proving he’s also good at crunch time, Mozyakin notched nine game-winners, second in the league.
4. Jan Marek, RW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Marek may be the least likely of the 10 players listed to make his way across the Atlantic. He is a Czech through and through and only went to Russia three seasons ago to make more money. Last season he said he was likely done in the KHL altogether, saying he was headed back to the ExtraLiga to be closer to his family. But the 29-year-old 2003 Rangers pick (243rd overall) led the KHL in goal scoring last season with 35 and was second in points with 72.
3. Kirill Petrov, RW, AK Bars Kazan
Petrov is the other youngster on our list. The 19-year-old was drafted in the third round (73rd overall) by the Islanders in 2008 and, again, would have gone higher if not for being Russian. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder’s stats – one goal in six games – were a victim of the Russian tradition of keeping youngsters nailed to the bench, but he’s considered first-line NHL material. Watch for Petrov to light up the world juniors this time around.
2. Aleksey Morozov, LW, AK Bars Kazan
The long-time Pittsburgh Penguin has been a star since his first game back in Russia in 2004, finishing at or near the top of the scoring race each season since – he was fifth last season with 32 goals and third with 71 points. Long considered the best player outside of the NHL and still a staple on Russian national teams, Morozov is just 32 and could help an NHL team looking for secondary scoring. And at 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, he’s not small, so he should be able to again handle the physical play on this side of the ocean.
1. Alexander Radulov, RW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
The best of the bunch for our purposes is the one who set off a firestorm last summer by bolting to the KHL while still under contract to Nashville. If he does return to the NHL, Radulov will still have an entry-level year to play, but he won’t play like an entry leveler. He had 22 goals and 48 points in 52 KHL games last season and showed an all-around game finishing with a plus-26 rating. The 23-year-old also showed some gusto collecting 92 PIMs. He’ll be a force this season as his game matures, which will only increase the pressure to return to the NHL.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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