Canadian players are traditionally among the best players in any league, and the KHL is no exception to this rule. Several Canadian players were key parts in their respective team’s Gagarin Cup rush, and we don’t have to look too far to make an example. Justin Azevedo is fresh of a Gagarin Cup MVP award, and what about Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s chances without Chris Lee and Wojtek Wolski?
In the 2018-19 season, a big number of Canadian players is in a key role with their teams. KHL.ru presents you the best Canadian players in the league.
One of the league’s top scorers, there isn’t much to be said about Mathew Maione’s career other than enthusiastic words. In his first KHL season, the Canadian defenseman is outscoring proven veterans like Sergei Mozyakin and Nigel Dawes, and this kind of achievement is even more impressive considering that he is a blueliner.
The native of Toronto, Ontario, is at his third season in Europe. Earlier, he was the top-scoring defenseman in Slovakia and the most entertaining player in the Finnish Liiga. What award will he win this season? And most importantly, will Dinamo Riga be able to renew his ties at the end of the season?
Barys Astana has always had a great advantage coming from Canadian players. So big, that they started naturalizing them to have players like Nigel Dawes and Kevin Dallman playing in the Kazakhstani national team. Nigel Dawes moved on and is now scoring goals for Avtomobilist, while Dallman is still playing in Astana.
With time, new Canadian players came to Astana to show their magic to the fans in the brand-new Barys-Arena, which hosted the 2018 KHL All-Star Game. With seven goals and 21 points, defenseman Darren Dietz is one of the team’s top scorers and the undisputed king of the blue line in Kazakhstan. Dietz leads all Barys’ defensemen not only in points, but also in average time on ice, shots, hits, and blocked shots.
Another Canadian player who’s finding himself in Astana is Patrice Cormier. The former 2008 second-round pick decided to try his luck in the KHL after playing more than 400 games in the AHL, and in Barys he adapted nicely and quickly as a duck takes to water. The result is 19 points in 21 games and the third place in Barys forwards’ scoring race. Cormier has a key role in the recent Barys’ positive streak, and the opposition will have to watch out as the playoffs approach.
Another pair of Canadian players is having a great season for Barys: Curtis Valk and Matt Frattin. Gifted with a great shot, Frattin already scored 11 goals last year in Astana, before ending the season in Switzerland. This year he will most likely stay in Kazakhstan as Barys is currently in the fourth position in the Eastern Conference standings. Valk is at his first season in Astana and is showing tremendous speed and agility, other than posting excellent numbers. Barys won’t be an easy client in the playoffs – that’s for sure.
Another successful Canadian player at his first KHL season, Paul Postma is having a breakout year in Kazan and is currently the fourth top scoring defenseman in the league. A native of Red Deer, Alberta, Postma spent his whole career in North America after crossing the Ocean and land in the KHL. He played more than 200 NHL games, scoring nine goals, but was most successful in the AHL, where he also skated in two All-Star Games.
In the past years, Ak Bars often resorted to Canadian defensemen, but not all acquisitions worked as expected. However, it looks like Kazan hit the jackpot with Postma, who is now leading all Ak Bars defensemen in points, plus/minus, and shots on goal, trailing on average game on ice only to leading blueliner Andrei Markov. Ak Bars has great chances to reach the Gagarin Cup finals once again, and Postma will certainly need to keep the bar high and work hard to stay on his current level.
A KHL veteran, Francis Pare moved to Yekaterinburg last year after spending a season in Croatia with Medvescak and Geneva in the top Swiss league. At his seventh season in the League, Pare is showing his finest hockey, and that’s impressive, considering that he already won a Gagarin Cup with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2014.
The Quebecois forward moved to Yekaterinburg last year as Avtomobilist attempted to become a top club and his first season was good but not great as he scored less than what he did in Zagreb the year before. However, this year he is playing on the team’s first line and scored so far nine goals and seventeen points in 23 games. He is also the third forward of the team in average time on ice behind Nigel Dawes and Anatoly Golyshev. Avtomobilist is currently the hottest team in the league, and Francis Pare is one of the reasons for such a great showing.
To date, there are 56 Canadian players in the KHL, and while not everyone is as successful as the players above, many are having a very good season. Brandon Kozun (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), Linden Vey (CSKA Moscow), Eric O’Dell (HC Sochi), Justin Azevedo (Ak Bars Kazan), and Danny Taylor (Sibir Novosibirsk) are other Canadian high-performance players this year.
Forward Brandon Kozun is at his fourth KHL season, the third with the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl jersey after a year in Finland with Jokerit. This summer, it wasn’t granted that the Canadian high-scoring forward would be back in Yaroslavl after a somewhat disappointing 2017-18 season, but Kozun got back in full swing. Kozun has 17 points in 19 games and is looking forward to his fourth All-Star Game participation in four years.
Forward Linden Vey was one of the League’s top playmakers last year in Astana, and things didn’t change when this summer the native of Saskatchewan signed with CSKA Moscow. Centering Kirill Kaprizov and Mikhail Grigorenko, Vey is leading one of the KHL’s top troikas, and chances are good that he will end the season as one of the League’s top scorers.
At his third KHL season – all spent with HC Sochi – Eric O’Dell became the captain and the soul of the Black Sea team. O’Dell had a great season last year, with 32 points in 47 games, and this season his play became even stronger. The native of Ottawa, Ontario, leads all HC Sochi forwards in points, PIMs, average time on ice, and faceoff percentage.
Justin Azevedo is another forward with a long tenure in the KHL, as the Ontario native is now at his sixth year in the League. A perennial top-scorer, Azevedo has a somewhat slow start of the season but is now picking up the pace. As all Ak Bars’ opponents know, Azevedo gets more and more dangerous as he starts speeding up.
Goalie Danny Taylor’s game left much to be desired in the start of the season, but, as it happens often, just a couple of good games and a nightmare streak becomes a hot one. Taylor was featured numerous times in the top saves of the week and recently has also been named goalie of the week. Watch out for Taylor to start saving more shots as Sibir Novosibirsk tries to climb up the standings in the second part of the season.