The defection of Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL last summer was undoubtedly a coup for the Russian pro league. We’ll acknowledge that. But everything you need to know about how good the league is in terms of quality of play can be seen by the two starting lineups it will be icing for its sixth annual All-Star Game.
One team has Deron Quint. The other has Brandon Bochenski. That speaks volumes.
Not only two players who essentially couldn’t play in the NHL, both finding regular work in the KHL, they’re some of the biggest stars in the league. In fact, of the 12 players who were voted by fans to the All-Star Game, only Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov would be considered good enough at this stage of their careers to crack an NHL roster.
So what does all of this tell us? Well, first of all, the KHL is not nearly the bogeyman that some people on this side of the Atlantic believe it to be. It is and always will be a haven for Russian players looking to play at home or have another league to use for leverage. The NHL will always have to deal with the potential of losing star Russian players at the height of their careers.
But the KHL will never be what the World Hockey Association was to the NHL, regardless of how much money it throws around. That’s because non-Russian players who have the choice will continue to want to play in the best league in the world. With all due respect to Shaun Heshka, another KHL all-star gamer on defense, the NHL is not exactly suffering without his presence. Same with Jonathan Cheechoo. His decision to play in the KHL would have been a blow if he had made it when he was a 50-goal scorer, but he’s there now because he basically ran out of places to play in North America.
Here’s the skinny on each of the starters in the KHL all-star game:
Alexander Yeremenko: Gold medal winner in 2008 and ’09 World Championships, silver in 2010 and bronze in 2005 and ’07.
Sandis Ozolinsh: Chosen 30th overall by San Jose in 1991. Played 875 career games with San Jose, Colorado, Carolina, Florida, Anaheim and New York Rangers. Won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996.
Deron Quint: Chosen 30th overall by Winnipeg in 1994. Played 463 career games with Winnipeg/Phoenix, New Jersey, Columbus, Chicago and New York Islanders.
Ilya Kovalchuk: Chosen first overall by Atlanta in 2001. Played 816 games with Atlanta and New Jersey. Scored 52 goals in 2005-06 and won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04.
Alexander Radulov: Chosen 15th overall by Nashville in 2004. Played 154 career games with Nashville.
Jonathan Cheechoo: Chosen 29th overall by San Jose in 1998. Played 501 career games with San Jose and Ottawa. Scored 56 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2005-06.
Mikko Koskinen: Chosen 31st overall by New York Islanders in 2009. Played four career games with the Islanders. Played 41 games with Bridgeport in the American League and six with Utah in the ECHL.
Kiril Koltsov: Chosen 49th overall by Vancouver in 2002. Played 102 career games in the AHL.
Shaun Heshka: Played eight career games with Phoenix and 389 in the AHL.
Sergei Mozyakin: Chosen 263rd overall by Columbus in 2002. Three-time scoring champion in the KHL and No. 2 on league’s all-time scoring list. Won gold medal in the 2008 and ’09 World Championships. Played four games with Val d’Or of Quebec League in 1998-99.
Danis Zaripov: Won gold medal in 2008 and ’09 World Championships. Played 62 games with Swift Current of Western League in 1998-99.
Brandon Bochenski: Chosen 223rd overall by Ottawa in 2001. Played 156 career games with Ottawa, Boston, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Nashville and Anaheim. Played 265 career AHL games.