Teams around the NHL are always looking for an opportunity to add talent through means other than the draft, especially those that consistently pick in the back half of the round. In that way the KHL has always been a mysterious proving ground, where some players that find great success then can’t translate it to North America.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been very active in Russia over the last few years, with Ilya Mikheyev being their latest find. The 25-year old rookie has 11 points through his first 16 games and looks like he could have a long career in the NHL. Getting an asset like Mikheyev that costs nothing but time and money is obviously a strategy for success and more teams are following suit by scouting the KHL. It was recently reported that the Ottawa Senators now have a presence there, and today Darren Dreger of TSN spoke about the top names drawing interest overseas:
There are five guys that seem to be drawing attention. Nikita Nesterov, the captain of CSKA Moscow is among them, Alexander Barabanov is another one. Konstantin Okulov of Moscow, Alexey Marchenko and most will remember this name, Mikhail Grigorenko formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, again high on the radar.
Three of those names—Nesterov, Marchenko and Grigorenko—will be very familiar to NHL fans, and not necessarily in a good way. All three failed to really have a huge impact when they were playing in North America, though Grigorenko did have two decent seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. He has been a force since returning to the KHL however and is still just 25, making the former Sabres prospect an interesting name to keep an eye on.
Barabanov and Okulov have also been mentioned previously, with the former linked to the Arizona Coyotes and the latter to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. Both are undrafted forwards that have found plenty of success in the KHL.
It’s unlikely that any of these players will sign before the end of the KHL season, and not a guarantee that any of them will even decide to come to North America at all.