Jan Kovar went on a scoring spree, Linus Omark proved indispensable, Pavel Francouz enjoyed a breakthrough season, and there was much, much more. Here at khl.ru, we present our tribute to five of the finest foreign players which graced the 2016-17 Kontinental Hockey League Championship, and our list does not even include Brandon Kozun, Chris Lee, Nigel Dawes and Zach Yuen, as they already featured in our top ten players of the season.
Regular season: 59 games, 63 (23+40) points
Playoffs: 18 games, 25 (10+15) points
It is rare for Jan Kovar to play in a match without dominating the ice. He is equally as effective in defense and offense, and his superiority over his opponents is sometimes overwhelming. He is formidable on the face-off spots, he is a bruiser in the low slot, he boasts a powerful, accurate shot and he can produce the killer pass. Kovar centers for Sergei Mozyakin, who smashed many records over the course of the season, and it is fair to assume that the Czech’s presence greatly enabled the master marksman to achieve so much, so swiftly.
Kovar’s own points-per-game figure is increasing ominously. Jan is only 27, yet he notched the eighth highest points total in the regular season and was the undisputed top scorer in the playoffs.
Regular season: 30 games. Save Percentage: 95.3; Goals Against Average: 1.43
Playoffs: 6 games. Save Percentage: 92.4% Goals Against Average: 2.15
The Chelyabinsk men had waited a very long time for Czech goalie Pavel Francouz to show his true form, and this season it finally happened. Pavel had been plagued by problems throughout the previous campaign, with injury disrupting his attempts to settle in and acclimatize, but in 2016-17 he was given more and more ice time as he repaid the coaches’ faith with sterling performances. He proved he was reliable enough to claim the first-line goalie spot, and by the end of the regular season, Pavel had the highest Save Percentage and second-lowest Goals Against Average in the League. Francouz has impressive mental toughness, can keep his best form for the vital games, and never lets mistakes dent his confidence. These are big plus points in a goaltender.
The knockout stage turned out to be short and painful for Traktor, but Francouz still recorded respectable figures in the Chelyabinsk men’s unsuccessful series against Barys.
Regular season: 55 games, 56 (14+42) points
Playoffs: 5 games, 4 (1+3) points
The former Edmonton and Buffalo forward is another high-profile import who occupied a top ten place in the regular season scoring charts. No matter in which line the coaches play him or which partners he is assigned, Omark is invariably the most fearsome offensive weapon in the Ufa arsenal. The fans love the pinpoint precision of his passes, and his forte is the fiendishly disguised assist, sending the puck one way while looking another, often finding a colleague facing an empty net.
For Salavat Yulaev, Omark is irreplaceable in the special teams. He is the pivotal man in the powerplay unit, and outnumbered opponents run themselves ragged trying to close the Swede down and prevent that inevitable killer pass. He could, admittedly, be stronger defensively, but that is thin pickings indeed from a search for flaws, and he can read the game is his own zone and pick out his partners as well as anyone in the team.
Regular season: 57 games, 30 (12+18) points
Playoffs: 9 games, 3 (1+2) points
For Dynamo Moscow, this season was a sorry saga of a misfiring offense, and when their cutting edge was blunted even further by an injury to danger-man defenseman Matt Robinson, the Blue-and-Whites must have wondered how they would trouble any defenses for the remainder of the campaign. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Up stepped the 31-year-old from Finland, and his 12 goals (including 8 in powerplay) propelled him to joint second place in the KHL listings for defensemen, surpassed only by Chris Lee.
The Dynamo coaching staff relied heavily on Hietanen, and he justified their optimism by making the most of any chance his partners put his way. He has that valuable instinct for finding the right position from which to threaten the goal. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Dynamo’s post season lasting anywhere near as long were it not for the exploits of the formidable Finn.
Regular season: 54 games, 34 (13+21) points
Playoffs: 15 games, 10 (3+7) points
The diminutive but combative Canadian was the top scorer in the team which finished second in the Eastern Conference, and while his bare figures are not as impressive as those of Omark or Kovar, it is nonetheless hard to overstate his contribution. Zinetula Bilyaletdinov has the Kazan men playing strictly out of defense, which demands draining levels of concentration, and respite arrived on many occasions thanks to Azevedo’s accurate and powerful wrist shots lighting the lamp at the other end.
By the time Ak Bars exited the knockout stage, Azevedo’s scoring figures for the team were only bettered by Vladimir Tkachyov, and that was by a single point.