What do Johan Holmqvist, Roman Josi, Victor Fasth and Valeri Kamenski have in common?
Sure, all have represented their countries at IIHF-sanctioned tournaments and each enjoyed some level of success in the National Hockey League.
That being said, their connection is slightly more nuanced – each player used success at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship as a stepping-stone to an NHL contract and a new life in North America after a pro career in Europe.
Kamenski is one of the first examples of this phenomenon, posting 11 points in 10 games at the 1991 tournament for which he was given the Directorate Award for best forward. Kamenski’s play earned him a deal with the Quebec Nordiques, the team that drafted him in the seventh round of the 1988 NHL Draft.
Swedes Johan Holmqvist and Victor Fasth were named the top goaltenders in 2006 and 2011 respectively. For Holmqvist, Tampa came calling and granted a return to the NHL after two years back in Sweden. For his countryman Fasth, the Anaheim Ducks offered the chance to begin an NHL career after dominating the 2011 World Championship.
The Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi has become one of the most dynamic, young defencemen in the league due to his skating ability, shutdown defence and scoring touch. Josi is the most recent example of a player who gained a ton of confidence following a massive World Championship performance.
Josi was named the top defenceman in 2013 as Switzerland won a surprising silver medal and subsequently more than doubled his single-season scoring output from the prior season with the Predators.
Like these four examples, there are sure to be surprise foreign players in the NHL come the 2015/16 season. Here is a list of players who cashed in on the 2015 World Championship and plan on bringing their game to North America.
Artemi Panarin, Forward, Russia
Contract: Panarin signed a two-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, who find themselves pitted against the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2015 Stanley Cup title.
At the Worlds: Notched 10 points (5G, 5A) in 10 games to finish tied for third in scoring for the Russians en route to a sliver medal. It was Panarin’s first World Championship, though he did appear in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship where he recorded five points in seven games.
Analysis: Panarin first made a name for himself at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship after referring to the U.S. Team as a bunch of “college kids” prior to their semi-final matchup. Panarin’s comment aside, the SKA St. Petersburg forward was one of the best players in the KHL last season, finishing tied for fourth in scoring with a team-leading 62 points. Not only was Panarin named to the KHL All-Star Game, but he was also a team leader in helping SKA win the Gagarin Cup.
The last thing the Blackhawks need is another playmaking forward – what with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa – but if the Panarin experiment works, the depth of the Hawks attack gets deeper, especially considering the grown of Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen.
Jack Eichel, Forward, USA
Contract: Eichel is draft eligible in 2015 and is expected to be selected No. 2 overall to the Buffalo Sabres.
At the Worlds: With two goals and five assists, Eichel ranked third on Team USA’s bronze-medal winning squad with seven points, behind just Brock Nelson (10) and Trevor Lewis (9).
Analysis: Jack Eichel was anointed the next great American player a few years back and cemented his status with a strong showing at the World Championship as an 18-year-old. Eichel showed the strength, poise and playmaking ability that has drawn comparisons to some of the great two-way centres in the world. This, after winning the Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s MVP award) as a college freshman at Boston University. If he hadn’t already signalled his readiness for the future during the regular season, Eichel made it evident at the World Championship that he will be a force in the NHL from day one.
Steve Moses, Forward, USA
Contract: Moses signed a one-year, $1 million dollar contract with the Nashville Predators for the 2015/16 NHL season.
At the Worlds: Moses scored one goal and added one assist in seven games for Team USA.
Analysis: Steve Moses can thank his phenomenal season in the KHL and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson for securing an NHL contract with the Nashville Predators. Moses, 25, broke the KHL’s goal-scoring record last season with 36 goals in 60 games with Jokerit Helsinki during the team’s first go-round in the league.
The diminutive Massachusetts native was undrafted out of the University of New Hampshire, opting to play his professional career with Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League and then the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Jokerit won 40 games thanks in large part to Moses’ 57 points, which earned him an All-Star bid. At just 5’9” (176 cm), 172-pound (78 kg), Moses was considered too small for the NHL when he left college in 2012, but the recent emergence of smaller players like Johnson and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (amongst others) has proven to scouts, coaches and general managers that speed and skill can trump “crash and bang”.
Nashville, a team that has consistently struggled to generate offence, will enjoy the shooting prowess and top-flight skill Moses showed in the KHL last season. There is also doubt over the returns of Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher, so grabbing Moses now could prove vital.
Andreas Martinsen, Forward, Norway
Contract: The 24 year-old Martinsen signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche.
At the Worlds: Martinsen recorded an assist and 10 penalty minutes for Norway, playing in his sixth straight World Championship for his country.
Analysis: Forwards, forwards, forwards. The Colorado Avalanche can brag of one of the best young offensive cores in the NHL with the likes of Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. But, the Avs finished 23rd in the NHL in scoring last season, posting just 2.55 goals-per-game.
Martinsen played his last three seasons in Germany’s top league DEL for Dusseldorf, utilizing his massive 6’3” (190 cm), 220-pound (93 kg) frame to notch 41 points (18G, 23A) and 99 penalty minutes in 50 games last season.
Interestingly enough, if Martinsen plays with Colorado next season, he will be just the eighth Norwegian-born player to ever see NHL action. The only other active Norwegian NHLer is the New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello. In 2008, the Avs drafted defenceman Jonas Holos, also of Norway, who played 39 games for the club during the 2010/11 season.
Yevgeni Medvedev, Defenceman, Russia
Contract: The 32 year-old Medvedev signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
At the Worlds: Earned a plus-two rating and notched three assists in Russia’s silver-medal push at the World Championship in the Czech Republic.
Analysis: The Flyers will have a new head coach next season in Dave Hakstol, but the message is sure to be simple: get better on defence. Philadelphia has lost much of its veteran, defensive core over the past five years and must regain stability on the back end if the organization wishes to win its first Stanley Cup since 1975.
Though it’s just a one-year deal, Medvedev will bring that highly coveted, older presence to a blue line that finished in the bottom third of the NHL in goals allowed (2.72 per game) last season.
Medvedev has been a winner his entire career with both the Russian national team and Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL. Over the past eight seasons, Medvedev has won two Gagarin Cups and been named a KHL All-Star three times. In his past four years with the national team, he’s won two world championship gold medals and represented his home country at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Hakstol and the Flyers will relish Medvedev’s knack for success and veteran experience, though 2015/16 will represent the first time he’ll have played for a club team outside of his native Russia.
Sergei Kalinin, Forward, Russia: One-year, $925,000 deal with the New Jersey Devils. Three points in nine games at last year’s World Championship.
Matthias Plachta, Forward, Germany: One-year, $925,000 deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Two goals in seven games at this year’s World Championship.
Joonas Kemppainen, Forward, Finland: One-year, two-way contract with the Boston Bruins. Nine points in eight games at this year’s World Championship.
Jakub Nakladal, Defenceman, Czech Republic: One-year, two-way contract with the Calgary Flames. Five assists in 10 games at this year’s World Championship.
Joonas Donskoi, Forward, Finland: One-year, two-way contract with the San Jose Sharks. Eight points in eight games at this year’s World Championship.
Dylan Larkin, Forward, USA: Three-year entry-level contract with the Detroit Red Wings, joined AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins during playoffs after ten games at the World Championship.
Dean Kukan, Defenceman, Switzerland: Two-year entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Played only three games due to an injury at this year’s World Championship.