As the NHL lockout lingers, more than 25 players already have opted to travel to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, a number that is sure to grow if the NHL begins to cancel regular-season games.
The KHL was founded in 2008 and many feel that outside of the NHL it is the strongest hockey league in the world.
Here's a look at eight of the best NHL players who have signed deals with KHL teams.
There was some question whether Nail Yakupov, the first pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, would play for Neftekhimik of the KHL during the lockout. Those questions were answered late Friday night when the young Edmonton Oilers prospect began his stint in the Russian league.
The time in the KHL should benefit Yakupov and the Oilers greatly. It will allow Yakupov to develop against top-level players without the pressure of performing on an NHL stage.
His stint in the KHL will also allow Edmonton scouts to evaluate exactly more precisely his talent and level of development.
The KHL is almost a perfect place for the 18-year-old to be right now.
Ilya Bryzgalov has signed with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. This is a great move by Bryzgalov. It will allow him to remove himself from the pressure that comes with being the go-to guy in net for the Philadelphia Flyers.
If Bryzgalov were wise, he would take the time in the KHL to forget his first year in Philly, put the rough patch and all the attention behind him and work toward finding the game and form that will make the team and fans realize he is worth his nine-year contract with the Flyers.
A solid showing in the KHL will go a long way toward Bryzgalov getting his game back and giving the Flyers' faithful someone to believe in.
Alex Ovechkin has fallen on hard times the last few seasons. Between 2008 and 2010, the fewest points Ovechkin scored was the 109 he accumulated in 2010. In 2011, Ovechkin saw that number decrease to 85 and in 2012 his output dropped to 65.
The player that was once viewed as one of the top two players in the NHL was starting to hear whispers that he was on a sharp decline.
Ovechkin has always been someone who played with the joy and enthusiasm of a young kid. But he may have had some of that sucked out of him over the last two years.
He would do well to try to find the old Ovechkin while playing with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL.
Pekka Rinne will have added pressure on his shoulders when NHL play begins. The Predators goaltender will be without one of the cornerstones of the team’s defense as Ryan Suter moved on to the Minnesota Wild as a free agent this summer.
Playing in the KHL will keep the Predators goaltender in game shape and should have him ready to make another run at the Vezina Trophy, an award he was nominated for in 2011 and 2012.
Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best two-way players in the game today, a fact evidenced by his three Selke and four Lady Byng awards.
Datsyuk is not getting any younger. He turned 34 in July, and with his advancing age, he has seen his production drop from the days he was putting up 87 to 97 points a season between 2006 and 2009.
Datsyuk signed with CSKA Moscow. The hope is that playing in the KHL will help him to find the fountain of youth that will get him back to his high-scoring past.
The Red Wings will be without Nicklas Lidstrom next season, and fans and management are going to expect Datsyuk to be at the top of his game when the NHL season does begin.
When NHL play resumes, the New Jersey Devils will not have Zach Parise. The player who finished the season third in scoring for the Devils will be wearing a Minnesota Wild sweater for the next few years. And since the team didn’t really replace Parise, that’s going to increase the pressure on the team’s $100 million man, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk will spend the lockout lacing up his skates for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. If he was wise, he would enjoy his time in the KHL and play the game for the sheer enjoyment of the sport. For when the NHL season comes back, he will have a spotlight shining on him.
In his first two seasons with the Devils, he put up 60 and 83 points. With Parise gone, the Devils will need Kovalchuk to be in the 80-point range going forward.
When the reigning NHL MVP wants to play for your club, you’d be foolish not to make that deal. Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL is obviously not a foolish organization because it landed Evgeni Malkin in the early stages of the lockout.
In addition to the MVP, Malkin also captured the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay awards at the end of the 2012 season while leading the Pittsburgh Penguins with 109 points, 28 more than James Neal, the second-highest scorer on the club.
Malkin, at 26 years of age, may still be improving and that’s a scary thought. If Malkin can use his time in the KHL to make even an incremental improvement to his game, opposing teams will be in deep trouble when the NHL resumes play.