By Jacob Messing – Flo Hockey
Although always in the shade of the NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) more than offers its own share of talent. Increasingly, high drafts picks and proven NHL players have taken their abilities across the world to compete.
Perhaps the strongest team in terms of luring players, SKA Saint Petersburg ices a wealth of NHL talent each game. With names including Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Slava Voynov, Igor Shestyorkin and the interesting career of Steve Moses, it’s no surprise SKA is leading the KHL with a 15-1-4 record this season.
Position: Left Wing
NHL Career: 816 GP, 417 G, 399 A, 816 Pts.
KHL Career: 205 GP, 85 G, 126 A, 211 Pts.
2016-17 Season: 20 GP, 10 G, 15 A, 25 Pts.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored 29-plus goals in 10 of his 11 NHL seasons and 37-plus in eight of them. He was a dynamic offensive player during his NHL days and the most talented player on the ice more often than not.
Everyone knows the story of his NHL retirement. He left the New Jersey Devils at the age of 30 and walked away from a contract that signed him for another 12 years and was set to pay him another $77 million.
It’s likely the 42 points in 36 games for SKA during the shortened NHL season of 2012-13 that persuaded Kovalchuk to go home following the campaign. Kovalchuk is one point behind the KHL leading scorer this season, Sergei Mozyakin of Metallurg.
NHL Career: 953 GP, 314 G, 604 A, 918 Pts.
KHL Career: 40 GP, 15 G, 29 A, 44 Pts.
2016-17 Season: 9 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 Pts.
Similar to Kovalchuk, Datsyuk left the Detroit Red Wings with one year and $7.5 million left on his contract to join SKA this season. A two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Datsyuk’s all-around game will be missed by Detroit this season.
Nearly a point-per-game player during his 14-year NHL career, Datsyuk was feared by goalies league-wide and is transitioning his skill to the KHL. His vision and stickhandling were unparalleled, and often made impossible plays look easy.
He had a down year for Detroit during 2015-16, but was skating on a surgically repaired ankle just six months into what was called an 18-month recovery timeline. Datsyuk was worshipped for his dekes and incredible two-way play.
SKA named Datsyuk their captain this season, further showing his talent and leadership that he brings to each game. He will go a long way in SKA, which is looking to regain the Gagarin Cup for the league’s top team, which they last won in 2015.
NHL Career: 190 GP, 18 G, 63 A, 81 Pts.
KHL Career: 42 GP, 6 G, 17 A, 23 Pts.
2016-17 Season: 19 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 19 Pts.
Also a two-time Stanley Cup champion, Slava Voynov was a big part of the in-your-face style the Los Angeles Kings played on their way to winning two Cups in three years (2012 and 2014).
Voynov is a heavy hitter who instills fear into his opponents when they enter the zone or find themselves in the corner with him.
Voynov played just six games of the 2014-15 season before he was suspended indefinitely during an assault investigation. He pled no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in September of 2015 and was ousted from the NHL.
He has played a key role for SKA since signing with the team in October of the same year. He currently sits second in the league in defensive scoring.
Position: Right Wing
NHL Career: n/a
KHL Career: 88 GP, 47 G, 30 A, 77 Pts.
2016-17 Season: 7 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Pts.
At 5-foot-9, Steve Moses went undrafted in the NHL, written off for his lack of size. In 2012, the American-born winger signed with Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League and made an immediate impact.
He used his speed and strong shot to record 22 goals and 38 points in 55 games. Fast-forward to 2014-15, when Jokerit moved to the KHL, Moses took the change well and scored 36 goals and 57 points in 60 games as a KHL rookie, which set the goal-scoring record for a single KHL season.
Following his breakout campaign, Moses signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Nashville Predators in 2015. Moses was fully expected to translate his game to the NHL, but was sent to the Predators’ AHL-affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
Through 16 games, Moses recorded two goals and seven points and was prematurely cut by the team. Moses returned to the KHL, scoring 10 goals and 16 points in 21 games with SKA in 2015-16.
NHL Career: n/a
KHL Career: 37 GP, 20 W, 2.17 GAA, .922 SV%, 7 SO
2016-17 Season: 15 GP, 11 W, 1.61 GAA, .940 SV%, 5 SO
Igor Shestyorkin joined the KHL at just 17 years old. A teenage starting goalie is unheard of for a league with as much high-end talent as the KHL contains.
Shestyorkin was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL draft and could be the heir to the 34-year-old Henrik Lundqvist in coming years.
While it’s hard to determine a prospect’s NHL potential across leagues, what Shestyorkin has accomplished in his KHL time helps the best players in the world.