The NHL is the greatest league in the world, but it, unfortunately, has limited space and a relatively short shelf life for many players. So when the opportunities dry up in North America, the European leagues offer a great chance for them to continue playing professional hockey in a competitive environment.
Related: The Story of My Russian KHL Odyssey
Even the most successful and recognizable players do not stop when they reach the end of their NHL careers. Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, and Pavel Datsyuk are probably the most notable examples, but there are many that have had success in the NHL, but then either flamed out or got usurped by a younger player being paid less money. Right now there are a number of them playing overseas, from veterans to players still in their athletic prime.
This new column will endeavor to keep you updated about all of them. I will even at times throw in some tidbits about retired players contributing their talents in other ways off the ice. So without further ado, here is the inaugural update!
Datsyuk Still Deking in Russia
Datsyuk was one of the most exciting players in the NHL for many seasons. The Magic Man was also probably the biggest steal in the history of the NHL draft. After recording 314 goals and 918 points in North America, it’s hard to believe that he was selected 171st overall in 1998 by the Detroit Red Wings. To put an exclamation mark on his all-time steal status, he also won two Stanley Cups, four Lady Byng Trophies, and three Selke Awards during his 14-year career.
Datsyuk may have officially hung up his skates in the NHL, but he did not hang them up permanently. After leaving the Red Wings at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, he returned to his native Russia to continue his passion for the game of hockey. First, he played three seasons as a member of SKA St Petersburg in the KHL, then signed with Yekaterinburg Automobilist where he remains to this day. He has been doing quite well too with 5 goals and 20 points in 18 games as of this writing.
Even at 42-years-old, Datsyuk is still one of the world’s best two-way players. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that he was in his NHL prime racking up the points and takeaways en route to another Selke Trophy. Speaking of the NHL, there were actually rumours of him returning to the Red Wings at the beginning of the 2019-20 season but he ended up signing in his hometown of Yekaterinburg where his family currently lives.
Granlund, KHL Scoring Star
When Markus Granlund was in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Edmonton Oilers, he had his moments as a goal scorer and two-way forward. His career-high came with the Canucks in 2016-17 when he had 19 goals and 32 points in 69 games. Since that season he only could come close with a 12-goal performance in 2018-19.
Granlund signed with the Oilers for the 2019-20 season, but could only score three goals in 32 games. Fast forward to now, and he is flying high as one of the KHL’s most lethal point producers. As of this writing, he has 10 goals and 22 points in 18 games playing for Ufa Salavat Yulayev, which currently boasts two 2020 first-round draft picks in Rodion Amirov and Shakir Mukhamadullin. He regularly logs over 20 minutes a night on their top-line and is their number one option on the power play as well.
If Granlund continues at this pace, he will finish the season with 33 goals and 73 points. That would shatter all his career totals as he has only ever put up a high of 25 goals and 46 points when he was in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14.
Throughout this season Granlund has displayed great speed, an impressive shot, and some touch around the net. Teaming up with fellow Finn and former Oilers’ prospect Teemu Hartikainen, who has 14 goals and 27 points himself, he is probably one of the most productive ex-NHLers on this list.
Jaskin Continues to Impress After MVP Season
Former St. Louis Blues top prospect Dmitrij Jaskin has made quite a name for himself in the KHL since signing with Moscow Dynamo. Last season he won the KHL’s MVP award with 31 goals and 63 points and is well on his way to shattering those totals with 14 goals in 23 games already this season. At this rate, he will finish with 36 goals and probably flirt with the MVP title once again.
When Jaskin was drafted 41st overall by the Blues in 2011, he was touted as a future power forward, but never really caught on with the demanding defensive style of then-coach Ken Hitchcock. So when more highly-touted prospects like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas came knocking on the door in 2018, they decided to waive him. The Capitals picked him up off that waiver wire and subsequently started the clock on his last season in the NHL.
Jaskin was last seen with the Capitals in 2018-19 when he finished with two goals and eight points in 37 games as he bounced in and out of the lineup. At 27-years-old, he could still return to the NHL, but with all the success he’s having overseas, I don’t see that happening any time soon. He has formed an almost perfect partnership with Vadim Shipachyov, gets loads of ice time on the top-line, and is part of a powerhouse team in Dynamo Moscow. What more could he ask for?
Dawes, Boucher & Spooner Rejuvenated in Russia
Nigel Dawes, Reid Boucher, and Ryan Spooner have all been given a new lease on life in the KHL. After having some relative success in the NHL and AHL, they were pushed out of North America for younger players and more established veterans. So they all went overseas to find new opportunities.
Dawes had a few seasons of productivity in the 2000s with the Flames and New York Rangers where he scored 39 goals in 187 games, and Spooner spent parts of six seasons with the Boston Bruins where is played in the top-six for extended periods of time.
After a season of only four games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010-11, Dawes joined Astana Barys for seven seasons where he scored 196 goals and 342 points. He then played two seasons for Yekaterinburg Automobilist where he posted another two 20-goal campaigns. Currently, he is part of Kazan Ak-Bars where he has 14 points in 17 games. He has basically found a home as one of the KHL’s most prolific scorers and is now the league’s top-scoring non-Russian player of all-time.
Spooner left the NHL in 2019 after an unproductive stint with the Rangers, Oilers, and Canucks where he only played a total of 52 games while recording three goals and nine points. He is now in the KHL with Moscow Dynamo where he has 19 points in 16 games.
Boucher only played for two NHL teams in the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks, but spent most of his time in the AHL with the Albany Devils and Utica Comets. He was primarily a bottom-six forward in the NHL but was a star in the AHL with multiple 20 and 30-goal seasons to his credit. He finally got fed up with his lack of NHL opportunities in Vancouver and fled to the KHL at the end of the 2019-20 season. He signed with Omsk Avangard after his AHL season ended, and is currently on fire with 17 points in 20 games so far.
Other Ex-NHLers Overseas
In addition to the six players featured above, there are a number of other ex-NHLers plying their trade overseas. Here is the complete list with their updated statistics as of Nov 15:[table id=402 /]
All stats were provided by InStat Hockey
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.