Ranking Former NHL Players Who Left for the KHL in 2013-14

Jameson SempeyCorrespondent IIISeptember 8, 2013

Ranking Former NHL Players Who Left for the KHL in 2013-14

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    The average NHL fan is aware of Ilya Kovalchuk's departure to the KHL this offseason. I'm sure he or she may have heard about Nik Antropov, Alex Burmistrov, Wojtek Wolski and Alexei Ponikarovsky signing, too.

    But what most don't realize is there were more than 30 players with NHL experience who signed in the KHL to head over for either their first full, non-lockout season in the KHL, or returned to the Russian league after playing in the NHL last season.

    The KHL season got underway this week, and here, we'll rank every one of the aforementioned players. 

     

    Rankings are soley based on educated opinion. Generally, "honorable mentions" did not have much NHL experience or have been out of the league for some time. All stats are from hockeyDB.com.

"Honorable" Mentions

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    Matt Anderson, Right Wing

    The West Islip, N.Y., native saw his first NHL action with the New Jersey Devils last season, but without an NHL contract, he now heads to Moscow to play for Spartak. He registered an assist in his first game, so now he's scored as many points in the KHL as he has in the NHL.

     

    Barry Brust, Goaltender

    Brust, a former third-round pick with the Minnesota Wild in 2002, appeared in 11 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2006-07. It'd be his only NHL action, as he spent most of his time in North America bouncing between the AHL and the ECHL. He has one year of overseas action in DEL in 2011-12, but takes his talents to the Medvescak Zagreb where he'll split time with Mark Dekanich.

     

    Jonathan Cheechoo, Right Wing

    A resume that includes a season with 56 goals and 37 assists is not very common among KHL players, but Cheechoo was brought down by injuries. He scored the first goal of Medvescak Zagreb's time in the KHL. He hasn't appeared in an NHL game since 2010.

     

    Mark Dekanich, Goaltender

    Dekanich has 50 minutes of NHL experience with the Nashville Predators. He won Medvescak Zagreb's first game in the KHL in commanding 7-1 fashion this season. 

     

    Mike Glumac, Right Wing

    Glumac played in DEL the last three seasons, but he'll join Medvescak Zagreb this season. A Miami (Ohio) graduate, Glumac saw most of his NHL action in 2005-06 for the St. Louis Blues. 

     

    Evgeny Grachev, Left Wing

    It's hard to understand why Grachev's game didn't come together at a professional level. He had an excellent year in the OHL in 2008-09, scoring 80 points in 60 regular-season games and another 25 points in 19 games in the playoffs for the Brampton Battalion. The former third-round NHL pick had tremendous upside and potential that just never materialized into anything great, even at an AHL level.

    He'll play his first season in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

     

    Shaun Heshka, Defenseman

    An undrafted free agent in the NHL, Heshka spent time in the Vancouver Canucks system for three years before playing in eight games for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10. The AHL veteran spent last season in SM-liiga and is making his KHL debut with Ak Bars Kazan this season.

     

    Jonas Holos, Defenseman

    Holos played one season for the Colorado Avalanche, skating in 39 games and recording six assists. He's played in the SEL the last two seasons and is playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in his first KHL action this year.

     

    Hugh Jessiman, Right Wing

    Jessiman is one of the biggest busts in NHL history. He's only appeared in one NHL game. He'll now serve as a role player with Medvescak Zagreb.

     

    Boyd Kane, Left Wing

    Kane's been out of the NHL since 2010, spending his time as a veteran leader on the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He played 31 NHL games with the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, registering three assists. He'll serve as a bottom-six forward with Medvescak Zagreb this season.

     

    Anton Klementyev, Defenseman

    After spending 2012-13 out of hockey and missing the latter half of 2011-12 serving a suspension for failing to report to the ECHL, the former Islanders prospect will spend the year with Atlant Mytishchi. He only has one career NHL appearance, and it's likely to stay that way.

     

    Tomas Kubalik, Right Wing

    Kubalik, a former fifth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, spent all of last year in the AHL. His last NHL affiliation was with the Winnipeg Jets. He has one goal and three assists in 12 NHL appearances, and he'll give overseas action a shot with HC Lev Praha in his native Czech Republic.

     

    Michael Leighton, Goaltender

    It's hard to believe it's been almost three years since Leighton was the Philadelphia Flyers' backstop during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. His trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't yield another chance to earn a job in the NHL again. He'll play with Donbass Donetsk is his first KHL season.

     

    Kurtis McLean, Center

    McLean only played four NHL games with the Islanders back in 2008-09, and he's been out of North America for four years, but this is the first season he'll play in the KHL. He'll be a member of Metallurg Novokuznetsk, joining defenseman Ray Giroux, a seven-year KHL veteran, as the only member with any NHL experience. 

     

    Brandon Reid, Center

    Reid has been out of North America since 2007. The former Canucks draft pick played in 12 NHL games. He's been playing in DEL and the Swiss-A league since. This season with CSKA Moskva will be his first. He's the only North American-born player on the squad.

     

    Michael Ryan, Left Wing

    The former 1999 second-round pick of the Dallas Stars left for the SM-liiga last season after spending most of his career on the AHL-NHL bubble. He has 15 points in 83 NHL games to his name, and he'll play on Medvescak Zagreb this season.

     

    Brian Salcido, Defenseman

    The former fifth-round pick of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2005 is making the transition from SM-liiga to the KHL with Amur Khabarovsk this season. He appeared in two games with Anaheim in 2008-09.

     

    Bill Thomas, Right Wing

    Thomas joins 18 other North Americans with NHL experience on Medvescak Zagreb's squad this year. Thomas played in the Swiss-A league during the 2004-05 lockout, but this will be his first year in the KHL. He has 28 points in 87 career NHL appearances.

     

    Brian Willsie, Right Wing

    Willlsie has 381 career appearances in the NHL. In his best season, he managed 41 points in 82 games for the Washington Capitals in 2005-06. Mostly a career journeyman, he left North America in 2012-13 and split his time between SM-liiga and the Swiss-A league. He'll play for Medvescak Zagreb this season.

29. Roman Cervenka, Center

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    NHL Stats: 39 GP, 9 G, 8 A, 17 Pts, 14 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg

    Roman Cervenka made his NHL debut last season and had a pretty good year for the bottom-feeding Flames, but he will back in the KHL this season. He played for Avangard Omsk for two seasons—2010 through 2012—and played five games during the lockout with HC Lev Praha. 

    He had a goal and an assist in SKA St. Petersburg's opener, and he'll look to continue his solid play on Ilya Kovalchuk's new team.

28. Leo Komarov, Center

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    NHL Stats: 42 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 Pts, 18 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Dynamo Moskva 

    Leo Komarov didn't shock many people when he decided to return to the KHL this offseason.

    Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis told the National Post they had made him an offer, but said, "I wouldn't say it was a surprise" when he heard the news Komarov had signed with Dynamo Moskva.

    The Finnish-Russian pro out of Estonia did not rule out a comeback to the NHL: 

    Thank you Leafs organization,fans and all my komrades in Toronto for the opportunity you gave me.I have my own reason to go to Khl and i

    — Leo Komarov (@LKomarov) June 10, 2013

    hope everybody will understand it. I really loved Toronto and i wish them all the best and i hope i will bee back..#wannabeecorporal

    — Leo Komarov (@LKomarov) June 10, 2013

     

     

27. Jan Mursak, Right Wing

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    NHL Stats: 46 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 Pts, 8 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Amur Khabarovsk

    An undersized forward at 5'11", 167 pounds, Jan Mursak has posted solid numbers at every level but the NHL in his career.

    The small speedster from Slovenia believes his game will work better in the KHL but hasn't ruled out a return to the NHL if he can stay healthy, according to Peter Wallner of MLive.

26. Kyle Wilson, Center

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    NHL Stats: 39 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 Pts, 12 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Dinamo Riga 

    Kyle Wilson was 11 years old when Sandis Ozolinsh won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. Now, Wilson will share the same ice as one of the NHL's best all-time offensive defensemen, joining the predominantly Latvian-born team, Dinamo Riga. 

    His best time in North America was his four years with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He played a key part in the team's back-to-back Calder Cup championships from 2008 to 2010. 

    Failing to appear in any NHL games last season, Wilson should be an effective KHL player. He has excellent vision, good faceoff skills and a scoring touch.

25. Bobby Sanguinetti, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 45 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 6 Pts, 8 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Atlant Mytishchi

    The New York Rangers have had a decent success rate with defensemen in the first round of the NHL draft since the 2004-05 lockout. Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto have established themselves as NHL regulars, and Dylan McIlrath is on schedule to arrive in the NHL and attempt to prove he belongs there soon.

    Bobby Sanguinetti, the No. 21 overall pick in 2006, however, didn't progress the way they'd have liked. They managed to pry a second- and sixth-round pick from the Hurricanes, and it didn't work out in Carolina either. 

    Once hailed as a good offensive defenseman, Sanguinetti only scored two goals and four assists in 37 games for the 'Canes last season.

    He'll look to put up better numbers with Atlant Mytishchi as the only American-born player on the roster.

24. Teemu Hartikainen

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    NHL Stats: 52 GP, 6 G, 7 A, 13 Pts, 16 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa

    Teemu Hartikainen showed some promise in Edmonton's farm system, and the move to sign overseas came as a bit of a surprise, even with a disappointing 2013 NHL campaign. Hockey's Future even compares his ceiling to that of Tomas Holmstrom. 

    He's only 23 years old, and he had never played in the KHL prior to this season. This should mean he may return at some point.

23. Dylan Reese, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 77 GP, 3 G, 14 A, 17 Pts, 40 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Amur Khabarovsk

    Dylan Reese has proven himself time and time again as a successful defenseman in the AHL, and time and time again he's gotten the call-up to the NHL just to prove he's not a capable everyday NHL defenseman.

    Playing in his native Pittsburgh, Pa., was a great feat for the former seventh-round pick, but with the free-agent market flooded with capable sixth and seventh defensemen this offseason, he signed in the KHL quickly this summer.

22. Andrew Murray, Center

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    NHL Stats: 229 GP, 20 G, 23 A, 43 Pts, 52 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Medvescak Zagreb

    For the Columbus Blue Jackets, Andrew Murray was the type of player who was hard not to like. But blue-collar guys like him seem to be a dime a dozen sometimes, and he had a hard time sticking with the big club in San Jose. 

    Murray will join the KHL's lone team in Croatia in their inaugural season this year.

21. Derek Meech, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 144 GP, 4 G, 13 A, 17 Pts, 45 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Dinamo Minsk 

    Derek Meech has never played professionally outside of North America, but he must've heard great things from former teammates Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov over the course of last season.

    He failed to really earn himself a permanent spot in Winnipeg, which is unfortunate considering it's his hometown. 

    Most of his NHL experience stems from his time in Detroit, although he's never appeared in more than 50 games in a season. He's one of only four North Americans on Dinamo Minsk's roster and is second to only former Florida Panthers first-round pick Lukas Krajicek in NHL games played.

20. Tom Wandell, Center

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    NHL Stats: 229 GP, 20 G, 23 A, 43 Pts, 52 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Spartak Movska

    Spartak Movska is getting a solid two-way, bottom-six NHL forward in Tom Wandell. 

    Wandell had appeared in at least 70 games for the Stars in two straight seasons prior to the most recent lockout, but when he returned, he ran into some injury issues and only dressed for 18 games, managing only one goal and zero assists in those appearances.

    He'll join former NHLer and fellow countryman Niclas Bergfors, who was a part of the Ilya Kovalchuk deal that sent him from Atlanta to New Jersey.

19. Tomas Vincour, Right Wing

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    NHL Stats: 88 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 16 Pts, 10 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Ak Bars Kazan

    Tomas Vincour has the skill set to be a successful power forward, but the numbers don't lie—he hasn't even been close to cashing in on that potential.

    Still only 22 years old, maybe Vincour will find his niche in Russia. Having come to North America to play in the WHL at a young age, one has to assume his desire is to be an NHL player one day. Things were starting to look up for the Czech Republic native; after being acquired at the trade deadline, he had five goals and six assists in six games with the Colorado Avalanche's AHL affiliate, Lake Erie. 

18. Mike Lundin, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 252 GP, 4 G, 32 A, 36 Pts, 54 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Barys Astana

    In 2010-11, it seemed like Mike Lundin might've finally established himself as a full-time NHL player. He spent the entire season with Tampa Bay and appeared in 18 playoff games for the team.

    After he signed with the Wild in the offseason, it all seemed to be downhill from there, as injuries took their toll.

    The University of Maine product only appeared in 11 games with the Ottawa Senators last season. If he plays well and stays healthy, it's not out of the question that Lundin could return to the NHL as an adequate sixth or seventh defenseman for an NHL team in the future.

17. Kurtis Foster, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 405 GP, 42 G, 118 A, 160 Pts, 308 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Medvescak Zagreb

    Kurtis Foster has the frame and skill set to be a monster on the blue line in the NHL. At 6'5", 225 pounds, Foster has a cannon of a shot, and if he could overcome his weaknesses—poor decision making and weak skating—he would be a force for any team lucky enough to have him.

    Instead, when his offense started to decline and he was faced with injuries, he struggled to stay in an NHL lineup every night.

    In the AHL, Foster has seen great success. He once had 42 points for the Chicago Wolves. He scored 17 goals for the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

    His game may not translate amazingly to the KHL, but playing against lesser talent should help him cut back on his mistakes. He starts the season with an opportunity to be Medvescak Zagreb's top defender.

16. Tim Brent, Center

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    NHL Stats: 207 GP, 21 G, 27 A, 48 Pts, 76 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod

    Tim Brent was always a well-respected player for shifts like this

    His best season was 2011-12, when he scored 12 goals and 12 assists in 79 games. Last season, however, he only tallied three assists in 30 games. 

    The only Canadian-born player on Torpedo, expect him to post moderate offensive numbers and serve as a two-way forward who plays a lot of special teams.

15. Steve Montador, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 571 GP, 33 G, 98 A, 131 Pts, 807 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Medvescak Zagreb

    A concussion and then a buyout effectively ended Steve Montador's NHL career—at least for now. When he was cleared to return in the lockout-shortened season, he played for the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL affiliate for 14 games, scoring two goals and three assists.

    At 33 years old, an NHL veteran with concussion problems doesn't fare too well on the free-agent market. We may have seen the last of Montador playing hockey in North America.

14. Chris Bourque

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    NHL Stats: 51 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 Pts, 18 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Ak Bars Kazan

    Chris Bourque is frustrating. He's been phenomenal in the AHL.

    He had some amazing years for the Hershey Bears that included winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs en route to the Bears' Calder Cup championship in 2010. He scored 70 points in 49 regular-season games that year, and that wasn't even his most impressive season. In 2011-12, he scored 93 points in 73 games.

    It just has not translated in the NHL. His size is an obvious disadvantage; he's 5'8", 170 pounds. Before the KHL's growth in popularity, he might have stuck it out in the AHL longer, similar to a player like Jason Krog. Odds are, he'll make a lot more playing in the KHL.

13. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 74 GP, 3 G, 15 A, 18 Pts, 34 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: HC Lev Praha

    Things seemed great for Marc-Andre Gragnani in 2010-11 after he won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman, scoring 12 goals and 48 assists in 63 games. In the NHL playoffs, he had seven points in seven games for the Buffalo Sabres that year too.

    Under a one-year deal, he failed to really transfer that success to the NHL level with Buffalo, and he was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in the Cody Hodgson deal. 

    After stints with the Vancouver and the Carolina Hurricanes, he decided to take his game overseas for the first time in his career this offseason.

12. David Ullstrom, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 49 GP, 6 G, 7 A, 13 Pts, 12 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

    It's one thing for an NHL team to watch a Russian-born prospect of theirs decide their dream of success in the NHL isn't working out and head back to Russia, as there's a bit of calculated risk involved with every Russian prospect. It's another thing to watch a Swedish-born player who has good odds of making it as an effective bottom-six role player leave for the KHL because he can't get the one-way contract he feels he deserves.

    That's exactly what former fourth-round pick David Ullstrom did to the Islanders. This is likely a temporary move, but where he'll go when he's collected his paycheck is anyone's guess. For now, the 24-year-old will see what he can do in Russia.

11. Anton Babchuk, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 289 GP, 36 G, 79 A, 107 Pts, 108 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa

    Some players spend their time being bused back and forth between an AHL affiliate an an NHL squad. It's starting to feel like Babchuk is on the KHL shuttle with how many times he's switched leagues.

    The former No. 21 overall pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002 got his start in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan and SKA St. Petersburg in 2002-03. 

    He came over to the United States after that season and split time between the AHL and NHL until 2006, when he decided to go back to Russia for a season and play for Omsk Avangard.

    Upon returning to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2008, Babchuk had a breakout year. He scored 16 goals and 19 assists in 72 games. He'd again return to the KHL in the offseason, however. 

    His success fluctuated after he returned to the NHL once more. He was traded to the Flames, and while he played well enough to earn a two-year contract extension with the team, he was being shopped in the Flames' fire sale at the trade deadline last season.

    Who knows if it's the end to the 29-year-old's NHL career. He clearly likes to travel. 

10. Steve Eminger, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 488 GP, 19 G, 80 A, 99 Pts, 359 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Admiral Vladivostok

    Steve Eminger is the definition of a good journeyman defenseman. His game is by no means pretty. His skating is not technically sound, he's not an offensive powerhouse and he's not going to shut down the opposition's top players. Despite all that, he's going to outwork anyone on the ice and give his team everything he's got and then some.

    Unfortunately for him, the free-agent market tends to be saturated with these types of defensemen in the post-2004-05-lockout NHL. It shouldn't come as a surprise that he was unable to find work at a salary he probably felt he deserved.

    It should be noted that Eminger has only reached a "preliminary agreement" with Admiral, and has yet to be confirmed. He did not skate with the team in its first game.

     

9. Ryan O'Byrne, Defenseman

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    NHL Stats: 308 GP, 5 G, 34 A, 39 Pts, 369 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: HC Lev Praha

    Ryan O'Byrne, a 6'5" bruiser out of Cornell University, will look to instill fear in his opponents for HC Lev Praha this season. 

    Defensemen like O'Byrne seem to be a dying breed in today's NHL. Rarely do you see a one-dimensional defenseman with mostly size and physicality as the only positive elements to their game stick it in the league; they usually need an added element, whether it be speed and vision or a booming slap shot. 

    His most impressive season in professional hockey might've actually been his first in the AHL. He appeared in 80 regular-season contests and logged 129 penalty minutes in 2006-07, and in the playoffs he'd play key minutes and score two goals and five assists in 22 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs en route to the team's first Calder Cup victory.

8. Eric Belanger, Center

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    NHL Stats: 820 GP, 138 G, 220 A, 358 Pts, 361 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg

    Not many North American-born veterans like Eric Belanger look to finish out their career overseas, but he'll skate with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg this season as the only North American to do so. In fact, the 35-year-old is one of only four players on the roster who were not born in Russia.

    He's not too far removed from a 40-point season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-11, but he was simply not getting it done in Edmonton. In 104 games, he only scored four goals and 15 assists. He was bought out in July. 

7. Wojtek Wolski, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 451 GP, 99 G, 168 A, 267 Pts, 113 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod

    There was certainly no shortage of chances for Wojtek Wolski to prove himself in the NHL. Ultimately, his offensive prowess is not enough to warrant a top-six role, and he's a terrible fit for a bottom-six role.

    Wolski hit the 20-plus goal mark twice in his career, but his last few seasons were a far cry from that kind of output. In 2012-13, he only managed four goals and five assists in 27 games for the Washington Capitals.

    The former No. 21 overall pick is only 27, so if he regroups in the KHL and finds his game, maybe he'll return at a later date. Sitting at 99 goals has to feel a little unsettling.

6. Ruslan Fedotenko, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 863 GP, 173 G, 193 A, 366 Pts, 472 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Donbass Donetsk

    Ruslan Fedotenko has something on his resume that no one else on this list has: a game-winning goal in the deciding game of a Stanley Cup Final. 

    His move to the KHL looked like a possibility three years ago when he went the length of the offseason without any contract offers from NHL teams. On a tryout basis, he earned an offer with the New York Rangers. 

    In his time with the Rangers, and then the Philadelphia Flyers, he was a valuable bottom-six asset. Had the salary cap not gone down, there may have been higher demand for a player with Fedoteno's resume as a secondary scoring option.

    The 34-year-old veteran could round out his career in his home country. He's serving as captain of Donbass this season. 

5. Alexei Ponikarovsky, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 678 GP, 139 G, 184 A, 323 Pts, 419 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg

    Alexei Ponikarovsky never seemed to find his place in the NHL. 

    The three-time 20-goal scorer only managed four goals and five assists in 42 games last season. He became what many NHLers-turned-KHL players are, and that is a player who does not produce enough to be on the top two lines, but does not really play a style of hockey suited for most third or fourth lines.

    The NHL has likely seen the last of the big-bodied Poni. With a 6'4", 226-pound frame, it's a shame he never really became a top power forward in North America.

     

4. Nik Antropov, Center

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    NHL Stats: 788 GP, 193 G, 272 A, 465 Pts, 627 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Barys Astana

    Nik Antropov's size was never something to balk at, but it's hard to remember a time he truly wowed anyone with it. With players like Damien Brunner still around in the free-agent market, it shouldn't come as a huge shock that Nik Antropov was not courted by a lot of NHL teams this offseason.

    The Kazahstan native signed a two-year deal to play with the KHL's only team in the country. 

     

3. Sergei Kotstitsyn, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 353 GP, 67 G, 109 A, 176 Pts, 188 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Avangard Omsk 

    When Sergei Kotstitsyn was traded to the Nashville Predators in 2010, it seemed like it might finally be coming together for him. 

    Kotstitsyn had his share of trouble getting acclimated in Montreal, and in his first two seasons in Nashville he enjoyed 50- and 43-point seasons, respectively.

    The 26-year-old made his KHL debut for Avangard Omsk during the lockout. He returned when the new CBA was agreed upon, but had an unimpressive three goals and 12 assists in 46 games for the Preds last season.

    He joins former NHL veterans Alex Frolov and Oleg Kvasha. His brother, Andrei, played in the KHL in 2012-13 and did not return to the NHL when the lockout ended. 

2. Alex Burmistrov, Center

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    NHL Stats: 194 GP, 23 G, 35 A, 58 Pts, 83 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: Ak Bars Kazan

    Watching a young talent like Alex Burmistrov leave for Russia is concerning for the NHL. 

    The former No. 8 overall pick has the ability to be a top-flight NHL player. If more players like him continue to never leave Russia or come stateside just to return a few years later, it's going to mean less talent in the NHL—something that is not music to anyone with pro-expansion ears.

    Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff believes that Burmistrov, who signed a two-year deal with Ak Bars Kazan, still has a future in the NHL.

    "He remains a very talented player within the Jets organization and we will continue to monitor his progress and development going forward," he told the Canadian Press (h/t CBC). 

    The Jets will retain his NHL rights should he choose to return.

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing

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    NHL Stats: 816 GP, 417 G, 399 A, 816 Pts, 516 PIM

    2013-14 KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg

    Ilya Kovalchuk left not just $77 million on the table, but he leaves a career that had him well on pace to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    The 30-year-old scored exactly a point per game in his NHL career. In 2011, he scored eight goals and 11 assists in 23 playoff games, falling short to the Los Angeles Kings in the final.

    He's signed for the next four years with SKA St. Petersburg. A lot can change in that time, but Kovalchuk seemed pretty adamant on never returning to the NHL. 

    "I'm not going to the moon, China or Japan. I'm going home, where my mother, sister, my friends live. I'm more comfortable in Russia," Kovalchuk told reporter Dmitry Lysenkov of Yahoo! (h/t CBSSports). "I am happy. I wanted it myself."

    He'll easily be the best player in the KHL for years, not just the tops among this list of former NHL players in the league.