As a new season gets ever closer, it’s time to have a look at some of the star names who have left the KHL over the summer. The class of 2017 shares six Gagarin Cups, an All-time KHL scoring record, a Rocket Richard award and a solitary appearance in Las Vegas among their impressive careers.
Despite managing just a handful of games for Barys last season, Vitaly Kolesnik holds a worthy place in KHL history. Involved in the league in all of its first nine seasons, the Kazakh international represented Atlant, Salavat Yulaev and Lokomotiv before finishing in Astana.
Along the way, he managed some notable achievements. In the inaugural KHL season, his SV% of 94.5 was the best in the competition. In 2011 he was part of the Salavat roster that wrested the Gagarin Cup away from Ak Bars: as back-up to Erik Ersberg, he kept future Dynamo hero Alexander Yeryomenko out of action in that post season.
Aside from his KHL career, Kolesnik has also been a regular for team Kazakhstan, playing two games in the 2006 Olympics and featuring in four World Championships. He’s also won Asian Winter Games gold, and featured in several successful Kazakh promotion campaigns within the World Championship structure. At the time of writing, the 37-year-old has not confirmed his plans for the coming season.
The Finnish D-man won two Gagarin Cup with Dynamo – and ended his KHL career as the first ever captain of Kunlun Red Star. It’s been quite a journey for Janne Jalasvaara.
The Oulu native came to Russia during the 2010-11 season, but the following campaign was when it really took off for him. Dynamo won its first Gagarin Cup, Jalasvaara’s contribution from the blue line helped secure the title. One year on, Dynamo and Jalasvaara did it again; the D-man also got his sole World Championship call.
There were two more seasons in Moscow, then a move to Sochi for a year. But the lure of the Orient tempted Jalasvaara to Beijing where he captained Kunlun’s rookie season. It was the Finn’s most productive campaign, with 16 points in regular season, as the Chinese franchise reached the playoffs at the first attempt.
One of many successful graduates of the Yaroslavl hockey school, Ilya Gorokhov began his career when the town’s club was known as Yarinterkom. His break into senior hockey was slightly unusual: after a rookie season in the Russian Superleague with Torpedo Yaroslavl (as it was then called), he played a solitary game for the Las Vegas Thunder in North America’s International Hockey League. It proved to be his only appearance outside of Russia. Back home, he was part of two Superleague winning rosters with Loko.
At his KHL peak, this hard-hitting blue liner made three Gagarin Cup finals in a row, losing with Atlant in 2011 before winning back-to-back titles with Dynamo Moscow in 2012 and 2013. Then it was back to Yaroslavl, captaining his home team and bringing much-needed experience to a young Lokomotiv roster as the club rebuilt following the air disaster.
Now 39, Gorokhov announced his retirement at the end of last season. He began the campaign with HC Sochi, moving to Amur Khabarovsk for the final weeks.
A double Gagarin Cup winner with SKA, and a key member of Team Russia, Vadim Shipachyov has emerged as one of country’s leading forwards in recent seasons. His move to the NHL’s new Las Vegas franchise is a great opportunity for him, but his talents will be hard for Oleg Znarok to replace in the race for the Gagarin Cup and the quest for Olympic glory.
But Shipachyov’s career hasn’t always been a procession of trophies. A late developer, he was overlooked by Russia’s junior set up and worked his way up through the Severstal organization in his home town of Cherepovets. As he began scoring heavily for a modest Severstal team, he attracted greater attention: Euro tour call-ups, then a move to SKA in 2013. That season ended with a World Championship debut, seven points and a gold medal in Minsk.
Promoted to assistant captain, Shipachyov formed a compelling partnership with Evgeny Dadonov and Artemy Panarin. His role was the provider: 15 post-season assists in the first Gagarin Cup triumph, 50 last time in regular season. The kind of numbers that make scouts sit up and take notice, they persuaded Vegas that the 30-year-old was a safe bet.
A former Rocket Richard award winner, Jonathan Cheechoo began his four-year KHL career as an assistant captain with Medvescak. In that first season of KHL hockey in Zagreb, the one-time San Jose star inspired the Croatian team to its only playoff appearance with flashes of the kind of talent that might have earned him a longer NHL career were it not for injuries.
Instead, the KHL offered a respite from the grind of minor-league hockey in North America, and Cheechoo eagerly seized the chance. His arrival in the KHL was overshadowed by another Rocket Richard winner, Ilya Kovalchuk, who joined SKA that same summer, but Cheechoo also made an impact. At Medvescak he had 38 points in 54 games, including the team’s first ever KHL marker in that memorable 7-1 win over CSKA at Dom Sportova. After Zagreb, there were two years at Dinamo Minsk before a final campaign with Slovan Bratislava. His scoring was consistent, even when his teams struggled for form, and he tallied 164 points from 217 regular season games.
At the time of writing, Cheechoo, now 37, has yet to confirm his plans for the coming season.
The most prolific import in KHL history, US-born Brandon Bochenski had 397 points in 399 appearances across seven seasons with Barys. That puts him ahead of double Gagarin Cup winner Patrick Thoresen and his long-term strike partner Nigel Dawes.
But Bochenski’s contribution goes beyond his impressive scoring. On and off the ice, he has been a fantastic ambassador for the KHL, and for hockey in Kazakhstan. Arriving in Astana at a time when the city was still seeking its place on the hockey map, his unswerving commitment to the cause – going so far as to take Kazakh citizenship and represent the national team at the 2016 World Championship, almost a decade after playing for the USA at the same level – helped to cement Barys’ status as a valuable part of the Eastern Conference.
Now aged 35, Bochenski announced his retirement at the end of last season. And he had no regrets about swapping life in the NHL for a long stint in Kazakhstan.
“You know, when you play on the same team for a long time, with pretty much the same guys, you regard them as brothers - you feel at home in the team and in the country,” he said in an interview with KHL.ru. “We only get one life and choose one route, and even if I could, I would not want to change a single thing.”