Top 25 Players in the World Not Playing in the NHL

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IJuly 19, 2012

Top 25 Players in the World Not Playing in the NHL

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    The NHL is the best hockey league in the world, but there are plenty of very talented players out there who are not currently playing in the NHL or for any of its affiliates.

    I tried to make this list a mix of NHL prospects playing overseas and talented European players who have stayed in Europe throughout their careers.

    Players in the NCAA, AHL, ECHL or Major Junior leagues are not included in this list regardless of where they were born.

    I'm sure there are some players I may have missed so feel free to add those players you feel belong on this list in the comments section.

    You may not have heard of all of these guys, but here are the top 25 players not playing in the NHL.

25. Maxim Afinogenov

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    When NHL fans last saw Maxim Afinogenov, he was a productive offensive player for the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2009-10.

    The former Sabres star will be 33 years old before the start of next season but is still capable of putting up good numbers when he is healthy.

    He is presently playing for St. Petersburg in the KHL.

24. Roman Cervenka

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    Cervenka was never drafted by an NHL team but he has been a consistent goal scorer in both the Czech League and now the KHL.

    He put together back-to-back seasons of 30 goals or more in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

    At age 26, Cervenka is just entering his prime and should have plenty of productive years left in his hockey career.

23. Kevin Dallman

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    Kevin Dallman has played for three NHL teams, last appearing with the Kings in 2007-08.

    Since then, the Niagara Falls, Ontario, native has put together four strong seasons in the KHL as an offensive defenseman.

    Twice, Dallman has topped the 50-point mark in a season and once he has scored more than 20 goals.

    At age 31, it's possible that Dallman will return to North America, but he has made himself into a star player in Russia.

22. Jori Lehtera

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    The St. Louis Blues drafted Finnish forward Jori Lehtera in the third round back in 2008. Lehtera became a star in Finland before moving on to join the KHL the past two seasons.

    Lehtera's strength is his passing and he picked up 50 assists in 57 games in 2009-10.

    He briefly played for Peoria in the AHL in 2008-09 before heading back home to Europe.

21. Tony Martenssen

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    Tony Martenssen played six NHL games for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks back in 2003-04. Since then, the smooth skating Swedish center has split time between the Swedish Elite League and the KHL.

    Martenssen has succeeded in both leagues, topping the 60-point mark every other year over the past six seasons.

    He spent the past two seasons with St. Petersburg in the KHL.

20. Radek Duda

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    Prague native Radek Duda has been a steady point producer wherever he has played in Europe.

    A former draft pick of the Flames, Duda briefly came to North America and scored 106 points for Lethbridge of the WHL back in 1999-2000.

    Since then, he's shown his offensive gifts in top leagues in Russia, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and his native Czech Republic.

    Last season, Duda had more than a point per game with Plzen HC in the Czech Republic.

19. Tomas Zaborsky

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    Tomas Zaborsky spent a few seasons in North America after being drafted by the New York Rangers in 2006, playing in both the AHL and ECHL.

    The 6'0", 178-pound winger returned to Europe in 2009 and has increased his offensive output each season since.

    Last season, Zaborsky scored 35 goals in 52 games which led the Finnish league by 11 goals. He will turn 25 this November and is just entering his prime.

18. Robert Rosen

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    At 5'9", 176-pounds, Rosen may be too small to play in the NHL, but his lack of size hasn't stopped the 25-year-old from being successful in the Swedish Elite League.

    Last year with AIK, Rosen racked up 60 points in 55 games. He led the league in both assists and points in just his second year in the Elite League.

17. Konstantin Barulin

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    St. Louis Blues draft choice Konstantin Barulin has been one of the best goalies in the KHL for the past four seasons.

    In 2011-12, Barulin had a 2.26 GAA and five shutouts. He also had a career-best save percentage of .929.

    At age 28, Barulin should be playing his best hockey for the next several seasons. It looks like Barulin is content to remain in the KHL rather than coming to North America.

16. Petr Ton

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    Petr Ton is not an NHL prospect but at 38 years old, he has had a very successful career in Europe since turning pro in 1992-93.

    Ton is not showing signs of slowing down. Last year for Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic, Ton was third in the league in goals (25) and points (58) while playing in 52 games.

    He scored a career-high 34 goals in just 48 games in 2009-10.

15. Patrik Nemeth

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    Nemeth's offensive numbers don't jump out at you, but that's not the part of his game that has NHL scouts excited.

    At 6'3", 212 pounds, the big Swede is known as a defensive defenseman who will help protect his own goal from opposing attackers.

    The Dallas Stars drafted Nemeth in the second round in 2010. He has had two successful seasons since then in the Swedish Elite League.

14. Richard Gynge

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    Gynge led the Swedish Elite League in goals scored last season with 28 scores in 55 games.

    Gynge is a "Cy Young" type of player, easily getting more goals than assists in both of his seasons in the Swedish Elite League.

    At age 25, Gygne should be entering his most productive seasons now and is expected to continue to be one of top goal scorers in Europe.

13. Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    Evgeny Kuznetsov was a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2010.

    He has played the last three seasons in the KHL and has increased his point production in each subsequent year. In 2011-12, Kuznetsov scored 19 goals and totaled 40 points.

    The Capitals are being patient with Kuznetsov for now and will let him develop in the KHL for another year or two before he takes a crack at joining the NHL.

12. Mika Zibanejad

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    Zibanejad was drafted by the Ottawa Senators with the sixth pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

    He actually made the Sens roster after an impressive training camp last fall and spent the first nine games of last year with Ottawa, picking up his first NHL assist.

    After playing in nine games, Zibanejad returned to his native Sweden and spent his second season in the Elite League.

    The fast skating center has a bright future wherever he plays and Sens fans are hoping he is a big hit in Ottawa once he's ready for prime time.

11. Magnus Hellberg

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    The Nashville Predators have a thing for tall European goalies and Hellberg certainly fits the bill.

    He stands at 6'5" and at age 21, has already had a solid season in the Swedish Elite League with a save percentage of .904 and a 2.60 GAA.

    At only 183 pounds, Hellberg still has to bulk up a bit and grow into his large frame but the Predators are hopeful he will come to North America after another year or two of seasoning in his native Sweden.

10. Oscar Klefbom

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    Defenseman Oscar Klefbom has good size at 6'3" but hasn't had a chance to play a lot of minutes yet in the Swedish Elite League. Klefbom is still only 19 years old and should get more ice time in Sweden as he matures.

    The Oilers selected him in the first round of the draft in 2011 and project him as a solid two-way defenseman at the NHL level with good mobility.

    When the time is right, the Oilers will bring him to North America to play in the NHL.

9. Johan Larsson

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    Larsson was a second-round pick of the Wild in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

    He has been very successful in his native Sweden, serving as captain of that country's gold medal winning team in the World Junior Championships last year.

    Larsson scored 12 goals and 36 points in 49 games in the Swedish Elite League last season. He could be heading to North America fairly soon to join the Wild.

8. Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Tarasenko has already had four successful seasons in the KHL and has been considered one of the better prospects in that league.

    The Blues selected him with the 16th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

    Last season, he scored a career-high 23 goals and 47 points in 54 games with two KHL clubs.

    The Blues have announced that Tarasenko will be coming to North America to compete for a job with St. Louis when training camp opens in September.

7. Calle Jarnkrok

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    Center Calle Jarnkrok is one of the better passers in the Swedish Elite League. His point total has gone up in each of this three seasons in that league and last year he had a career-high 16 goals and 39 points in 50 games.

    Detroit selected Jarnkrok in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

    The Wings' biggest concern about Jarnkrok is his lack of size. While he's 5'11", he's listed at just 165 pounds which would not serve him well in the more physical NHL.

6. Jani Hakanpaa

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    Defenseman Jani Kakanpaa was drafted by the Blues in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

    The Blues are pleased with the big Finn who stands 6'4" and weighs 218 pounds and expect him to be more of a defensive defenseman than a puck mover.

    Last year in Finland, he scored five goals and 12 points in 41 games.

5. Mattias Ekholm

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    Nashville has already lost Ryan Suter, and Shea Weber may be the next to leave. That may speed up the timetable for Swedish star Mattias Ekholm to join the Preds.

    Ekholm won the Borje Salming Award last year as the top defenseman in the Swedish Elite League.

    He scored nine goals and 17 points last year in 41 games in Sweden after playing two games for the Predators early in the season.

    Expect Ekholm to be heading back to North America for good either this coming season or in 2013-14 at the latest.

4. Jonas Brodin

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    The Minnesota Wild selected Brodin with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

    He is projected as a smart, two-way defenseman with good hockey sense although he does not play an overly physical game.

    Brodin was a part of Sweden's gold medal winning team at the 2012 World Junior Championships and has played two solid seasons in the Swedish Elite League.

3. Sami Vatanen

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    Sami Vatanen has a lot of offensive skills. The Finnish defenseman set a record for most points by a rookie defenseman in the Finnish league back in 2009-10.

    Last season, the Ducks prospect scored a career-high 14 goals and 42 points in 49 games in Finland's top league. He has been the highest scoring defenseman in Finland for each of the last two seasons.

    Size may be his biggest obstacle to starring in the NHL. Vatanen is listed at only 5'9" and 163 pounds.

2. Alexander Radulov

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    Sure, Radulov played for the Predators late last season, but he has signed a contract to return to the KHL for the next four years.

    Radulov was among the league leaders in the KHL last season with 63 points in 50 games before agreeing to return to the Predators to finish out his NHL contract.

    Unfortunately, Radulov had disciplinary issues during the playoffs and was suspended by the Predators for missing curfew during their series with the Coyotes.

    Radulov is supremely talented, but his dedication to the game remains a question with some scouts. He is likely to remain one of the top scorers in the KHL for years to come.

1. Mikael Granlund

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    Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund should be coming to the NHL soon. He has done almost all he can do for his development in his native Finland.

    The Hockey News ranked Granlund as the No. 2 prospect outside the NHL. He should be an impact point producer once he arrives and gets adjusted to the North American style of play.

    Last year, Granlund scored 51 points in 45 games in Finland's top league. That placed him sixth in the league which is not bad for a kid who just turned 20 midway through the season.