by PuckStopsHere on 10/14/12 at 08:42 PM ET
There may not be any NHL hockey this season but there is plenty of hockey around. The highest level of hockey is being played in Russia in the KHL. It will be interesting to look at that league from time to time as the lockout continues. The KHL season began before the NHL lockout, so all of the top scorers in the league are regular KHL players and not transplanted NHLers. At this point transplanted NHL players have about seven or eight games played at most. The regular KHLers have as many as 18 games played. Thus it should be no surprise that that leading scorers at this point in the season are not our NHL stars.
The leading scoring in the KHL right now is Dmitry Makarov who plays for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. In 14 games played he has 18 points. That leads the league. He is a 28 year old forward who has never been drafted by an NHL team His start to the season is a bit of a surprise. His best career point total in the KHL is 33 points (he scored that in 52 games played in 2010/11). He scored 35 points the year before the KHL formed in the Russian Elite League (in 2007/08 with 56 games played). Makarov has already scored half the points he has ever achieved in a season so far this year. It is quite reasonable to imagine that he won't keep it up all season.
One point behind him is the threesome of Martin Thornberg (Makarov's teammate with Nizhny Novgorod), Alexander Radulov of CSKA Moscow and Jori Lehtera of Sibir Novosibirsk.
Of those players, Radulov is best known to NHL fans. He has likely been the best player outside the NHL for the last few years. He had a short run with the Nashville Predators last season in order to end the contract he earlier walked out on. I don't think his heart was really into it and he was more interested in gaining free agency in the NHL than in playing. Radulov is a good bet to lead the KHL in scoring.
Martin Thornberg is a Swede in his second year in the KHL. In part due to his small stature (5'11" 172 lbs) he has not been given an NHL shot. He is 29 years old and has shown the ability to score internationally. He scored 39 points in 49 games in his first KHL season. An offesnive jump as he better learns his league is quite possible, though leading the league in scoring would be a surprise.
Jori Lehtera is a Finnish player who was drafted by the St Louis Blues in 2008. He attempted to make a jump to North America (at age 21) at the end of the 2008/09 season when he played for the Blues AHL affiliate in Peoria after the Finnish season ended. He scored one point in seven regular season games and two points in seven more playoff games. At that point he appears to have given up on North American hockey (or felt they gave up on him). He returned to Finland for a year as a top scorer and then jumped to the KHL in 2010. Last season he put up 26 points in an injury shortened 25 games played. At age 26 he is likely hitting his prime and might be a reasonable candidate to remain among KHL top scorers at the end of the season.
As for NHLers, there are two who are standing out ahead of the pack. Ilya Kovalchuk leads the NHL contingent in points. In seven games played with SKA St Petersburg he has 14 points. If he stays in the league all season, he has to be considered a top candidate to lead the league in scoring despite missing the first half of the season so far. Teammate Vladimir Tarasenko is the other NHLer of note.
Tarasenko passed up a significant contract in the KHL in order to join the St Louis Blues who drafted him first overall in 2010. Tarasenko is a 20 year old who has been in the KHL since 2008. Last season he put up 38 points in 39 games played. Given his young age it is quite likely he will take a big jump forward from that level. He has 11 points in his six games played to date.
There are other big name NHL players in the KHL including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk but none of them have scored on the remarkable level of Kovalchuk or Tarasenko. It is still early and there is plenty of time for that to change if the NHL lockout continues but this certainly makes a good argument that Tarasenko will be a significant NHLer if he gets back to the league. He might be a rookie of the year favorite.
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