Top KHL Players for the 2020 UFA Market

By Caser · Apr 1, 2020 · Updated Apr 1, 2020
  1. Caser
    Note: I started writing this one quite some time ago, before the hockey has been stopped, but put it on pause, as I have no idea, what the free agency market would look like this year. Still, as I see that the talk and speculation on this topic is still ongoing, I thought that I should contribute to it by publishing the article, so for now let's just pretend that it will be the same as usually.


    In recent years there were around 10-12 players coming from the KHL that were signed in the UFA market. This year it's not unreasonable to think that this number might be even bigger. One of the reasons for that is pretty simple: a lot of the players listed below will be expansion exempt and it is a good idea to think about it already this summer. Another factor is that the KHL is implementing the salary cap, which likely means that at least for now the days of luxury deals there are over and a lot of good players have those kind of deals expiring right now.

    Predicting those type of players is a guessing game though and not exactly the easiest one — while some players have a lot of rumors surrounding them, some names can appear basically out of nowhere. Let's try to do that though. Below in the list there are 21 names divided into three groups by the likelihood of signing in the NHL and also ranked there taking into account also their potential — that's what I have this time, maybe not the perfect format, but I still hope you'll like it.

    P.S. In case you're interested in the similar list for prospects/RFAs, it can be found here: Top Russian Prospects from the KHL: Who's Coming Over in 2020?



    Group 1: "Likely"

    1. RW Nicklas Jensen
    Notes on NHL status: UFA after the 1st of July
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six RW (NHL)

    While Jensen has missed quite some time injured this season, but looking at his game I'd say he is one of the best players in the KHL: fast, skilled powerforward with a great shot. I easily can imagine him on the middle-six wing in the NHL, actually even the top-six projection doesn't seem like a bit of a stretch to me. KHL contract is up, player rights held by the NYR are expiring soon, Jensen is hitting his prime — could there be a better moment to prove himself in the NHL than now?


    2. RW Alexander Barabanov
    Notes on NHL status: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six RW (NHL)

    Barabanov is made of a pure concentrated energy and he transforms it into great skating and aggressive 200ft game. You can always count on him to try to take the puck to the net and when someone skilled enough is put on his line, Barabanov has proved to be able to adjust and form some chemistry and turn into something more than just an energy guy. Right now the Maple Leafs and the Coyotes are considered to be the frontrunners for Barabanov, but reportedly there are 19 more teams willing to get him.


    3. RW/C Mikhail Grigorenko
    Notes on NHL status: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six RW (NHL)

    After returning to the KHL Grigorenko was able to restart his career as a power winger and totally isn't bad at utilizing his main assets such as shot, size, passing and attacking zone instincts. Still when talks are about Grigorenko, doubts about his speed and intensity appear, although I think it is worth a shot. Reportedly he had met with the Wild and Maple Leafs representatives during the season, but I won't be surprised if there is more interest than that.


    4. LW Dmitrij Jaskin
    Notes on NHL status: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six LW (NHL)

    Who could ever possibly thought that giving Jaskin a bigger role and better linemates could result in something good? Well, it did and Jaskin emerged into a high-scoring hard-hitting power winger and, suddenly, NHL teams started looking at him again: at least two offers and some more interest, particularly I can recall that it was mentioned that the Sabres' scouts were noticed at the Dynamo arena pretty often.


    5. RHD Artyom Zub
    Notes on NHL status: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): 3rd pairing RD with a potential to move up (NHL)

    Zub was having a reputation of a solid physical stay-at-home RHD until this season, when he finally decided he likes to score too and even got a hat-trick in a KHL game. Reports are indicating that he will likely sign with the Senators, although there is some other team competing for him (possibly Coyotes, or even CBJ, as they were mentioned at some point too).


    6. RW Malte Stromwall
    Notes on NHL status: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six RW (NHL)

    Stromwall successfully transferred and continued his progress from the Liiga in his debut KHL season and, after getting plenty of goals and points on a not very strong Sochi team, reports started to appear that he is set to sign with the Red Wings. That won't surprise me at all, as they're badly in need of someone who can play hockey.


    7. RHD Alexei Marchenko
    Notes on NHL status: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): 3rd pairing RD (NHL)

    Not a lot of people remember now that back in 2015/16 Marchenko was a pretty solid NHLer — decent at his own end, with a good pass. After that things started to get worse, he returned to the KHL shortly and totally didn't shine there, but it all changed this year, when we finally saw someone who reminded us of the good ol' Marchenko. There is an obvious question "Will it last?" here, especially knowing Marchenko's history dealing with health issues (he even got his spleen removed). Still it sounds like this year he is really keen to give it another try in the NHL and Montreal was mentioned as a possible destination.



    Group 2: "Probably"

    8. LW/C Konstantin Okulov
    Notes on NHL status: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six LW (NHL)

    Okulov is a quick, skilled high-end sniper. The attacking potential is undoubtedly there, even high enough for the top-six, but the big question is if that's enough — I mean, he is not a two-way guy and also not exactly a high-intensity type of player, so it will require right circumstances for him to succeed. With that being said, during the season it has been reported that the Habs and Maple Leafs are after him.


    9. RHD Vyacheslav Voynov
    Notes on NHL status: player rights are still held by LAK
    Projected role next season (if signs): 2nd/3rd pairing RD (NHL)

    The most controversial entry here, but it would be just strange to ignore him. First, I'd rather not go back to Voynov's off-ice issues now, as we all know that story. Second, to be fair technically he doesn't belong in this list due to his rights still held by the Kings, yet I included him here, as I think they will gladly trade those for that talented Future Considerations kid. As for the chance he is signed in the NHL, I think it will depend on if some NHL GM on the hot seat and in a cap hell situation will see him as a cheap 2nd line RD. There is a chance, but I'd say Voynov should've had a stronger second half of the season to increase that probability.


    10. C Miro Aaltonen
    Notes on NHL status: UFA after the 1st of July
    Projected role next season (if signs): Middle-six C (NHL)

    When Aaltonen was back in the KHL after a solid AHL season I immediately thought that he will just wait until his NHL player rights will expire and he will be able to sign with any other NHL organization than the Maple Leafs. I still think he will do exactly that, as he still holds that value of being a reliable center, who can contribute at both ends of the ice.


    11. GK Alexei Melnichuk
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 2 years ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): 1A/1B goalie (AHL)

    Melnichuk's case is pretty different from the other entries on this list, as he is a young goalie prospect, who has finally found some consistency in his game and is looking for further development options (in other words, a lot of AHL icetime with a realistic possibility for a NHL chance after a year). Reports are telling that 3-4 teams are ready to offer him that, and sounds like the Maple Leafs were there at some point too.

    A bit of a personal note here: posters who read me here often, know that I'm really hoping for Melnichuk to succeed, as back when he was 16 he lost almost all of his big family in a horrible car crash, but was able to get over and win this fight. So if your organization signs him, please cheer for him real hard. Thank You.


    12. C Linden Vey
    NHL contract restrictions: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): 3rd line C (NHL)

    Not many non-European players use the KHL to restart their careers, but that's what Vey has done: after getting in that "too good for the AHL, not good enough for the NHL" category three years ago, he has proven that there's something more in his game. Reliable two-way center, hard worker, great passer and a very consistent performer — I'd say there should be NHL interest and there's a good chance he succeeds this time.


    13. GK Vasiliy Demchenko
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Backup goalie (NHL)

    No need to look at the very mediocre Demchenko's stat line from this season, as he has proven he can be much better than that by carrying a pretty bad Traktor team on his back for quite some time before. Reports appeared that the Habs' GM Marc Bergevin sees him as a backup for the next season, this might be the change of scenery that gets Demchenko back on track.


    14. GK Alexei Krasikov
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): 1A/1B goalie (AHL)

    While playing in the KHL Krasikov has earned himself a pretty interesting reputation: big, naturally gifted goalie, yet raw and inconsistent. That's the reason he never became full-time KHL starter and makes me doubt that he can contribute in the NHL short term, but long term there's definitely something to work with.



    Group 3: "Maybe"

    15. LHD Nikita Nesterov
    NHL contract restrictions: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): 3rd pairing LD (NHL)

    Nesterov's case is pretty simple: he was planning to re-sign with CSKA long term, but in came Mike Futa from the Kings yelling "Shut up and take my 3m x 2years". Still Nesterov will likely be staying, but reportedly it's not signed until it's signed. If he changes his mind though, it is worth mentioning that at different points of the season the Wild, Bruins and Maple Leafs were also mentioned as interested.


    16. RHD Artyom Sergeyev
    NHL contract restrictions: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): Top4 D (AHL)/2nd or 3rd pairing D (NHL)

    Already a year ago it was mentioned that Sergeyev might be looking in the NHL direction (and his former Lightning organization was mentioned), but he decided to stay for a year more and become one of the top KHL stay-at-home guys. He is the kind of reliable defenseman teams need to help their puckmovers breath the attacking air more freely and sounds like the Panthers organization is really looking for someone like that.


    17. LHD Mikhail Naumenkov
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Top4 D (AHL)/3rd pairing D (NHL)

    Naumenkov is a physical defensive minded D, nothing fancy, just meat and potatoes here, but I'd say pretty quality ones. Reportedly some unnamed NHL team has offered him a deal, but is hoping he doesn't mind playing in the AHL too. Doesn't sound too promising, but we have a similar example of this type of players in Lyubushkin, who made it to the NHL and doesn't look that bad.


    18. LHD Nikolai Demidov
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Top4 D (AHL)

    Demidov had to deal with injuries recently, which made this season a one to forget, but just last year he was considered one of the top KHL young defensemen. His KHL contract is up, new one not signed (at least yet), so I wouldn't be surprised if that means he the NHL teams still have him on the shortlist and are ready to make offers.


    19. GK Timur Bilyalov
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): 1A/1B goalie (AHL)

    Hard to deny that Bilyalov's stats are pretty fancy, but, to be honest, I fail to see NHL potential here, as Bilyalov hasn't got the size and to me it doesn't look like his overall reflexes and mobility are good enough to compensate that on the NHL level. NHL teams certainly don't agree with me though, as it was reported that multiple teams have interest in him (for example, at some point Maple Leafs were mentioned).


    20. LW Damir Zhafyarov
    NHL contract restrictions: eligible for a 1 year ELC
    Projected role next season (if signs): Top 9 LW (AHL)

    Similarly to Okulov's case, I don't doubt Zhafyarov's attacking talents, but doubt that he got much more than just that. And, since those Zhafyarov's talents are level below Okulov's, I won't be brave enough to give a "maybe" this time. Although that's just me, sounds like Zhafyarov himself thinks he is totally ready to give it a try on the other side of the pond.


    21. C/W Stephane Da Costa
    NHL contract restrictions: -
    Projected role next season (if signs): 3rd line FW (NHL)

    Finally I will mention Da Costa here on my list. He might be almost 31 already, but looking at his game I think he still haven't lost that hockey IQ that always made him a high-end attacking player. Yes, I understand that it is not even "maybe", but "unlikely", but you never say never.



    I should again remind that this is basically just a guessing game, speculation from my side and also summary of what has leaked to the press so far. Even more, when the UFA signings will start, we might hear totally different names. Still I hoped it could be interesting and entertaining for readers in such a troubling times. As usual, questions, corrections and any kind of feedback are welcome.

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