Two weeks have passed since CSKA Moscow won the KHL’s Gagarin Cup, the league’s Stanley Cup equivalent, but hockey never truly takes breaks, does it?
The KHL free agency period kicked off Wednesday, with many players who were previously rumored to be heading to the NHL finally making the leap. The Toronto Maple Leafs officially announced the signing of big right winger Yegor Korshkov, while the Philadelphia Flyers inked goalie prospect Kirill Ustimenko to an entry-level deal. The official announcements of Nikolai Prokhorkin to Los Angeles and Igor Shestyorkin and Vitali Kravtsov to the New York Rangers are also expected soon, and Ilya Mikheyev has been heavily linked to Toronto.
Examples of KHL players who have signed NHL deals over the past decade include Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Evgenii Dadonov and, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk last summer. Nikita Gusev recently signed with the Vegas Golden Knights and is expected to be a major contributor to the team after ripping up the KHL for the past few years. There isn’t a slam-dunk, drop-everything-and-sign-this-guy type player this year (even if one, Pavel Datsyuk, looks destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame), but you don’t sign players from the KHL to be top-line forwards: you’re aiming for someone further along in their career development cycle who can make an impact right away, even in a depth position.
With that in mind, let’s look at a couple of players who are expected to make their way over to the NHL over the next few weeks.
Pavel Datsyuk, C
If Datsyuk returns to the NHL, the only team he’d want to play for is the Detroit Red Wings. His rights no longer belong to the Arizona Coyotes, and after three years in the KHL, he told SKA St. Petersburg he will not return. He got what he wanted when he went back home in 2016: he won a KHL championship, an Olympic gold medal and became a member of the Triple Gold Club. But do yourself a favor and temper your expectations: he’s no longer the star he once was. Age has caught up to the 40-year-old and he can’t move like he used to. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a depth forward, though. Datsyuk can act as a complimentary forward who could still put up somewhere between 45-50 points. Oh, and his buddy Steve Yzerman is running the show in Detroit now, so that could help things.
Alexander Yelesin, D
All reports suggest Yelesin will join the Calgary Flames next season, joining fellow Russian UFA signing Artyom Zagidulin on the club. You can’t go wrong with a guy like Yelesinwho, he of a 102 miles-per-hour blast at the KHL all-star game, as a third-pairing defenseman. Just 23, Yelesin earned a spot on Russia’s initial World Championship roster for the first time in his career after solid play in Euro Hockey Tour action this season. Yelesin brings a good mix of physicality and defensive awareness and isn’t likely to be caught making dumb decisions with the puck.
Anton Burdasov, RW
Burdasov only played in two games during Salavat Yulaev Ufa’s long playoff run due to injuries, but that doesn’t take away from the winger’s great year. The 6-foot-2, 234-pound power forward tied his career high, registering 31 points this year, while upping his aggressive play, going from 18 PIM last year to 114 this season. The biggest knock on Burdasov is his speed, but on the plus side, he does so many things right around the net, whether it be creating havoc around the crease or finding a way to get a shot away from any angle. The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams expected to pursue Burdasov over the next few months, and whichever team lands him will add a bit of scoring depth.
Vladimir Tkachyov, LW
Yes, there are two Vladimir Tkachyov’s: the big centerman just signed a new KHL deal to keep him in Russia. This Vladimir Tkachyov is the one that the Edmonton Oilers signed after he went undrafted in 2014, but also the one who later had his contract annulled after the NHL informed the team that Tkachyov was ineligible to sign due to a clause involving CHL players in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. A strange situation all around, but since then, Tkachyov has developed into a solid depth scoring winger. Tkachyov had a good playoff run with Salavat Yulaev this year, recording 10 points in 17 games as Ufa, a mid-pack team in the regular season, made it to the conference final. A few teams, such as Edmonton and Chicago, have been rumored to have interest in the winger, who could slot in as a third-line winger.
Sergei Andronov, C
Don’t let his lack of production in the KHL scare you: Andronov is more useful than that. Andronov’s strength is his defensive play, especially on the penalty kill. Andronov uses his size to his advantage in front of the net and has nice size to boot. His skillsets, especially when it comes to winning faceoffs, are things you’d look for in a depth centerman who can contribute 20-25 points a year and play a shutdown role. The former St. Louis Blues prospect played two seasons in the AHL, so North America isn’t foreign territory or Andronov.
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