Scoring is up in the NHL this season, but their European counterparts can’t say the same. As the regular seasons for the major overseas leagues begin to wind down, the numbers show that none can keep up with the goal scorers of the NHL; the old adage that European hockey is more wide open and offensive is not holding up. On average, NHL teams are scoring approximately 3.03 goals per game in 2018-19. Contrast that to the KHL, thought to be closest competitor to the NHL on the basis of skill, where teams are only scoring about 2.47 goals per game on average and many are failing to score even two per game. The Finnish Liiga is the closest to the NHL at 2.72 goals per game per team, but even that is a ways off. Swiss NLA teams are recording approximately 2.66 goals per game, while Swedish Hockey league clubs are at 2.57 goals per game.
Even more peculiar than the gap between goal scoring in the NHL and Europe is the distribution of points. As there are fewer goals being scored in the four major European leagues, there are less opportunities to register points, even for star players. However, one would assume that there would still be plenty of standouts in each of the four leagues who find their way on to the score sheet each and every night. That would be a false assumption. Currently there are 41 players in the NHL averaging a point per game or better in at least half of their teams’ games. In the KHL, NLA, SHL, and Liiga combined, there are nine. The KHL leads the way with four such scorers, headed up by Vegas Golden Knights property Nikita Gusev, the top scoring forward in Europe with 1.30 points per game – such a mark would be seventh-best in the NHL. Familiar names Nigel Dawes and Vadim Shipachyov are also in the group, as is intriguing free agent option Dmitri Kagarlitsky. Over in the NLA, more recognizable veterans are scoring at a point-per-game clip or better, including Dustin Jeffrey, Chris DiDomenico, and Mark Arcobello. However, the league leader at 1.20 is none other than Dominik Kubalik, whose rights were just acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks last month and who could be eyeing a move to North America. The lone elite scorer in Finland is small, but skilled 23-year-old Iikka Kangasniemi, who is also certain to draw NHL interest this off-season as well. The SHL does not feature any point-per-game players currently. So, next time you feel the urge to complain about the lack of scoring or star scorers in the NHL, just take comfort in the fact that at least you’re not in Europe. All four leagues pale in comparison to the NHL in those departments this season.
- In an article for The Athletic about the future of the Columbus Blue Jackets in net, Aaron Portzline posits that prospect Elvis Merzlikins could arrive in North America before the end of the season. Merzlikins, 24, was a third-round pick by Columbus back in 2014 and has been a regular in net for HC Lugano of the NLA ever since. The Latvian goaltender gets better each year and this season has posted a .922 save percentage and 2.37 GAA that are both among the top ten keepers in Switzerland. Yet, Lugano is in danger of missing the postseason, which would hypothetically allow Merzlikins to finally make his move to Columbus as early as March. Portzline writes that many in the Blue Jackets organization feel Merzlikins is ready to play in the NHL right away, which could certainly be a possibility this season if the team does indeed opt to trade impending UFA starter Sergei Bobrovsky. Even if Lugano does make the playoffs or Columbus determines they do not want to throw him into the fire right away, the young keeper is still guaranteed to be crossing the Atlantic after this season and should compete for NHL minutes immediately next year.
- New Jersey Devils prospect Nikita Popugaev is also eyeing a jump to North America. Initially considered to be a first-round caliber talent in the 2017 NHL Draft, Popugaev ended up falling to the Devils in the fourth round due to questions about his motor and work ethic. The big winger didn’t help to quell those concerns when he left his WHL team, the Prince George Cougars, early last season to return to his native Russia. However, his current team, the KHL’s Amur Khabarovsk, have announced that Popugaev has left the team and will “try his hand” back in the U.S. His KHL contract has been terminated and he is now free to sign an entry-level contract with the Devils, but there has been no word of such a deal yet. Popugaev is still very raw and needs several more seasons of work in the minor leagues, but does have potential. The next question is whether the Devils feel that potential is worth a contract slot and the time and effort it may take to tap into it.