So many faces have come and gone in the NHL, many just looking for a fresh new start. A couple of notable players have left the NHL, such as Russian superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov, and the two are off to a great start of the season, with Radulov leading the league in points and Kovalchuk the runner up. These two are huge superstars who turned to Europe, but in reality, a mass amount of players leave the NHL for Europe, and the competition is becoming better and better every year over seas. In this article, we look at 15 players who left the NHL and are currently playing overseas, the places range from Russia to Italy. Enjoy!
15) Nik Antropov: Plays For Barys Astana (KHL)
The Toronto Maple Leafs had some pretty big expectations for this guy, drafted 10th overall in the 1998 draft. Antropov seemed like he would fit in perfectly in Leaf nation, 6’6, 220 pounds, skilled and plays center. Sadly, Nik never lived up to the hype, and played his final season with the Jets in the 12-13 season, picking up 35 points in 69 games. Today, Nik plays in the KHL for Astana Barys. Antropov has collected 7 points in his first 12 games.
14) Jonathan Cheechoo: Plays For HC Dinamo (KHL)
It’s certainly been a bumpy ride for Jonathan. In the 05-06 season, Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy, scoring 56 goals. Sadly, after that season, it all pretty much went downhill. Cheechoo’s numbers were seemingly getting lower and lower, year after year. Jonathan was finally dealt to Ottawa in an opportunity to redeem himself, but the Senators would send him down and Cheechoo ended up playing 4 seasons in the AHL on different teams every year. In the 13-14 season, Jonathan finally left the North American league, and took his talents to the KHL. Cheechoo is off to a good start with his new team, HC Dinamo, cashing in 25 points in his first 22 games.
13) Wojtek Wolski: Plays For Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo (KHL)
Wojtek Wolski was a first round pick for the Colorado Avalanche and was expected to be a great player. Unfortunately, his best numbers were in his rookie year, as his numbers would constantly go down after that, and would bounce around 5 different teams. After his final season in Washington, Wojtek found some success playing for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo in the KHL. In his second season with the team, he is off to a great start, scoring 20 points in 18 games.
12) Samuel Pahlsson: Plays For Modo (SHL)
Pahlsson is best remembered for his time with the Anaheim Ducks, particularly when the Ducks made their “Cinderella run” to the cup in the 02-03 season, in which Pahlsson played a key role in the team’s checking “shut down” line. Pahlsson is mostly remembered for his tremendous defensive play. After spending time with Chicago, Columbus and Vancouver, Pahlsson decided to go back home to Sweden, in the 12-13 season. Pahlsson is currently in his third season with Modo, and the 36 year old is the captain of the popular Swedish team.
11) Marc-Andre Bergeron: Plays For The ZSC Lions (NLA)
Despite never being drafted, Marc-Andre Bergeron spent 8 years playing in the NHL, bouncing around 7 different teams, almost a different team per season. Bergeron was known for his rocket shot on the power play. In fact, remarkably, more than half of Bergeron’s career goals and points came on the power play. After Bergeron’s contract expired in 2013, the defensemen agreed on a more permanent deal, signing with the ZSC Lion of the Swiss National League A. Marc-Andre is currently in the second year of his three-year deal, and the defenseman has put up 9 points in 18 games thus far.
10) Ryan O’Byrne: Plays For HC Ambri-Piotta (NLA)
Despite being billed as a big shut down defensemen, O’Byrne failed to meet these standards in his NHL career. Unfortunately, Ryan will likely be remembered for sliding the puck into his own net against the New York Islanders during a delayed penalty. O’Byrne never really bounced back from this embarrassing play, and was given an opportunity for a new start after the Habs dealt the struggling defenseman to the Avalanche. Still, a new scenery didn’t help O’Byrne, and he was later traded once again to the Leafs. After his contract expired, Ryan turned to Europe. The defensemen signed a deal with HC Lev Praha, a Czech based team out of the KHL. O’Byrne finally found his game, playing tremendously as the team’s shut down defensemen. Ryan would lead his team to the Gagarin Cup finals. This season, O’Byrne was forced to move due to HC Lev Praha bankruptcy problems. O’Byrne is currently playing for his new team in the Swiss-A league, Ambri-Piotta.
9) Niklas Hagman: Plays For Jokerit (KHL)
The former 27 goal scorer for the Dallas Stars has flopped around Europe since leaving the NHL, at the end of the 11-12 season (as a member of the Ducks). Hagman’s Europe journey began in the KHL, then the following season he was shipped to his home land, Finland in the SM-liiga, then off to Switzerland, midway into the year as a member of Fribourg-Gotteron and finally to his destination today, back in the KHL, as part of Jokerit Helsinki. The 34 year old veteran is off to a great start with his new team, putting up 12 goals in his first 15 games.
8) Cristobal Huet: Plays For Lausanne HC (NLA)
The French goalie spent time with the Kings, Canadiens, Capitals and Blackhawks. Huet put up some nice numbers during his final stint with the Blackhawks, before the playoffs though, Huet would lose his job as the team’s number one goalie to Antti Niemi. Huet would only play 20 minutes during the team’s Stanley cup victory in 2010. The next season, the Hawks would be forced to loan Huet to HC Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss League. Huet would have 2 average seasons with the team, and after his 2 year loan ended, no team was interested to sign Huet, so the French goalie would head back to Switzerland, signing a 4 year deal with HC Lausanne, a Swiss second division team. Huet would have an excellent season, winning the league and granting his new team promotion back up to the Swiss A League. At 39, Huet is still in goal for the team.
7) Jochen Hecht: Plays For Mannheim Eagles (DEL)
You may remember this German-born winger for his time as a Buffalo Sabres, the team Hecht spent over a decade with. After finally leaving the team at the end of the 2012-2013 season, Hecht decided to go back home and play for his hometown of Mannheim, in the DEL league. The German can still play at the age of 37, putting up 36 points in 49 games last season, leading his team in scoring. Hecht has started the season in decent form, putting up 6 goals in his first 16 games.
6) Maxim Afinogenov: Plays For HC Vityaz (KHL)
Believe it or not, the Russian dangler is still dangling at the age of 35. After playing almost 10 seasons in Buffalo, Maxim was picked up by the Thrashers. Afinogenov put up career numbers in his final season, with 24 goals and 61 points. Many were sad to see this player leave, especially due to the fact that he was leaving just as he was hitting his prime. Maxim decided to sign with the KHL instead of staying in the NHL, and the free agent agreed on a 5 year deal with St. Petersburg. After 3 seasons, mostly riddled by injuries, Afinogenov was traded to HC Vityaz, in where he was named captain of the team. The former Sabres is currently in his final year with the team, and so far, has put up 12 points in his first 21 games.
5) Alexei Ponikarovsky: Plays For Saint Petersburg (KHL)
The man known to hockey fans as “the pony”, never really lived up to expectations during his time in the NHL. After a long career as a Maple Leaf, the pony bounced around numerous teams before finally playing his final one as member of the Devils during the second half of the season. At the end of the season, a lack of interest amongst teams in the NHL forced Alexei to look to the KHL. Pony signed a two year deal with St. Petersburg, reuniting with his former teammate in New Jersey, Ilya Kovalchuk. The winger is currently in the final year of his 2 year deal, and Ponikarovsky has registered 4 points in 15 games thus far.
4) Vyacheslav Kozlov: Plays For Atlant Moscow Oblast (KHL)
I was baffled when I found out that Vyacheslav Kozlov, the member of the Red Wings “Russian 5” line, is still playing hockey at the age of 42. After the former Atlanta franchise decided not to re-sign Kozlov, many thought his career was over at the age of 38. This however, was not the case; it was only the beginning of Kozlov’s new journey back home in the KHL. In 2010, Kozlov would join CSKA Moscow, and the team would end up winning the Gagarin Cup in dominant fashion against his current team, Atlant Moscow Oblast. After his cup win, Kozlov would play for 3 different teams before heading to his new team which he signed with this season, Atlant Moscow Oblast.
3) Jarkko Ruutu: Free Agent After Failed Try-Out With EHC Biel
Many players around the league were very happy to finally see Jarkko Ruutu leave the NHL, after no team had any interest in the controversial super pest. After being traded by the Sens for a 6th round pick to the Ducks, Ruutu would put up 2 points in 23 games during his final NHL stint. Knowing he had little NHL options, Ruutu headed back home to Finland, playing 3 seasons for Jokerit Helsinki. Jarkko put up some good numbers in his first season, but would hit a rough patch during his final two seasons with the team. At 39, Ruutu tried out for EHC Biel, a team out of the Swiss A League, but the team ultimately decided Jarkko would not make the cut. Ruutu is currently a free agent and may be forced to call it a career.
2) Chris Mason: Plays For The Augsburger Panthers (DEL)
After bouncing around a couple of teams, Chris Mason decided to return to Nashville, but unfortunately, Mason put up worse numbers, going 1-7-1. At the season’s end, due to lack of interest from NHL teams, Mason signed a one year deal with Ritten Renon of Elite A, a team out of the Italian league. After a successful bounce back season in Italy, Mason stayed within Europe, moving to the DEL league in Germany, and singing a one year deal with the Augsburg Panthers.
1) The Kostitsyn Brothers: Andrei Kostitsyn Plays For HC Sochi (KHL) & Sergei Kostitsyn Plays For Avangard Omsk (KHL)
Boy oh boy, did this experiment ever go wrong for the Habs. The Canadians chose Andrei 10th overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft, picking him over superstars such as Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber, to name a few. Kostitsyn would live up to expectations in his first full season, putting up 26 goals, along with 53 points in 78 games. Unfortunately, that was his only bright spot with the team, and his numbers would decline in the following seasons. After 6 seasons in Montreal, Andrei was finally dealt to the Predators in exchange for draft picks. The Preds would announce at the season’s end, that they would extend brother Sergei, but not Andrei. The older brother would then turn to the KHL, playing 3 seasons with Chelyabinsk Traktor (mostly riddled by injuries). Today, Andrei finds himself with Sochi HC, and so far, has taken part in only 1 game this season. Little brother Sergei ended up taking a similar route as his older brother. He was also a huge prospect, putting up a single season record with 91 assists for the London Knights. Sergei was also traded to the Predators by Montreal, and before his older brother, Sergei would enjoy a breakout year, scoring 23 goals and 50 points in 77 games. This would earn him a contract extension, unlike his brother Andrei. After the season’s end, Sergei would head out to the KHL, playing half a season for Omsk, and the other half for the Predators. Finally, in the 2013-2014 season, Sergei would leave the NHL for good, singing with Omsk. Today, Sergei is playing with Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL, and currently has 15 points in 22 games.