G, Sweden. 51 games, 92.6 save percentage, 2.39 GAA
Magnus Hellberg’s 2017/18 campaign was a huge one. The Swedish goalie opted to leave North America, where he had been struggling to establish himself in the NHL and take up the challenge of backstopping Kunlun Red Star. It wasn’t a great season for the Chinese franchise, with coaching changes and inconsistent form limiting Hellberg to just 16 wins in 51 games. However, in the face of adversity, he showed up strong to deliver numbers that remain the best in franchise history (excluding the brief spell played by on loan Artyom Zagidulin in the previous campaign). That form earned an international call-up: the Uppsala native was part of Sweden’s Olympic roster, although he didn’t get into action in Korea. He was also invited to the World Championship team and earned a gold medal for his efforts in Copenhagen. By then his talents had already attracted the attention of SKA, and Hellberg was gone after just one season in China. The 28-year-old will continue in Petersburg in the coming season.
F, USA. 60 games, 40 (20+20) points
Chad Rau was one of the first players to take the plunge and see what Red Star could offer. Signing up for the team’s debut season, the Illinois native took little time to make an impact. Three points in his first four games set the tone and he went on to compile 40 (20+20) points in regular season. That’s still a club record. Meanwhile, the playoffs brought a game-winning goal against Metallurg in game four, the only post season victory that Kunlun has achieved so far. Just for good measure, he was also the first Kunlun player to be invited to an All-Star game. Rau, 32, left the club after that first season, going on to represent Neftekhimik, Avangard and Slovan without coming close to matching his tally in Beijing.
D, Finland. 134 games, 23 (6+17) points
The big Finn is the all-time appearance leader for KRS, ahead of Zach Yuen, Brandon Yip and Alexei Ponikarovsky. A warrior of a defenseman in his homeland, with Liiga medals to prove it, Jarvinen first came to the KHL to play for another expansion franchise, Sochi, in 2014/15. His hard work in front of his own net went down well, but a return of just one assist all season – limited, even for a natural ‘stay-at-home’ player – meant his departure after a single season caused barely a ripple. Enter the Dragons, and another expansion franchise found a home for Joonas Jarvinen on its blue line. Here, the scoring picked up – 11 (4+7) points in his first season, helping the team to the playoffs and earning a place on the World Championship roster. Then came a full season in 2017/18 before a return to Finland and a brief spell at Tappara in the fall of 2018. However, the defensive crisis in China had Red Star on the phone again and Jarvinen was soon back for another stint in the Dragons’ lair. The 30-year-old has yet to confirm where he will play next season.
D, Finland. 57 games, 24 (10+14) points
Tuukka Mantyla was another player who answered the Kunlun call when the club was established. And the gritty defenseman quickly wrote his name in the history books when he potted the game winner in Red Star’s first KHL game, a 2-1 success at Amur. A few days later he was at it again on home ice, getting the decider in a 6-3 win against Admiral. That scoring continued throughout the campaign – including two goals in Kunlun’s first ever playoff outing in Magnitogorsk. China was the last stop on the Tampere native’s KHL tour: previously he had spells with Neftekhimik, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, Amur and Medvescak. Since then, he’s played a season with Malmo Redhawks before returning to his hometown club, Tappara, where he is set to continue next season.
F, Canada. 58 games, 41 (12+29) points
Wojtek Wolski came to China with a view to rehabilitating after a horrific injury left him with a broken neck while playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. His first stint with Kunlun brought 28 points in 32 games – and a swift return to Magnitka. However, a change in the coaching staff in the Urals made the Polish-born forward available once again, and he was happy to go back to China. Last season, though, he was hampered by the injury curse that rocked the team and managed just 26 games for 13 points. Even so, he did enough to earn an extended contract through to 2021 and will be joining up with fellow Olympic bronze medalist Gilbert Brule once more. That partnership is significant: in a three-month spell together at Red Star, Wolski provided six assists on Brule goals while scoring four of his own off Brule’s helpers. Recreating that kind of firepower might be Kunlun’s ticket back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.