5 NHL stars in pursuit of Gagarin Cup

Russian NHL stars returning home. Source: Getty Images

Russian NHL stars returning home. Source: Getty Images

The eighth Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) championship – the largest hockey tournament outside of North America – has started. RBTH reviews the most prominent NHL players who decided to exchange their overseas careers for the right to fight for the Gagarin Cup.

1. Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA St. Petersburg since the 2013/14 season)

Kovalchuk scores his first goal for 2015 Play-offs. Source: Youtube / KHL

Played for the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils – 12 seasons in the NHL: 816 games, 816 points (417 goals + 399 assists).

The forward’s contract with the Devils ran through 2025, so Kovalchuk’s decision to pull out of the NHL was perceived negatively in the U.S.

Experts hinted at the player’s selfish motives, but Kovalchuk himself attributed the decision to his desire to be closer to his family.

However, SKA provided the winger with an annual salary of $10.3 million, making Kovalchuk the KHL’s highest-paid hockey player.

In the last championship, Kovalchuk had his best season in Russia with 55 points (25+30), scoring in the most crucial playoffs and ensuring a victory for SKA in the Gagarin Cup.


2. Alexander Radulov (CSKA since the 2012/13 season)

Radulov assists to himself from a mid-air. Source: Youtube / KHL

Played for the Nashville Predators – 3 seasons in the NHL: 154 games, 102 points (47 goals + 55 assists).

Forward Alexander Radulov was one of the best in Nashville, regularly beating opposing goalkeepers. However, his parting with the team caused a scandal; during a playoff series in the 2011-12 season, Radulov was suspended for violating team rules. After the end of the season, Nashville abandoned Radulov, but he signed a multimillion-dollar contract with CSKA Moscow ($7.3 million) and settled in Russia.


3. Jonathan Cheechoo (Dinamo Minsk since the 2014/15 season)

Cheechoo's on large GWG. Source: Youtube / KHL

Played for the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators – 7 seasons in the NHL: 501 matches, 305 points (170 goals + 135 assists).

Cheechoo is a Cree, one of Canada’s few surviving indigenous Native American tribes. In the NHL, he played more than 500 matches and by 2006 became the top scorer of the league. This was followed by injuries, and Cheechoo’s star faded for a while – to shine again in the KHL. In 2014, the player moved to Dinamo Minsk, and today he is considered as one of the best wingers not only in the club but also in the entire league.


4. Evgeny Dadonov (SKA since the 2014/15 season)

Dadonov scores another GWG beauty. Source: Youtube / KHL

Played for the Florida Panthers – 3 seasons in the NHL: 55 matches, 20 points (10 goals + 10 assists).

Dadonov found himself in the Florida at a time of great change. “For the first season in the NHL, I was able to play with everybody in the team,” Dadonov said. “And there was an amazing situation. Half the team was replaced at the deadline. So I also played with a new half.”

In his second season in the U.S., Dadonov was involved in a car accident – not a serious one, but he had only a Russian driving license and had to sort out things with the police. After this unpleasant incident, Dadonov decided to return to Russia; with the SKA, he became the champion of the last KHL season.


5. Sergei Kostitsyn (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod since the 2015/16 season)

Sergei Kostitsyn is back to the vanguard. Source: Youtube / KHL

Played for the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators – 6 seasons, 353 matches, 176 points (67 goals + 109 assists).

In Montreal, the talented Belarusian was in the shadow of his brother – Andrei. Kostitsyn’s star rose in Nashville. In his first season in the Predators, the forward scored 50 points and even participated in the NHL All-Star Game. Later, however, things did not run smoothly for Kostitsyn in Nashville; a conflict with the coach and weak statistics in the third and fourth season forced the player to move to Russia. This season he wants to win the first Gagarin Cup in the history of Torpedo, alongside his brother.

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