by Mitch Goldenberg
It’s been a tough week for NHL fans. Instead of trading counterproposals to solve a season-threatening lockout, the league and players association exchanged jabs through the media. And to top it off this year’s 24/7: Road To The Winter Classic HBO special, which was supposed to air on New Years appears to be in serious jeopardy of being cancelled. As the doomsday clock ticks briskly forward, heaps of players are coming to terms with this messy reality, packing their bags and taking their talents to Europe. Here are some who have made the most of their international experience so far:
Tyler Seguin: The young Bruins star has taken the momentum from last season’s 67-point breakout campaign to the Swiss National A League. In his first 12 games, Seguin has notched 8 goals and 9 assists for 17 points. He’s already ranked top-10 in league scoring despite playing 3-5 games fewer than most players. The future is only getting sweeter, as this week he welcomed Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane to his line and the two connected immediately for three points in their first game. He’s tormenting Swiss defences right now, but NHLers beware, this kid is for real.
Evgeni Malkin: Whether it’s in North America or Russia, Malkin plays in a league of his own. Last year’s leading scorer and Hart Trophy recipient moved to his former KHL team and picked up right where he left off in the NHL...on top. The superstar centre posted 27 points in his first 17 games, good enough for second in league scoring. And his 1.6 point-per-game pace easily eclipses anyone else. There is no debate: this guy is the best hockey player on the planet right now.
Jaromir Jagr: The veteran Czech impressed everyone last year with a solid 53-point season for Philadelphia, proving he’s still very relevant in the NHL. Back in his homeland, the electrifying winger is ranked eighth in league scoring with 20 points in 14 contests, despite playing in fewer games than everyone ahead of him. Jagr is tied for the Czech Extraliga league lead with a +14 rating, and is proving the Dallas Stars took a good gamble on him with a $4.5 million free agent contract. Unfortunately, the lockout makes that gamble good for naught right now, but it’s great for his new team in Kladno.
Henrik Zetterberg: In the off season, Red Wings GM Ken Holland signed little-known Swiss winger Damien Brunner hoping he could play on a line with Henrik Zetterberg. To prepare, Zetterberg signed with Brunner’s Swiss team EV Zug last month to work on their chemistry. The experiment exploded. Zetterberg has scored 11 points in his first five games since joining the team, and Brunner is leading the league with 26 points in 15 games. Ladies and gentlemen, Batman is stronger than ever, and he’s found a very capable Robin.
Tukka Rask: It has yet to be determined whether Rask can handle the Bruins’ starting job, but he can most certainly handle that task for HC Skoda Plzen in the Czech Republic. Through 10 games, Rask has shone bright with a 8-2 record, 1.97 goals against average and .929 save percentage. He overcame a groin injury early in the season to return in perfect form, and his team is currently in first place in the Czech elite league. Tim Thomas or not, Boston is going to be just fine in the crease.