In the 2014-15 KHL season, Artemi Panarin, Nikita Gusev, Nikita Zaitsev, and Nikita Soshnikov were 4 of the top 5 u24 scorers. Gusev had already been drafted to the NHL, and by 2016 the rest were signed as Free Agents and in the NHL. While Soshnikov suffered from injuries, Panarin and Zaitsev immediately stepped into a big role in the NHL and changed the expectations for European Free Agents.
Every offseason since, NHL teams have been in search of young players thriving in European pro leagues who can step right into their lineup. Toronto and Chicago in particular have been able to lure high-profile European FAs by offering the most playing opportunities. I wrote about some of the most successful signings here, building a 20-man roster of European FAs.
2020 Leafs signings Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen both appear in that article, and Lehtonen has raised expectations since with 17 points in 17 KHL games this season. I would argue he’s the most coveted KHL D since Nikita Zaitsev, some people will be surprised by his poise with the puck. The difference between these two and European FAs of the past is that their 1 year ELCs expire UFA, as both Barabanov and Lehtonen are 26. That …
Author: Earl Schwartz / The Leafs Nation