The NHL may be the only show in town for hockey fans in North America, but consider that the 2021-22 Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season is already underway, across the world. If you’re looking for your fix, rest assured the KHL has got you covered, with players like the following five currently plying their trade there. Each has an undeniably bright future ahead, which is putting it mildly in some cases:
Matvei Michkov (SKA Saint Petersburg)
Forward Matvei Michkov is just 16 years old, but he’s already playing in the top league in and around Russia. To put that in perspective, Michkov isn’t even eligible for the 2022, but rather the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, for which he is being touted as a top No. 1 overall candidate.
In the here and now, Michkov has signed to remain with SKA St. Petersburg until 2026 and contracts between the two leagues are respected. So, any jump to the NHL would be far from immediate, even though the consensus, even now, seems to be he’s developing into the caliber of player who would be ready to right away.
The question is, “Is he worth waiting for?” And the answer appears to be a resounding, “Yes.” For some comparison, he scored 56 points in the Junior Hockey League (MHL) as a 16-year-old, compared to 54 in 53 games by Nikita Kucherov back in 2009-10. While Kucherov got drafted in the second round in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s likely he would go No. 1 overall himself in a hypothetical redraft.
Obviously Michkov is not Kucherov, although comparisons to him and Pavel Datsyuk are already being made. Regardless, there are no guarantees Michkov surpasses Kucherov or even reaches the same level. Nevertheless, he’s definitely a prospect who has a lot of people watching him and the KHL will be the only place to for the next half-decade… at which point he’ll only be 21. Let that sink in.
Ivan Miroshnichenko (Avangard Omsk)
If 2023 (or 2026) is too far in the future for you, forward Ivan Miroshnichenko is one of the top players available to be selected by an NHL team in 2022. While he played alongside Michkov at the 2021 Ice Hockey U18 World Championship (tallying eight points in seven games to Michkov’s tournament-leading 16), Miroshnichenko is indisputably a great talent in his own right. Miroshnichenko also captained the championship-winning Russian team at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring nine points in five games, including two goals in the final over Slovakia.
Having signed with Avangard Omsk, Miroshnichenko will likely stay in the KHL until 2024 at least. Even though Miroshnichenko’s not guaranteed playing time in the KHL due to his age (and will likely play in the Supreme Hockey League or VHL this coming season), he’s nevertheless an option to be called up and a lock to attract attention from scouts.
Shakir Mukhamadullin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
The New Jersey Devils went off the board somewhat to pick Shakir Mukhamadullin at No. 20 overall in 2020. However, what they saw in the 6-foot-4 defenseman is understandable.
After all, playing in the MHL, Mukhamadullin scored at a 0.72 point-per-game clip, the second-highest in MHL history among d-men. After graduating to the KHL, with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in 2020-21, he set a record for most points by a defenseman under 19 years of age in a single KHL season with 10.
Coming off shoulder surgery, Mukhamadullin is set to return to the KHL. The Devils expect to sign him for the 2022-23 season, at which point he will realistically spend some time developing in the American Hockey League. After all, remember he wasn’t rated that highly leading into his draft, projected to develop into more of a stay-at-home defenseman, but don’t put (continuing to) surprise to the upside past him.
Rodion Amirov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
Reportedly off the ice for at least a month following an injury of his own, winger Rodion Amirov is nevertheless one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top prospects. In fact, it’s arguably a tie for the top spot between him and Nick Robertson, with the latter obviously closer to making an impact in the NHL, having played six games last season. However, Amirov isn’t necessarily far off.
Amirov is set to suit up for Salavat Yulaev Ufa as a loan, before potentially coming over to join the Toronto Marlies in the AHL at the end of the season, having signed with the Leafs last spring. He is touted as a solid two-way winger, which at times can be code for lacking offensive upside. However Amirov does have the firepower to back up his 15th overall selection by the Leafs in 2020. He’s also likely to make the trek over to North America sooner rather later. So, Leafs fans will just have to be patient (or catch him playing for Ufa once healthy) for the time being.
Yaroslav Askarov (SKA Saint Petersburg)
It’s a three way-tie for the highest goalie drafted into the NHL since Carey Price at No. 5 back in 2005. However, Yaroslav Askarov (No. 11 in 2020) arguably has higher upside at this stage of his career than either Jonathan Bernier (2006) or Jack Campbell (2010). In fact, Askarov has actually been hailed as potentially the best goalie prospect since Price, himself.
To be fair, both Bernier and Campbell have developed into legitimate No.1 NHL goalies for all intents and purposes. So, if that’s the floor for Askarov, the Nashville Predators are in good shape in net for the foreseeable future, especially following 26-year-old Juuse Saros’ spectacular 2020-21 season.
The Predators have kind of turned into a goaltending farm over the years, with Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne preceding Saros and (Montreal Canadiens draft pick) Tomas Vokoun preceding him in turn. So, the Askarov selection fits. The hype is such that he won’t look out of place in the least, even if Rinne is notoriously 6-foot-5 (Askarov is 6-foot-4).
For as tall as he is, Askarov is considered freakishly athletic with a knack for making highlight-reel saves. Admittedly, reported over-aggressiveness on his part and a tendency to get out of position could be a reason why, but, at 19 years of age, he has plenty of time to hone his craft, currently with SKA Saint Petersburg, for whom he once became the second-youngest goalie to start a KHL game… after New York Islander Ilya Sorokin.
The impressive comparisons logically have to stop eventually, as Askarov starts to make a name for himself both in the KHL and perhaps eventually in the NHL. As good as Price or not, Askarov is indisputably the highest-drafted Russian goalie ever into the NHL. It’s definitely a start, even for as long as he stays in Russia, playing in the KHL.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.