The 5 Best Hockey Players Outside the NHL

Other Sports | February 24, 2021

NHL bloggers refer to any overseas hockey star as an “NHL prospect.” Pavel Datsyuk, a Stanley Cup champion who skates for HC Avtomobilist of the KHL at age 42, is an “NHL prospect” as far as the state-side hype machine is concerned. It would be interesting to know if CSKA Moscow beat writers opine about Ryan O’ Reilly as a “KHL prospect.”

Fans committed to 100% NHL hockey viewing would say “that’s because all of the best players are in the NHL,” a canard which may have been virtually true in another era, but overlooks the growth of organizations like the Kontinental Hockey League of Russia and the National League of Switzerland. Team Finland defeated rosters full of NHL All-Stars at the 2019 IIHF World Championship with a 22-man combination of KHL’ers and players from Liiga, the top club league in Finland.

NHL dominance isn’t going anywhere. At least four of every five elite skaters (and especially goaltenders) are wearing NHL jerseys as of 2021. But with an Olympic showdown scheduled for Beijing in less than a year, it’s time to start getting to know that crucial other 20%. Scroll for Hidden Take‘s top five ice hockey players outside the National Hockey League.

#5 – Dmitrij Jaskin

Our #5 comes with asterisks. Czech Republic sniper Dmitrij Jaskin is not well-suited for the NHL despite his size at 225 pounds, nor would he have made any top-five lists over the last few seasons. Jaskin was a marginal player for the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, and his impressive IIHF numbers have waned as national teams learn to defend the power forward. But the 27-year-old has been at the forefront of Dynamo Moscow’s resurgence, scoring close to 40 goals in 60 games to lead the KHL, and teaming with our next listed skater to qualify for what could be the team’s best postseason run in forever.

#4 – Vadim Shipachyov

When ranking the best non-NHL veterans, it would be a crime to overlook the leading point-scorer in the KHL. Wily playmaker Vadim Shipachyov has paced the Russian league since early 2015, when he scored six goals and 15 assists in the playoffs for SKA St. Petersburg. Shipachyov had a brief NHL audition in which he tallied a goal and plus-three for the Vegas Golden Knights, but was unhappy with the environment and went home to the KHL. He’ll get another chance to play against NHL skaters when both leagues participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

#3 – Raphael Diaz

European clubs employ many exciting forwards, but there’s an overall lack of elite two-way defensemen on the continent. Raphael Diaz can only be in so many places at once!

Diaz’s 37 assists for Montreal from 2011-14 showed that he could tee-up a power play with the world’s best. But his 5’11” stature kept NHL GMs from giving the Swiss D-man a featured role. So Diaz joined EV Zug of the National League, where he has scored close to 200 points while captaining the club since 2017. Diaz has been a rock of granite for Switzerland’s national team, helping Eisgenossen win watershed IIHF medals in 2013 and 2018.

#2 – Leonardo Genoni

Diaz’s teammate Leonardo Genoni is probably the best European club goaltender in his prime right now, thanks to the NHL signing a handful of superior KHL goalies. But we couldn’t have put Genoni in the top five (or the top 10) as of two years ago, when the Swiss netminder began to blossom in a pro uniform. Genoni came into his own with a brilliant performance for SC Bern in the 2019 playoffs, and has gone 38-13 with Zug including only three losses in 2020-21. Genoni is also a tremendous backstop for Team Switzerland vs NHL snipers, posting sub-2.00 save percentages in three separate World Championships.

#1 – Sergei Mozyakin

Still the gold standard in non-NHL playmakers, Russian wizard Sergei Mozyakin’s resume includes 341 goals and 750 points in just over 600 KHL faceoffs, surpassing 1000 points if you count “RSL” league years of Mozyakin’s 21-year professional career. His record in the KHL playoffs is just as amazing, with 162 points-scored in 146 games and only 20 penalty minutes! The 39-year-old Metallurg Magnitogorsk winger has disdained international play since suffering an injury in the 2018 Olympic Games, but has still won three gold medals with the Red Machine.

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Kurt Boyer

Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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