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The top 10 NHL prospects to follow in the KHL this season

These KHL talents could make the North American leap in the future.

Sweden v Russia - Bronze Medal Game - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Over the past few years, the KHL has emerged as an important pipeline of talent for NHL teams. Smart people consider the Russian league to be the second-best in the world, and it’s become a reliable incubator of talented players from the region.

Recent alumni of the league set to play in the NHL next season include Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexander Radulov, Pavel Buchnevich, Vadim Shipachyov, and Evgenii Dadonov. The KHL may not have the depth of talent that’s a staple of the NHL, but the cream of the crop is good enough to play anywhere.

While the 2017-18 NHL season doesn’t begin until early October, the KHL opened its 56-game regular season on Aug. 21. The league is taking off most of February for the 2018 Winter Olympics — something the NHL has declined to do to much controversy — and opens its postseason in early March.

That means players in the KHL right now probably won’t be able to make an impact in the NHL for the upcoming season, but there are still a wide number of prospects worth keeping an eye on. So as we did earlier this week in looking at the top NHL prospects in college hockey worth following, let’s look at the top NHL prospects to follow in the KHL.

This list is limited to players whose draft rights are held by an NHL team and haven’t made their NHL debut yet. So there’s no Valeri Nichushkin or Mikhail Grigorenko, even if those guys are NHL talents. It’s also important to note that there’s no transfer agreement with the KHL, so draft rights don’t expire until a player is UFA-eligible at age 27.

F Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

KHL team: CSKA Moscow
Drafted in NHL: Fifth round, 2015

Kaprizov, 20, was expected to join the Wild for the upcoming season after a huge year between the KHL and international play. Instead, he signed a multi-year deal over the summer with CSKA Moscow, much to the disappointment of fans across Minnesota. Last season as a 19-year-old, Kaprisov finished led Salavat Yulaev Ufa with 20 goals and was second in points with 42 in 49 games. He should top those numbers with CSKA.

F Eeli Tolvanen, Predators

KHL team: Jokerit
Drafted in NHL: First round, 2017

Tolvanen was one of the top prospects in the 2017 draft class, but his stock apparently suffered after being ruled academically ineligible to attend Boston College. The Predators nabbed him with the No. 30 pick, and that could end up being a bargain based on his early performance as an 18-year-old in the KHL. Tolvanen has top-line upside as a scorer.

Russia v USA - 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

F Nikita Gusev, Golden Knights

KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted in NHL: Seventh round, 2012

The Golden Knights acquired Gusev this summer as part of an agreement with the Lightning to select Jason Garrison in the expansion draft. The 25-year-old was one of the KHL’s best players last season with 24 goals and 71 points in 57 games and added 14 points in 10 games for Russia at the World Championships. It’s unclear if he’ll ever come over, but Vegas will be ready if he is.

F Andrei Svetlakov, Wild

KHL team: CSKA Moscow
Drafted in NHL: Sixth round, 2017

Svetlakov is already 21, so he was pretty old for a draft pick, but that didn’t stop the Wild from taking a shot in the sixth round this year. He’s coming off 16 points in 37 games with CSKA last season and looks to take the leap as a more dynamic offensive player this year.

F Yegor Korshkov, Maple Leafs

KHL team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted in NHL: Second round, 2016

Korshkov should be a full-timer in the KHL after getting brief stints in the MHL, Russia’s minor league, during the past three seasons. A big power forward (6’4, 187 pounds) who can skate, Korshkov put up 19 points in 36 KHL games in the 2016-17 regular season and then three points in 15 playoff games.

D Vladislav Gavrikov, Blue Jackets

KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted in NHL: Sixth round, 2015

You’ll never get much flashy scoring, which is apparent from his 14 points in 96 KHL games over the previous two seasons, but Gavrikov is a big defenseman who can eat minutes. In a league lacking in future defensive stars, Gavrikov is among the best in the bunch.

D Yegor Rykov, Devils

KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted in NHL: Fifth round, 2016

Rykov made the leap to full-time KHL play as a 19-year-old with nine points in 47 games last season. It’s impressive to be playing major minutes for a top team at such a young age, and he could factor into the New Jersey defense in the near future.

United States v Russia: Semifinal - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

G Ilya Samsonov, Capitals

KHL team: Metallurg
Drafted in NHL: First round, 2015

Samsonov, the highest-drafted goalie in the past five years, could be one of the game’s next great netminders. He’s coming off a stellar age-19 season in which he posted a .936 save percentage in 27 regular season games, then a .949 save percentage in three playoff games. It’s been a slow couple games to start this season, but Samsonov should replace Braden Holtby down the road.

G Ilya Sorokin, Islanders

KHL team: CSKA Moscow
Drafted in NHL: Third round, 2014

The Islanders took a shot on Sorokin in 2014 when he was an 18-year-old coming off a respectable KHL season. Now a few years later, it looks like a brilliant move as Sorokin has proven to be one of the league’s best goalies. Over the past two seasons, including playoffs, he’s got a .938 save percentage. This season, he’s off to a similarly hot start. The Isles will want to bring him over sooner rather than later.

G Igor Shestyorkin, Rangers

KHL team: SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted in NHL: Fourth round, 2014

Shestyorkin took a few years to start putting it all together, but he broke out in 2016-17 with a .937 save percentage in 39 games. He’s not quite at the level of Samsonov and Sorokin, but he’s not far off, either. This could be the Rangers’ future replacement for Henrik Lundqvist.