Former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov won’t be joining any of the most recent draft class in the NHL next season. The bust of a former top prospect enjoyed his best season as a pro in the KHL last season and has decided not to press his luck. SKA St. Petersburg has announced a new three-year extension with Yakupov, keeping the 25-year-old in the KHL until 2022 at the earliest. Yakupov finally decided to move on from the NHL last summer and returned to home to Russia to ink a one-year “show me” deal with SKA. He did just that, recording 33 points in just 47 games and another eight points in the postseason for one of the KHL’s top clubs. Now, he has likely either decided to stay in Russia for the remainder of his career or that his best odds of being an impact player in the NHL down the road are to continue developing overseas. Either way, we won’t be seeing Yakupov in North America anytime soon. The top pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012 from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, Yakupov played three underwhelming seasons with the Oilers and last suited up in the NHL in 2017-18, a season split between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. Moving forward, he’ll suit up alongside Jori Lehtera, Sergei Plotnikov, Viktor Tikhonov, and recently drafted goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov in St. Petersburg.
- Similarly, Jan Kovar is not messing around with an NHL return after a 2018-19 season that did not go as expected. The veteran Czech forward signed a one-year, $2MM contract with the New York Islanders last summer, but that contract was terminated before the regular season even began, once it became clear that Kovar would not crack the opening night roster. Yet, he still wound up in the AHL, playing for the Providence Bruins for two months in hopes of earning a contract with Boston. When that also failed to materialize, Kovar finally returned to Europe, signing with HC Plzen of his native Czech league. Rather than stay in the Czech Republic, return to North America, or even go back to the KHL, where he had spent the previous five seasons and found much success, Kovar has instead decided to try his hand at playing in the Swiss NLA. EV Zug, an NLA finalist last season, have announced a one-year contract with Kovar. The team is excited about the addition and expect Kovar to be a key piece for them next season. The contract does have a temporary NHL exit clause, but it expires on Tuesday and there has been no talk of any NHL interest in Kovar. It’s safe to assume that he’ll be joining Carl Klingberg, Raphael Diaz, and company next season.
- Give Tim Erixon credit. The 2009 first-round pick out of Skelleftea in Sweden has not played in the NHL since 2015, but has remained in North America, grinding it out for another opportunity in the AHL. However, it’s finally become time to return home. The SHL’s Vaxjo Lakers have announced a two-year contract with Erixon and plan to use him in a major role, unlike the minor league depth capacity that he has filled for several years. A veteran of 93 NHL games 331 AHL games with six different organizations, Erixon is an experienced defenseman who also became a leader and mentor at the minor league level. He heads back to Sweden as a respected and capable veteran player who should be a difference-maker for the Lakers. Vaxjo continues a strong off-season, now adding Erixon to a list of additions that also includes Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Marcus Davidsson, Emil Pettersson, and Matt Bodie.
- Fresh off of a Kelly Cup championship with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, goaltender Michael Garteig has decided to take his talents to Finland. The 27-year-old keeper has signed a one-year deal with Tappara, the Liiga club announced. Garteig was a former standout at Quinnipiac University and was briefly a prospect of the Vancouver Canucks. However, he has played the past two seasons on a minor league contract and altogether has only seen ten total games in the AHL in three pro seasons. Yet, Garteig was stellar for the Growlers last season, especially in the playoffs, where he posted a .928 save percentage and 2.19 goals against average. Tappara hopes those numbers translate to the Liiga, as the team seeks a replacement for former NHL veteran Niklas Backstrom in their tandem with young Christian Heljanko. Chicago Blackhawks prospect Wouter Peeters also hopes to push for some starts next season.