As the European professional leagues resume play this week following their midseason break for international tournaments, we take a look at the best of the locked-out NHLers performing overseas.
Which NHL teams can look forward to hit the ground running when their offshore superstars come back into the fold? Who are the surprise point-getters on the big ice? And who should you be starting in that Swiss A fantasy pool you and your friends no doubt started?
We rank the most impressive of the 2012-13 NHLer performances abroad from 1 through 30, one spot for every NHL owner that has locked them out.
(Note: Despite hot starts from recent ex-pats such as Patrick Kane and Dustin Brown, we only considered those NHLers who had played more than a handful of games with their adopted clubs.)
1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburg Penguins
The reigning NHL MVP has remained at the top of his game, reuniting with his old Penguins mentor Sergei Gonchar on the KHL’s Matallurg Magnitogorsk. Malkin leads all overseas NHLers in assists with 20 in 18 games, but still makes time for solo efforts like this beauty:
2. Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
Plekanec’s HC Kladno homecoming, a decade in the making, could not be cozier. Playing alongside fellow locked-out NHLers and fellow countrymen Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Tlusty, the Habs centreman leads all NHLers overseas with 28 points in 18 games (Damien Brunner and Evgeni Malkin also have 28, but Plekanec has more goals).
3. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
How good is KHL Kovalchuk? Dude is the captain. Rumoured to put up a fuss if a new CBA means losing its superstar, SKA St. Petersburg is as committed to its rent-a-star as Kovy is to SKA. He has put up 26 points in just 16 contests.
4. Damien Brunner, Detroit Red Wings
The gritty, Swiss-born (not an oxymoron) winger has benefitted greatly by Zug’s acquisition of teammate Henrik Zetterberg. Brunner’s one-year, $925,000-deal with the Wings will be a bargain if he can put up anywhere close to the 1.68 points per game he’s currently averaging.
5. Jaromir Jagr, Dallas Stars
As owner of the Czech Elite League club he plays for, Jagr is in a peculiar position: the moment he leaves to get that Dallas money, Kladno’s attendance will surely dip. But anyone who thinks the veteran is holding on to his playing career too tightly hasn’t seen his recent highlights. Twenty-seven points in 17 games, kids. Bonus, he leads all overseas NHLers in plus/minus with a plus-15:
6. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Nice little stat line for a guy coming back from injury: 8 GP, 8 G, 8 A, plus-8. Even in Switzerland, the number 8 sideways, of course, means infinity — the time Bruins fans feel like they’ve been waiting to see Bergeron on the TD ice.
7. Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
Already a smash hit in Switzerland, Seguin has soared since Biel’s hiring of Patrick Kane. With a pair of recent hat tricks, the Bruin now has 23 points in 15 games.
8. Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers
With so much of the Oilers’ attention focused on the big club’s invasion of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, Hemsky has quietly become a Czech-league wonder: 11 goals and 10 assists in 21 games.
9. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
Eight goals, five assists in just seven games — highlighted by a hat trick (below) in just his second game for Switzerland’s Zug. Hey, Detroit: When he gets back, hold a little ceremony where Nicklas Lidstrom gives him the captaincy.
10. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
No surprise that the Russian is excelling in Russia. Datsyuk is wowing CSKA Moscow crowds with his wizardry. Nineteen points in 15 games, and he’s only taken one minor penalty.
11. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Playing alongside Kovalchuk will get you noticed. But the KHL is the world’s most talented active league, and this Blues prospect has scored a point in nearly every one of his 22 games for SKA thus far.
12. Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers
Read’s 1.45 points per game leads the entire tier-2 Swedish league, a circuit that features Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Landeskog and Filip Forsberg.
13. Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
Despite a slow start and even a benching, the Oilers No. 1 pick has come on like a house of fire, winning KHL weekly awards while scoring 10 goals in 13 games before heading back to this side of the pond to play in the Subway Super Series.
14. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
The Finnish netminder is the only NHL starter overseas with a minimum of 10 games played to have a goals-against average under two. HC Plzen’s Rask (1.75 GAA, .936 save percentage) has easily been the cream of the locked-out goaltending crop.
15. Raphael Diaz, Montreal Canadiens
Helps that Diaz played for Zug before joining the Habs. Still, he leads all locked-out NHL defencemen in points with 16 in 17 and is plus-11 for his Swiss club.
16. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
The NHL 13 cover boy is putting up SNES numbers in Germany, arguably one of the softer pro circuits in Europe. Nineteen points in eight games for Berlin.
17. Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers
Of course, Giroux has familiar company. Buddy Briere has 18 points for the team.
18. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Couture scores a goal every other game for the Swiss A league’s Genève-Servette, but none of them have been prettier than this ’tweener:
19. Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils
Feeding pucks to Jagr helps, but the Kladno defender has put up a solid 16 points and is a plus-12 through 18 games.
20. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
He attracts crowds wherever he goes and isn’t afraid to fire off tweets back at the NHL from across the ocean. Ovie has 14 points in 14 games so far and has been key to Dynamo Moscow’s jump to the KHL lead. And now he has Nicklas Backstrom riding shotgun.
21. Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Playing with big pal Joe Thornton, Nash has rekindled his love affair with HC Davos, scoring nine goals in 13 games.
22. Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes
Perhaps another beneficiary from all the good mojo bubbling on Jagr’s Kladno, Tlusty (a plus-12) is playing at a point-per-game pace, something the forward hasn’t done since he was a member of the 2008-09 Toronto Marlies (AHL).
23. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
Seven goals and seven assists in 14 games for the HC Pardubice centreman, fitting in at home in the Czech Republic.
24. John Tavares, New York Islanders
The centre has taken his skills to Bern, where he leads his team with 15 points in a dozen games. Bern’s next highest scorer? Ivo Ruthemann. Exaaactly.
25. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
The Norris winner has 10 points in 14 Finnish Elite League games and is a plus-11 on the ice for Jokerit.
26. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
While his stats were padded by nine games in a soft German-2 league, Simmonds has taken the upgrade to the Czech circuit — not to mention last month’s ugly hate incident — in stride. He’s still a point-per-game player overseas.
27. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
Biding time in Russia while he awaits his Avs debut, Varlamov has outperformed fellow KHLers Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky, posting a 1.94 GAA in his nine games played.
28. Jesse Joensuu, New York Islanders
The Isles’ 2006 second-round pick may have only played 60 NHL games, but the 25-year old is feasting on the Finnish Elite League this year: 21 points in 17 games.
29. Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks
Hoping to rebound from a subpar 2011-12 season with the Sharks, Demers has been a force on the Karpat (Finnish Elite League) blue line, putting up a dozen points while being a plus-9.
30. Dale Weise, Vancouver Canucks
Tough to compare the quality of European leagues from afar, but when a Vancouver depth player walks into the Netherlands’ greatest hockey stage and averages 2.5 points per game, it might be safe to say that the Dutch playground is a bit softer than some of the others. Helluva confidence-booster for Weise, though.
(assists from Elite Prospects and Internet Hockey Database, who keep stats on everybody everywhere)