by PuckStopsHere on 10/28/08 at 05:30 PM ET
Last season, the NHL MVP was Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. The runner up to the award was Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The top two goal scorers in the league were Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers. All of these players are Russians.
This season, the scoring race is not much different so far. Malkin and Alexander Semin of Washington are tied for the scoring lead. They are both Russians.
There is no question that Russian players have the most dominant offensive players in the last while in the NHL. However, this is a situation likely to change in the near future. The pipeline of Russian talent in the NHL is drying up.
This season there have been two Russian rookies who have played in the NHL so far. They are Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is a low number. Other European nations that have historically produced approximately as many players as Russia are producing more rookies. There are five Swedish rookies in the league so far this year (Fabien Brunnstrom of the Dallas Stars, Oscar Moller of the Los Angeles Kings, Patric Hornqvist of the Nashville Predators, Patrik Berglund of the St Louis Blues and Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks). Similarly, there have been five Czech rookies so far this year as well (Jakub Voracek of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Petr Vrana of the New Jersey Devils, Michael Frolik of the Florida Panthers and Tomas Plihal and Lukas Kaspar of the San Jose Sharks). Russia is clearly producing less NHL players than either of these countries.
The reason for this is the KHL. It gives Russians a place to play in their homeland. It gives Russians a chance to make more money than they would if they were stuck in the AHL on a two-way contract. It makes it less likely that a Russian will leave for the NHL.
The KHL also puts significant hurdles in the way of Russian players who transfer to North America. They try very hard to sign them to contracts. They make it hard for young Russian players to depart from their homeland. They dispute contract status when players do transfer. This serves to help dry up the pipeline of Russian talent that comes to the NHL.
Although Russians hold the top positions in the scoring race right now and did last year, it is unlikely that sufficient new young Russians will come to the NHL to allow that to continue. They will stay at home in the KHL.
This reduces the NHL’s talent pool. It reduces it in the most important part. The pipeline of most talented players who might be top scorers from Russia is being cut off.
Some people (such as my friends at faux rumors) like to say that the KHL is not a threat to the NHL. They argue that the league is not going to put the NHL out of business. The league is not likely to ever draw top North American talent away from the NHL. On those points, they are correct. However, plugging up the pipeline that has produced the top scorers in the NHL in the past couple of years is a threat. It is a very real one that is already happening. The NHL will notice a significant drop in the number of talented Russian players in its ranks in the near future. The ones who are here now are not being replaced as fast as they are leaving. That threatens the quality of NHL play. If the NHL never gets players who would have been stars because they stay in Russia, the NHL is weaker for it.
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