Several teams looked to the import market to shore up holes in their lineup this summer, with notable forwards, defensemen and goaltenders coming over from European leagues or the KHL. Here are five players signed from overseas who could make an impact in 2018-19.
Ahead of last season, Evgeni Dadonov and Vadim Shipachyov were expected to be the most high-impact import signings of the season. But the two couldn’t have ended up on further ends of the spectrum.
At the time of their signings last season, the then-28-year-old Dadonov and then-30-year-old Shipachyov were considered two of the premier players taking their talents from the KHL to the NHL. Both had been steady, solid producers coming off of spectacular years in the primarily Russian circuit. Dadonov, signed by the Florida Panthers, had just scored 30 goals and 66 points the year prior with SKA St. Petersburg, while Shipachyov had chipped in with 26 goals and 76 points of his own for SKA when he inked a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. Once they arrived in North America, though, that’s where the similarities between the two players ended.
For Dadonov, he found an almost instant fit with the Panthers, with whom he had previously played 55 games between the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons. He slotted into a top-six role all season, averaged nearly 19 minutes per game and ended the campaign with 28 goals and 65 points, making him Florida’s fourth-highest scoring player. Shipachyov, meanwhile, was a flop with Vegas. He failed to make the club out of camp and ended up in a bizarre middle ground between the AHL and NHL. When he finally skated with the Golden Knights, he played a mere three games before winding up out of the lineup again, at which point he decided to jet back to the KHL. Just like that, a season that was once considered so promising went up in smoke.
But the cautionary tale that was Shipachyov’s signing hasn’t stopped teams from dipping into the import free agent market as they seek to land someone who can contribute in much the same way Dadonov did for the Panthers. With that in mind, here are five players making the move to the NHL from overseas who could make noise in 2018-19:
MIKKO KOSKINEN, EDMONTON OILERS
Koskinen is the lone player on this list who actually has some NHL experience, though it’s very limited. Drafted in the second round by the Islanders back in 2009, Koskinen wound up getting into four games with New York during the 2010-11 campaign. That’s the extent of his NHL action, but Koskinen isn’t eligible for the Calder Trophy this season. At 30, he’s too old.
Koskinen has a better chance at making an impact this coming season than most players who have made the jump from overseas, and Edmonton is most certainly paying him to be a difference-maker, handing him a one-year, $2.5-million pact. That’s not to say he’s not worth the risk. Koskinen’s play in the KHL over the past several seasons has been excellent. Since the 2014-15 campaign, the towering, 6-foot-7 netminder has posted a .929 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average across regular season and post-season play.
Given Cam Talbot’s play last season, too, the Oilers won’t be opposed to Koskinen pushing for the No. 1 job, and if the former is shaky early, the latter may have an opportunity to swoop in and steal more than a handful of starts.
JAN KOVAR, NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Another KHL import, Kovar comes to the Islanders at a bizarre time in his career. Having risen through the ranks of the Czech League and into the KHL by 2013-14, Kovar proceeded to pick apart defenders and netminders en route to 90 goals and 251 points across his first four seasons in the league. Last year, however, Kovar’s offense went missing for long stretches of the season. He managed just seven goals and 35 points, a 28-point decline from the year prior. But Kovar’s track record in the KHL and his showing at the Olympics, where he scored three goals and five points in six games, was enough for the Islanders to bring the 28-year-old pivot in on a one-year, $2-million deal.
Now, after last season’s debacle with Shipachyov and the Golden Knights, it’s probably worth tempering expectations about Kovar’s output in New York. But given he could challenge for a middle-six role and earn some power-play time with the new-look Islanders, the creative center could have himself a nice debut season in the NHL. He might even be able to flirt with the 50-point plateau.
PAR LINDHOLM, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Lindholm’s game has grown by leaps and bounds over the past four seasons, but he’s really exploded over the past two campaigns. After scoring 20 goals and 41 points across 106 outings in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns, Lindholm found his stride in the Swedish League come the 2016-17 season and put himself even further on the NHL radar with a breakout year last season. His 18-goal, 47-point performance made him the league’s fourth-highest scorer, and he joins the Leafs for the coming campaign with a shot at landing a steady bottom-six role.
Lindholm’s offensive output is the bonus here, though. More than anything, he’s considered to be the type of heady, two-way player that coaches love. He can play in all situations, proving as much during the Olympics, where he skated in four games and chipped in a goal for Sweden.
SAKU MAENALANEN, CAROLINA HURRICANES
Talk about a progressive rise. Over the past three seasons, Maenalanen has grown to become a serious threat in the Finnish League. In his first season as a full-timer in the circuit, he scored six goals and 16 points in 46 games. That was followed, by an 11-goal, 21-point campaign. And last season, Maenalanen fired his way onto the NHL radar with 17 goals and 46 points in 59 games, a season that came complete with a two-goal, three-point performance at the World Championship.
Maenalanen isn’t exactly an unknown in NHL circles, however. He first drew interest when he was selected in the fifth round, 125th overall, by the Nashville Predators in the 2013 draft. At the time, he was fresh off of a standout season in Finland’s top junior league. But a few so-so seasons resulted in Maenalanen remaining unsigned, which opened the door for the 24-year-old to ink a deal with Carolina. Given the Hurricanes’ lack of depth, too, Maenalanen should have every chance to make a great first impression. It won’t hurt, either, that he could find himself skating alongside countrymen Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
IGOR OZHIGANOV, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
In an attempt to bolster their blueline, the Maple Leafs again dipped into the KHL talent pool to pluck out Ozhiganov, although it wasn’t all too surprising to see him sign in Toronto. After all, rumors dating back to last summer connected Ozhiganov to the Leafs. It sure seems as though Toronto is going to give the 25-year-old, who will turn 26 shortly after the season begins, a chance to crack the lineup, too.
What Ozhiganov brings that should be of interest in Toronto is some offensive upside, a booming shot and a physical presence. Standing 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Ozhiganov isn’t afraid to throw his weight around or put it behind a blast from the blueline. He won the KHL’s hardest-shot competition with a 99 mile-an-hour bomb during the 2017 all-star weekend, and that could make him the perfect second-unit triggerman for the Leafs. Overall, though, the hope will be that Ozhiganov can have an impact similar to that of Nikita Zaitsev during his rookie season.
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