Catching up with Jiri Hudler, other NHL exports

hudler.jpgGeorge Malik discussed the Detroit Red Wings’ hopes of bringing former winger Jiri Hudler back to the NHL next season. As you may remember, the cash-strapped team was unable to dissuade Hudler from chasing better ice time and bigger money in the KHL last summer.

The Red Wings seem optimistic about the possibility of an “out” clause, but my gut reaction is to “follow the money” – something I sense Detroit will once again lack this summer. Essentially I agree with Malik regarding their chances of luring Hudler back.

My take is this: whether Hudler returns to the Red Wings next season depends on which people Hudler prefers to listen to–Golovkov and Svoboda gave him a helluva line about “breaking free” from the Wings’ third line to establish himself as a top-six player and star, which he did become, all while earning oodles of near tax-free dollars and all the amenities of KHL hockey in an apartment, use of a luxury automobile, a cell phone, utilities, and sometimes even groceries all paid at the expense of the club–and whether the KHL feels like getting into a fight with the NHL about Hudler’s rights again.

If Hudler feels that he’s had a nice time in Russia, can put a chunk of change away for his post-hockey nest egg, and is ready to listen to Ken Holland and Mike Babcock tell him the truth–that his best opportunity to establish himself as an NHL’er is to come back at 26 years of age and make himself invaluable to a team in transition, not wait another year to make a few more million dollars in Russia and find himself without a job–then he’ll come back. If the lure of the KHL’s petro-dollars and whispers in his ears about becoming the player he never could be in Detroit hold sway, and especially if the KHL decides to make a stink about Hudler fulfilling his contract, then he’s going to play in Russia until 2011.

Honestly, I lack even a hint of expertise on KHL/NHL transfer loopholes and other factors of that ilk. My guess is Hudler will make the easiest, most lucrative decision.

The real reason I bring this topic up, though, is to take a look at some familiar names overseas. How are a few former NHLers – ones who may even return next season – doing now? I’m glad you asked, voice in my head!

(All stats compiled from Obviously, G = goals; A  = assists; P = points; parentheses = my innermost thoughts.)

Jiri Hudler: 19 G, 35 A, 54 P in 54 games with Moscow Dynamo

Nikita Filatov: 9 G, 13 A, 22 P in 26 games with CSKA Moscow

Jaromir Jagr: 22 G, 20 G, 42 P in 51 games with Omsk Avangard

Alex Radulov: 24 G, 39 A, 63 P in 54 games with Ufa Salavat Yulayev

And just for kicks:

Robert Esche: 29-7-5 with a 2.07 GAA and a 91.7% save percentage with St. Petersburg SKA

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”