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Rumors are swirling that former Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov could be returning from the KHL, perhaps in time for him to contribute to that team’s stretch run and postseason.
European talent can be hard to judge: between the uncertainty of their willingness to come to North America and the limited scouting opportunities, teams roll the dice when they draft or acquire talent from overseas.
Whether it’s gambling on an immense talent in the first round or taking a late-round flier on a little known prospect who hasn’t yet faced top-flight competition, acquiring European players can play huge dividends or set back a franchise.
Here are some players that could help make or break the future of a few Southeast Division teams.
Frederik Andersen, G, Frolunda (SEL) — A seventh round pick of the Hurricanes in 2010, Andersen has a big uphill climb to make it to North America. Denmark, his home country, has developed just eight NHL players, and none have been goalies.
Andersen dominated the pro league in Denmark for two seasons, but teams — the Hurricanes included — had doubts about his future due to the lesser competition he was facing in his home country. But this year, his first season in the Swedish Elite League, Andersen has not only proven he was ready for a step up in competition, he’s shown he might soon be able to come to North America and begin his quest for the NHL.
In 39 games with Frolunda, Andersen has been arguably the Swedish Elite League’s top goaltender, boasting league bests in goals-against average (1.62) and save percentage (.943).
At 6’4, Andersen has the size coveted by NHL teams and also has a history of winning at every level. His performance at the 2010 World Juniors first opened eyes — he led the way in Denmark’s shocking 4-1 upset of Finland — and he returned and backstopped his country’s entry again this year. His earlier success in Denmark and now in Sweden could lead to a sooner-than-expected arrival in North America.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, CSKA Moscow — The 58th overall pick by the Lightning at last summer’s draft, Kucherov fits the mold of many Russian snipers. He’s a natural goal scorer who can take over a game at any moment, but perhaps isn’t as committed to playing in his own end.
He was the best player at last season’s World Under-18 tournament, and registered seven points in seven games at this year’s World Juniors Under-20s for silver medalist Russia. But the start of this year was a struggle for Kucherov, leading to a demotion to the MHL (Russia’s second-tier league) before he turned around his season with his play there and in the Subway Super Series that pits Russia’s best young players against the CHL’s top stars.
That led to a promotion back with CSKA Moscow, and the season ended with him finishing with one goal and three assists in 18 games.
Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW, Chelyabinsk Traktor — The mantle of best current player never to play in North America could very well be held by Kuznetsov, the Washington Capitals‘ first round pick in 2010. He has been Traktor’s top scorer in each of the past two seasons, and he is already drawing comparisons to fellow countrymen Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin in discussing what kind of impact he could make in the NHL.
Kuznetsov was a featured player at the last two World Junior tournaments, leading Russia in scoring — along with Blues prospect Vladimir Tarasenko — last yearwhen his team won gold, then captaining this year’s silver-medal winning entry.
But Kuznetsov’s situation is representative of the risk teams take when drafting a European player. Kuznetsov is said to be considering a long-term offer to stay in the KHL, and if that transpired it would be a huge blow to the Capitals given that they could lose sniper Alex Semin to unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Washington already dodged one nightmare scenario when Kuznetsov’s recent knee injury — feared to be severe — turned out to be just a minor tweak. But getting Kuznetsov to turn down big money to stay home and play may be unavoidable.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes recalled defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti Monday in time for Tuesday’s road game against the team that made him a first round pick in 2006, the New York Rangers. Sanguinetti could make his Carolina debut at Madison Square Garden, about 60 miles from his home town of Trenton, N.J. Sanguinetti previously played in five games in the NHL, all with the Rangers in 2009-10, before being traded to the Hurricanes at the 2010 Entry Draft for a second round pick in 2011. He leads the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s AHL affiliate, in scoring by a defenseman with 35 points in 49 games.