4 international players who deserve a look in the NHL

(Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images)
(Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images) /

Here are four international players who could be worth an NHL look.

Overseas hockey has seen something of an increased interest over the course of this year. While the NHL is reportedly targeting a January 13th start date for the forthcoming season, leagues like the KHL, DEL, and Swiss-A league have already gotten their seasons underway.

Because of this, many NHL teams have loaned their top prospects to these teams to further their development, such as former Montreal Canadiens third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi and New Jersey Devils prospect Nick Merkley, who spent the beginning of this season with Assat Pori of the SM-Liiga.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, this has led to many veteran players from these leagues, both former NHLers and or home-grown talent, receiving increased interest as the season continues to be delayed.

At the end of the day, these are still very skilled leagues, with numerous players who have gone on to have productive NHL stints, such as with New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin and Chicago Blackhawks top rookie Dominik Kubalik. With that in mind, here’s a look at four overseas players who could be worth a look in the NHL.

Justin Danforth

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Unlike some of the other players mentioned here, Justin Danforth is a player I knew nothing about when he seemingly came out of nowhere this past season in the KHL.

A native of Oshawa, Ontario, Danforth spent his amateur career in the Atlantic Hockey Association with Sacred Heart University, never playing a game in Major Junior. On a weaker program lacking in talent, Danforth produced solid numbers offensively, posting 41 points over 36 games in 2015-16.

After a brief AHL tryout in his senior season in 2016-17, he would spend the next season split between the AHL and ECHL, finishing second on the Cincinnati Cyclones in scoring. With no NHL takers, Danforth opted to head overseas, signing with Lukko Rauma of the SM-Liiga, leading the league in scoring in 2019-20, with 60 points over 56 games prior to the season cancellation.

Following this, Danforth opted to sign with Podolsk Vityaz of the KHL, where he has continued to produce offensively, posting 31 points over 33 games so far this season, good for first on his team and ninth in the KHL. While slightly past the prime of his career at 27-years-old, Danforth has shown he has the ability to be a top offensive player and could be worth a look for a rebuilding team in need of some offense and or veteran presence in the AHL, akin to Brooks Macek with the Vegas Golden Knights or Andy Miel with the Arizona Coyotes. Having proven himself a top overseas player, Danforth could look to earn his first NHL look for a team like the Ottawa Senators, who had a similar story this past season with AHL journeyman Scott Sabourin.

Vladimir Tkachev

One of the things most notable about the KHL is the number of, as stated, homegrown talents, which has led to both successful and failed migrations to the NHL.

While previously mentioned examples such as Panarin and current Devils forward Nikita Gusev are exceptions (for the time being), similar examples like Golden Knights intended top center Vadim Shipachyov didn’t fare as well, with their NHL careers now totally finished. However, Vladimir Tkachev, I believe, could be an exception to the rule, having proven himself as a talented offensive player over the past few seasons.

After finishing his brief junior career in the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Remparts, Tkachev signed with St. Petersburg SKA and has since bounced around with a few different teams. While he’s struggled at times with consistency, he’s on pace for his second straight 40-point season with St. Petersburg, currently leading the team in scoring with 30 points over 31 games, alongside former NHLers like Linden Vey and Igor Ozhiganov.

While the Edmonton Oilers attempted to sign Tkachev as an undrafted free agent in 2014, it was rejected by the NHL, as Tkachev, a CHL player, had yet to play a full season in North America. Having just entered the prime of his career at 25 years old, Tkachev could be an interesting offensive option on a one-year entry-level deal with little risk. While he has, again, struggled with consistency in the KHL, with a solid roster around him, like with SKA, he could blossom into a solid offensive option, having built a reputation as primarily a playmaker, having recorded 28 assists over 55 games last season.

Gregory Hofmann

A former fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, it took a while for Gregory Hofmann to produce overseas, though he finally seems to be turning a corner. After finishing his junior career in the NL’s Ambri-Piotta’s development program, Hoffman made his National League debut in 2009-10 and has since established himself as a regular in the league.

While he struggled early on, Hofmann has developed into a top offensive performer, with three straight 20 goal seasons prior to 2020-21, including an impressive 21 points over 18 games in the 2018 Swiss League playoffs. Playing alongside former NHLers like Raphael Diaz, Oscar Lindberg, and similar failed KHL import Jan Kovar, Hoffman could be a talented offensive player in the NHL with the right organization. With National League top scorer last season, Pius Suter, signing an entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, there’s a chance Hofmann could be a similar story, having finally proven himself as a consistent offensive performer overseas.

Damir Zhafyarov

A veteran of the KHL over the past nine seasons, it took a while for Damir Zhafyarov to develop into a top player, having transitioned from more of a checking role early on. Since making his debut with the now-defunct Novokuznetsk Metallurg, Zhafyarov has bounced around the KHL, playing for five different teams. After failing to produce much of note in his first six seasons, he has developed into a talented offensive player since signing with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo.

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Having the chance to play alongside proven Russian talents like Anton Shenfeld and Miel, Zhafyarov has improved on his totals in each of the past three seasons, now sitting first on his team and sixth in the KHL, in scoring this season with 33 points over 35 games. At 26 years old, Zhafyarov still has his best years ahead of him and could be an interesting low-risk option for a team willing to take a chance on a player who has just come into his own offensively, on a team that has struggled so far this season with a 17-15-3 record.