NHL Trade Talk: 13 Top International Players and the Teams That Should Get Them
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Currently there’s a certain player by the name of Alexander Radulov tearing up Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, with 35 points (14 goals) in 25 games for CSKA Moscow.
It begs the question: How long before this guy gets fitted for a National Hockey League jersey??? Oh, right…as soon as they find a way to secure the tie-down with a padlock or get players to agree to no-movement clauses.
While technically Radulov is the cream of the crop as far as non-National Hockey League players go, this list is dedicated to players 30 years or younger who aren’t restricted free agents, those whose rights are currently up for grabs, and, most importantly, those who could actually theoretically help out a team right now.
Unfortunately, so few talented hockey players moonlight as mediators in this day and age.
In any case, here are 13 top international, non-NHL players and the teams that would be the best fit for each of them:
Par Arlbrandt of Linkopings HC.
A 30-year old left winger, Par Arlbrandt currently plays for Linkopings HC in the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) and is enjoying a breakout season with nine goals and 15 assists in 23 games.
Of course, his career-best SEL season came in 2010-11 when he scored 40 points in just 55 games. He is also just 5’7” and 176 pounds, meaning he’s not so much a late bloomer as he is actual flora that somehow learned how to play hockey.
Who should get him: It’s unlikely he would sustain his scoring pace playing where he is, let alone in the NHL, but assuming he does find a home it would be a team with a great deal of risk appetite and a need for scoring: The Calgary Flames, who have hopefully learned their lesson after giving up on Martin St. Louis.
Joakim Lindstrom, then of the Colorado Avalanche.
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Despite numerous opportunities, Joakim Lindstrom never established himself as a legitimate NHLer, weighing just 187 pounds.
He played in the NHL as recently as this past season with the Colorado Avalanche and scored just five points in 16 games. Now 28 and an unrestricted free agent, he seems to have rediscovered his niche: playing (and succeeding) in Sweden.
He is currently fourth in the Elitserien with 24 points with Skelleftea AIK. Further proving he actually does have skill: Two seasons ago, again with Skelleftea, after a 44-game, 20-point stint with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008-09, he scored 60 points in 54 games.
Who should get him: He’s put up numbers at most every level save for the NHL, meaning wherever he goes next, if he does make his way back to North America, it will have to be with a team desperate for offense capable of properly insulating his skill—the Anaheim Ducks.
Juha-Pekka Haataja of Oulun Karpat.
Playing for Oulun Karpat in the SM-liiga in Finland, the 30-year-old Juha-Pekka Haataja leads the league in scoring with 29 points in 23 games.
Only 5’10” and 174 pounds, Haataja has been scouted as having a good shot and good skating ability. His defensive play could reportedly use some work, however.
This season represents somewhat of a breakout one for Haataja as he’s on the pace to break his previous career-high of 59 points in 56 games reached back in 2006-07.
I suggest watching the accompanying video tribute, set, I guess ironically, to "Somebody that I Used to Know" by Gotye as I honestly have never heard of the dude prior to writing this piece. Hopefully some NHL teams have for his sake.
Who should get him: A team looking for extra scoring on the wing: the New Jersey Devils.
Robert Rosen of the Vaxjo Lakers.
At 5’9”, 176 pounds Robert Rosen may very well never catch the attention of NHL teams, and that’s not only due to his size but also because if his 60-point season last year didn’t do it, nothing likely will.
Those 60 points won him the Elitserien scoring title, playing for AIK Stockholm, which largely rode the coattails of goalie Viktor Fasth (now an Anaheim Duck) to the league semi-finals.
The undrafted Rosen, who is now 25, is struggling this year with just eight points in 22 games after signing with the Vaxjo Lakers. If he can turn it around, he may prove to be something more than a one-year wonder, but, if not, he’ll unfortunately only prove those who have ignored him up to this point right.
There seems to be a shortage of footage of Rosen in action, but there is a short clip of him scoring a kinda nice goal at around the 30-second mark. Sad to say, but he’s obviously got a long way to go before anyone can legitimately compare him to a certain other number 87.
Who should get him: A team looking for a playmaking center that’s willing to overlook Rosen’s lack of size—the Montreal Canadiens.
Richard Gynge, then of AIK Stockholm.
Playing on a line with Rosen last year for AIK Stockholm, left-winger Richard Gynge exploded for 28 goals in 55 games. Now playing in the KHL for Moscow Dynamo, he’s been able to replicate much the same scoring pace with 8 goals in 17 games.
Gynge is not big, at just 6’1” and 196 pounds, but he is bigger than Rosen and probably stands a greater chance at making it in the NHL if an opportunity ever were to arise.
Who should get him: A team looking for additional scoring on the left side—the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Konstantin Barulin of Ak Bars Kazan.
Goalie Konstantin Barulin was actually drafted in 2003 by the St. Louis Blues, but stayed in Russia. Now a member of Ak Bars Kazan. he is now 28 and this year boasts a 12-5-5 record with a 1.69 goals-against average and 0.945 save percentage. Great numbers, undeniably.
However, that draft, two goalies by the names of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were also taken, coincidentally both in the ninth and final round.
Considering Elliott’s 1.56 GAA last year, Barulin may have made the right decision, with the Blues’ goaltending depth so impressive he likely would be buried so far down, all the way across the world anyway, where he is now.
Who should get him: A team in need of goaltending with a history of reaching out to Russians, even if they don’t want to report—the New York Islanders.
Patrick Thoresen, then of the Philadelphia Flyers.
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I’m no Norwegian, but I heavily suspect former NHL player Patrick Thoresen’s last name translates into “son of Thor.” Considering gods don’t actually exist (at least by all accounts; Please don’t smite me), it’s actually no wonder he never learned to wield that wooden hammer of his properly when in North America.
Brief stints playing with the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers resulted in modest totals of just six goals and 24 points in 106 games played. Ever since going to Europe, though, Thoresen has found his game.
He currently plays for SKA Saint Petersburg and is 11th in league scoring with 23 points in 24 games. Overall, in the KHL, he has amassed 187 points in 179 games. Hardly godlike, but definitely superstar-esque.
However, because of his previous failed attempts to make it in the NHL, he may have trouble catching on with a North American team or even wanting to, considering his success overseas.
Who should get him: Again, a team in with a history of reaching out to players from Russia, even if they don’t want to report—the New York Islanders.
Carl Soderberg, then of the St. Louis Blues.
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You know you’ve got problems when you trade away current Eastern Coast Hockey League goalie Hannu Toivonen and still get the raw end of the deal. However, that’s the position in which the Boston Bruins now find themselves, once having traded for St. Louis Blues draft pick Carl Soderberg back in 2007.
Once a highly touted prospect, Carl Soderberg has never played professionally in North America, and at age 27 with the Bruins set to lose his rights, it still doesn’t look like he will. It’s a shame for Bruins fans, because he currently is second in Elitserien scoring with 25 points (14 goals) in 22 games with Linkoping HC with Arlbrandt as his linemate.
Of course, former Los Angeles Kings draft pick Bud Holloway leads the scoring race, but Soderberg, at 6’3”, 207 pounds, could do some damage in the NHL, especially with him just hitting his prime and the strong character he has displayed staying in Sweden and with his hometown team, the Malmo Redhawks, even upon its relegation from the SEL in 2007.
Playing four years with Malmo in a lower league, Soderberg finally gave up and signed with Linkopings before last season to play at the higher level. A sign of things to come in another couple of years? Maybe don’t hold your breath just yet.
Who should get him: If he ever does decide to come over to North America, the Ottawa Senators, who lack scoring depth, might be a popular choice considering their Swedish captain, Swedish James Norris Memorial Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson and Swedish goalie of the future in Robin Lehner.
Dmitry Makarov hat-trick highlights.
Playing for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the KHL, the 28-year-old Dmitry Makarov has broken out this year with an unprecedented—for him, anyway—25 points in 24 games.
Makarov has never been a point-per-game player, boasting a career-high 33 points in 52 games a couple of years ago. The fact that he at one point led his league in scoring this year, but has fallen off the pace of such scorers as Radulov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Evgeni Malkin, points to a lack of consistency. Maybe he isn't made for stardom. Still, he is built for something.
At 6'1" and 222 pounds, Makarov could be a legitimate second-line forward in the NHL given the chance, if he should want one.
Who should get him: Any team lacking depth up front, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose general manager, Steve Yzerman, certainly has a history dealing with Russians.
Nail Yakupov KHL highlights.
Any player who could theoretically go by “Big Mama” deserves a look on that basis alone, even if the nickname would be slightly ironic. Mamashev, who stands 6’1”, is just 196 pounds, but still currently leads all defensemen in the KHL with five goals and 26 points in 24 games, playing for HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
Back in 2000-01, Mamashev played for the Moose Jaw Warriors in Canada’s Western Hockey League, but clearly was not able to grab the attention of an NHL team. Perhaps his meager 17 points in 72 games that season had something to do with it. If not, his 60 points in 173 KHL games probably kept them away.
Indeed, up until this year, when a certain Nail Yakupov joined his team for reasons unknown, Big Mama—it will catch on, you just wait and see—generally flew under the radar.
That has all changed with Yakupov posting an impressive 14 points and 10 goals in 13 games. Mamashev has clearly been somewhat of a benefactor of the Edmonton Oiler’s talents.
There is no footage of Mamashev available, and, yes, I'm purposely not counting the Big Mama's House film franchise. However, he does assist on a nice Nail Yakupov goal at around the 1:50 mark in the accompanying video. He wears number 75.
Who should get him: There’s always the possibility of a certain degree of chemistry between Mamashev and Yakupov that would warrant the Edmonton Oilers taking a closer look, especially with Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid and Andy Sutton slated to become unrestricted free agents.
Of course, they really don’t need another late bloomer in the same vein as Corey Potter, who didn’t turn out to be much of a bloomer at all after the first 30 games of last season.
Martin Ruzicka of HC Ocelari Trinec.
Back in 2011, Martin Ruzicka set a Czech Extraliga scoring record in the playoffs playing for HC Ocelari Trinec. In 15 games, he scored 30 points, breaking a mark set by Zigmund Palffy back in 1992.
It was a far cry from the 26 points in 125 games he put up as a junior in the Western Hockey League, yet he has clearly found his stride in recent years and currently leads his league with 38 points (22 goals) in 20 games.
The 27-year-old undrafted center is just 174 pounds, though, meaning as much talent as he may have, it will be pretty useless in a league filled to the brim with bodies on average about 25 pounds heavier than him.
Who should get him: A team looking for extra depth down the middle—the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ilja Nikulin (right) with Alexander Ovechkin at the 2008 IIHF World Championships.
Considered by many to be the best Russian defenseman out there, at least not playing in the NHL, Ilya Nikulin was drafted once upon a time by the Atlanta Thrashers, yet opted to stay in the KHL (or Russian Superleague back then)…for some strange reason, possibly because it was Atlanta.
At least we now can put a name and face to the reason as to why Atlanta let in so many goals for so long…along with the likes of Milan Hnilicka for example. Playing for Ak Bars Kazan, Nikulin has modest totals of four goals and 11 points in 25 games this year, but his plus/minus of +11 is right up there.
The 6’4”, 215-pound defenseman is 30 years old, meaning he barely made this list, but not due to a lack of ability.
Who should get him: A team with a serious need on defense. While the Winnipeg Jets might be the sentimental favorites, the Minnesota Wild could definitely use an upgrade in that department.
Aleksander Barkov of the Tampere Tappara.
When is a Russian hockey player not Russian? When he’s Finnish, and specifically when his name is Aleksander Barkov. This surprise entry is the talk of his hometown of Tampere, where he leads the Tappara with 24 points in 23 games and is currently in the top 10 in league scoring. This despite just turning 17.
Yes, technically “Sasha” Barkov, the son of a Russian player by the similar name of Alexander Barkov, isn’t an unrestricted free agent seeing as he has yet to be drafted. He is nonetheless the top international player out there who does not currently belong to an NHL team.
The projected 2013 draftee is already 205 pounds and 6’2” tall, meaning he’s NHL size and has actually played his way into the discussion, along with such names as Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, of who should go number one.
Who should get him: A team that should be in line for a high draft pick next summer, requires a big, superstar center and would not shy away from a player with as untraditional a background as Barkov’s (mainly because they can’t afford to take another risk on an actual Russian): the Columbus Blue Jackets.