5 Forgotten NHLers Tearing Up the KHL

The NHL is the most talented hockey league in the world, but it is far from the only professional league. In a recent article The Hockey Writers Chau Vo ranked the KHL as the second best-league in the world.

Many players have made the move from the NHL to the KHL after failing to have sustained success in the National Hockey League. And it might come as somewhat of a surprise to see what players, who once donned a NHL team’s jersey, have gone on to have become among the best players in the KHL.

Nigel Dawes leads the KHL this year with 28 goals.  (AC4o - Flickr)
Nigel Dawes leads the KHL this year with 28 goals. (AC4o – Flickr)

Nigel Dawes

The former New York Rangers draft pick played parts of three seasons with the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2003. He tallied just 49 points in 121 games with the blue shirts after an impressive junior career. The Winnipeg, MB native had six points in six games during the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship, helping Canada capture gold.

Dawes also had very impressive numbers in the American Hockey League, tallying 232 points over 232 games. The 29-year-old was traded out of New York during the 2008-09 season and that marked the start of his downfall in the NHL. He would spend parts of three seasons with four different teams, ultimately moving to the KHL for the 2011-12 season.

The move seemed to pay off immediately. Dawes saw regular playing-time with Barys Astana and after racking up 67 points in 103 games in his first two seasons, he had 26 goals and 49 points in 54 games last season. This year Dawes is on fire. He is second in the league with 28 goals and has 48 points in 47 games.

Brandon Bochenski

Some of the Ottawa Senators faithful might recognize Bochenski as at one point he looked like he could be a real star with the team. The Sens drafted the American out of the USHL in 2001. However, they let him develop and continue to play in the NCAA at the University of North Dakota over the next three years. There Bochenski had 154 points in 122 games.

He would spend a year with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators during the 2004-05 season and once again impressed with 34 goals and 70 points in 75 games. He would get his first taste of the NHL the following season, but played just 20 games with the team recording 13 points, and was sent back down to Binghamton. He 46 points in 33 games, but ultimately the Sens traded their prospect to Chicago.

During his short NHL career from 2005 to 2010 Bochenski would see time with six different clubs, never finding a permanent home, that is until he made the move to the KHL. Bochenski thrived in the KHL and during his first five seasons with Barys Astana had only once not had more than a point per game. He even lead the league in goals in 2011-12.

Bochenski is now the team’s captain and this year through 47 games, has 17 goals and 47 points. The 32-year-old always looked to have the talent to be successful, but was never given the opportunity to do so. He was finally given that chance in the KHL and has truly shown what he can do.

Jonathan Cheechoo wo the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2005 with 56 goals.  (Elliot/Flickr)
Jonathan Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2005-06 with 56 goals. (Elliot/Flickr)

Jonathan Cheechoo

Back in 2005-06 Jonathan Cheechoo was on top of the world. Surprising many, the Moose Factory, ON native won the Rocket Richard Trophy, scoring 56 goals and finishing with 93 points in 82 games with the San Jose Sharks. But like Mambo No. 5 singer Lou Bega, Cheechoo looked like a one-hit wonder.

He followed his career-season with a 37 goal, 69 points campaign in 2006-07, still pretty good, but 24 points less than the year prior. From there he fell off the face of the NHL-earth. He had 75 points in 135 games with the Sharks over the next two years and was traded to the Senators.

He had just five goals in 61 games for the Sens and with that his NHL days came to an end. He spent four years in the AHL and finally signed with Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL for the 2013-14 season. He had 19 goals and 38 points in 54 games with the team.

This year Cheechoo has 22 goals and 44 points with Dinamo Minsk as an alternate captain and also leads the league with nine game-winning goals. It’s been almost 10 years since Cheechoo led the NHL in goal scoring and after a dismal fall from the top, he looks to finally have a new home in the KHL.

Stephane Da Costa has 46 points in 36 games this year in the KHL. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)
Stephane Da Costa has 46 points in 36 games this year in the KHL. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

Stephane Da Costa

Another former Senator makes the list. The Paris, France native’s stint in the NHL didn’t last long and similar to Bochenski and Dawes, seemed to be a case of playing great in the AHL, but never in the big leagues.

Da Costa signed with the Senators coming out of the NCAA where in his final season with Merrimack College the winger had 45 points in 33 games. Da Costa would play games 159 games with Binghamton over three seasons putting up 132 points. He would play 47 games over four years with the big club and had just seven goals and 11 points.

Now in his first season in the KHL, Da Costa is reliving the offensive success he had back in college. The 25-year-old has played 36 games with CSKA Moskva and has 24 goals and 46 points with the team. He is just four goals off the league-lead.

Linus Omark

The Edmonton Oilers find themselves tied with the Buffalo Sabres for last place in the NHL with just 31 points. So how unfortunate it must have been when last season the Oilers traded the youngster to the Sabres. Omark was drafted by Edmonton in the fourth round in 2007 and was touted as very offensive winger.

However, the flashy 27-year-old, failed to produce at the NHL level. He played parts of three seasons with the Oilers’ affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, where he had 76 points in 75 games between 2010 and 2014. During parts of four seasons in the NHL, Omark has just eight goals and 32 points in 79 games was a -27.  In his first season in the KHL with Jokerit, Omark has 16 goals and 41 points in 47 games and is a +21.

These players looked to have seen their last days in the NHL and at times their hockey careers looked to be in jeopardy. But a second chance in arguably the world’s second best hockey league has given these five players the opportunity that they have the skills and can be an important part of winning teams.