The KHL off-season opened today and the league did not waste any time in making moves that have meaning to NHL fans. A number of familiar names have hit free agency today and some are already agreeing to new deals. Meanwhile, others are being traded on the first day to do so, including the rights to some players currently in North America. Keep up with all of today’s action as the KHL’s clubs get their summers started early with significant moves:
- One of the first players to sign with a new team early this morning was former NHL forward Teemu Pulkkinen. A Detroit Red Wings draft pick who also spent time with the Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, and most recently the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18, Pulkkinen will be entering his fourth season in the KHL and is already on to his fourth different team. After splitting this season between Dynamo Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, collecting 30 points in 46 games, Pulkkinen has signed a two-year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk. The 29-year-old has scored at a .67 per-game clip in his KHL career and shows no signs of slowing down.
- SKA St. Petersberg and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod have made an interesting futures swap, trading the rights of two current NHLers. Torpedo received the rights to Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi (as well as minor league forward Danil Voyevodin) while SKA landed the rights to young San Jose Sharks goalie Alexei Melnichuk. The deal is tricky on a number of levels; while Puljujarvi is undoubtedly the biggest name in the trade, it is Melnichuk who commanded the larger side of the return. It was also KHL powerhouse SKA who received the prospect netminder and gave up the established scorer. This could be a simple case of different likelihoods of those player rights having any value. While Puljujarvi previously left the Oilers for Europe, he has finally found his NHL stride in his return this season and is unlikely to leave again. Even if he does, Puljujarvi may just return home to the Finnish Liiga as well. On the other hand, Melnichuk was born and bred in the SKA system and the team may have some insight into his future plans. The 22-year-old keeper is valued by the Sharks and even made his NHL debut this year in his first season in North America, however his AHL play has underwhelmed and he doesn’t look like a realistic full-time NHL option for San Jose next season. If the young goalie grows tired of playing in the minors in North America, he would probably be happy to jump back to his old team and take on a starting role in the KHL.
- Former Boston Bruins forward Joonas Kemppainen has signed a one-year extension to remain with SKA. The Finnish power forward didn’t work out in his lone NHL season back in 2015-16, recording five points in eleven games with Boston, but has been a productive player in the KHL for five years now. That includes a 15-goal, 29-point campaign with St. Petersberg this year that earned him an extension. The 33-year-old veteran is not a candidate to ever return to North America, but still has plenty to offer in Russia.
- Vladimir Zharkov feels like ancient New Jersey Devils history at this point, but the former top prospect continues to produce in the KHL. Zharkov, 33, spent four seasons with the Devils early in his career and was a nice fringe piece, but lacked starting upside. In the KHL since 2012-13, Zharkov has become a reliable two-way forward and locker room leader, spending many years with top programs like CSKA Moscow and Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Now he’s off to the top team in the league, signing a two-year deal with recently-crowned Gagarin Cup champions Avangard Omsk, replacing the veteran presence of the departed Ilya Kovalchuk.
- Torpedo jumped right back into the action, signing an exciting forward to a one-year deal. Marek Hrivik gave his all to a career in North America, developing in the QMJHL and spending six seasons primarily in the AHL for the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames. However, he never could earn a full-time opportunity and returned home to Europe in 2018. Even then, his first go-round in the KHL did not go all that well. However, after back-to-back stellar season in Sweden, he is ready to give it another try with Torpedo. Hrivik totaled 81 points in 90 games with the SHL’s Leksands IF these past two years and if that can translate to the KHL then the 29-year-old could become a star in Russia.
- Another trade involving NHL property has landed, but this one could have more immediate dividends. Defending champions Omsk have acquired the rights to Boston Bruins prospect forward Peter Cehlarik from Yaroslavl in exchange for the rights to Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kodie Curran. Cehlarik, 25, is already in Europe, having left Boston this past off-season to join Leksands IF in Sweden. Cehlarik always showed great promise in the AHL, but couldn’t translate it to the NHL for the Bruins. After recording 20 goals and 40 points in 45 SHL games this season, Cehlarik may want to return to Boston, who continues to hold his rights, in an attempt to prove himself once more. However, the talented winger could be tempted to join the KHL’s current kings this off-season instead. As for Curran, 31, he already did his stint in Europe and made his return to North America. The Calgary native spent the previous four seasons in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden before earning his first NHL contract with the Ducks this past off-season. While he hasn’t see any action in Anaheim just yet, he has 11 points in 17 AHL games this season and his one-way, $1MM contract still has another year remaining. However, if Curran is still not being utilized by the Ducks after next season and doesn’t draw any other NHL offers as a result, he has a new home to return to in Europe in Yarolslavl.
- After signing his entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, Pyotr Kochetkov has inked another deal – a one-year extension with Torpedo. The 21-year-old landed in Novgorod late in the season, but excelled down the stretch and in the postseason with save percentages of .931 and .932, respectively. Kochetkov could very well be in line for the starting role for Torpedo next season while playing on loan from Carolina.