G, Finland, 110 games, saves percentage 92,5%, goals-against average 2,10
The Finn goalie managed to play in Russia even before the KHL was born, and not in Kazan, but for their neighbor Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in the 2006-07 season. He had a strong showing there, but Neftekhimik played only four games in the Russian Superleague playoffs. The next summer, Vehanen signed back at home in Rauma, where he will play until 2009. In November of that year, Kazan announced to have signed the veteran goalie. The netminder was incredibly tough to beat for the opponents and was instrumental in three consecutive playoffs rushes for Kazan. He hit his peak in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. Petri Vehanen helped Kazan in winning the 2010 Gagarin Cup, and that year he also won KHL Top Goalie awards. He was also called up to his second IIHF World Championship when he backed up Pekka Rinne. The next year, the Finn was instrumental once again for Kazan, even if that time they didn’t manage to repeat the previous year’s success. However, Vehanen was the starter at the 2011 IIHF WC in Slovakia, when he helped the team winning the gold medal and was one of the top goalies of the tournament. Another Finn from Ak Bars – Jarkko Immonen – was the tournament’s leading scorer. After a further season in Kazan, Vehanen signed back in Finland. But that’s not all. In 2013-14, Vehanen led HC Lev to the Gagarin Cup finals, where they eventually lost to Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Vehanen retired in 2018 and now works at his hometown team, Lukko Rauma, as a goalie coach.
F, Canada, 264 games, 203 (75+128) points
Vehanen wasn’t the only player who sided – other than for Kazan – also for Lukko and HC Lev. Justin Azevedo spent his first two years in Europe playing for those two exact teams. Today, Azevedo is one of the longest-serving imports in the whole League and one of the top scorers in the latest years of the KHL: if taking only the years where he lined up with Lev and Ak Bars, he’s in the top 15 in scoring. The diminutive forward is famed as a clutch player – he traditionally improves his performance in the postseason and is a true playoffs warrior. In 2018, Azevedo led Ak Bars to its third Gagarin Cup title scoring 24 (9+15) points in 19 appearances and being honored with Playoffs’ MVP award. In those playoffs, he was a crucial part in an all-imports role with Jiri Sekac and Anton Lander. The right-handed forward has a further year on his contract in Kazan and is expected to be a leader for the Tatarstan franchise.
F, Finland, 264 games, 163 (53+110) points
A true winner at both sides of the Ocean, Niko Kapanen was among the quality players who signed in the KHL at the dawn of the league, when several established players moved back to Europe pursuing a successful career closer to home. The elite two-way player played eight years in the League, ending his career with the last year with his hometown team HPK in the Finnish Liiga. With the Ak Bars jersey, Kapanen won two Gagarin Cup titles in the League’s inaugural seasons but was a force for the Tatarstan team for further three years. Such a strong play in a high-level league also meant frequent trips with the National Team, and during his long KHL stint, he won a gold and bronze medal at the IIHF World Championship and a bronze medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics. After five years in Kazan, he moved to HC Lev, and then captained Jokerit for two further seasons.
F, Finland, 212 games, 134 (59+75) points
In the first few years in the league, Ak Bars had a tremendous Finn duo in Niko Kapanen and Jarkko Immonen. The latter had a shorter career in North America but was almost as successful as his countrymate. The Finnish center was instrumental in Kazan’s 2010 Gagarin Cup triumph, when he was Ak Bars’ second scorer, trailing only to Kapanen. Once again like Kapanen, Jarkko captured the attention of his national team’s coaches and was often invited to the international tournaments, where they enjoyed great success. He won the same set of metal as his countrymate but managed to outplay him at the triumphant for Finland 2011 IIHF WC in Slovakia, where four Ak Bars (Vehanen, Kapanen, Immonen, and Janne Pesonen) players meant gold for the Lions. At his 37, Immonen is still playing hockey for his almost native JYP in the Finnish Liiga.
F, Czech Republic, 157 games, 116 (52+64) points
At this point, any reader would just expect that the fifth players in this list would be yet another one who also played for HC Lev, and this was again the case with Jiri Sekac. Before moving overseas, the Czech forward played first with Lev Poprad, then spent two years with HC Lev before getting back to the KHL in 2016. In three years in the league, he quickly became one of the highest-scoring in the League, ending both 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons among the KHL’s top-20 scorers. The Czech forward was also instrumental in Kazan’s 2018 Gagarin Cup triumph, playing with Azevedo and Sweden’s Lander. On the international stage, Sekac represented the Czech Republic at the 2018 Olympic Games. After three successful seasons in the Tatarstan capital, he will spend the next two years in Moscow, with CSKA.