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Members of the NHL's 2005-06 European invasion: From left, Robert Nilsson, Islanders, Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers and Oleg Tverdovsky, Hurricanes.

WHEN NHL SUPERSTARS such as Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Jose Theodore went overseas to keep in hockey shape during the lockout last season, it changed the hockey landscape forever. This year, the talent level in the various European elite leagues can't quite match the 2004-05 crop, but it has improved thanks to the addition of several former/future NHLers.

On the other hand, the 'new' NHL has provided opportunities for players who otherwise would have remained in Europe. Here's a look at players either making their NHL debuts or returning from the European elite leagues this season, as well as recognizable NHL names currently playing overseas:

1. Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers

The Rookie Swede was the best netminder in the Elitserien for several years, and even garnered league MVP honors in 2004-05. Lundqvist and veteran Kevin Weekes are sharing the load in Manhattan these days, but the 23-year-old Lundqvist is expected to finish the season as the undisputed No. 1. He has all the makings of a star NHL goalkeeper for several years to come.

2. Oleg Tverdovsky, D, Hurricanes
Remember him? Tverdovsky should enjoy NHL hockey this time around because of the new rules in vigor. The 29-year-old native of Ukraine spent the past two seasons with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague, and was last seen in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils (2002-03). Now, Tverdovsky is a big part of the new-look offensive juggernaut that is the '05-06 'Canes.

3. Jussi Jokinen, LW, Stars
One of the Stars' top prospects, Jokinen is enjoying his first taste of NHL action as the left-winger on the No. 1 line alongside Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. Jokinen spent the last four seasons in the SM-Liiga with Karpat Oulu, so he clearly has enough experience to make an immediate impact at the NHL level. Excellent hockey sense and positioning are his strengths.

4. Petr Sykora, C/RW, Capitals
Known throughout the hockey world as the 'other Petr Sykora'--not to be confused with the Mighty Ducks veteran winger--this Petr Sykora is now in his second NHL stint. He appeared in just two games with Nashville in 1998-99, and was acquired by Washington in 2002. The Caps had been waiting patiently for his services ever since. At just 26, Sykora may surprise many.

5. Robert Nilsson, C/W, Islanders
The 2003 first rounder (No. 15 overall) wasn't seeing enough ice time in Europe, so Islanders management decided to bring him over to North America this year. Since then, Nilsson surprised all hockey pundits by cracking the Islanders' opening-night lineup. Furthermore, he's seeing semi-regular duty as a top-six forward with a little power-play time. The sky's the limit for Nilsson.

6. Jonathan Hedstrom, RW/LW, Mighty Ducks
Under the previous regime in Anaheim, Hedstrom was no longer in the plans. However, the Swedish winger was given an NHL reprieve with the hiring of Brian Burke as Ducks GM. Hedstrom appeared in four games with the Ducks in 2002-03, and spent the past two seasons in the Elitserien. This year, he's providing sound checking and penalty-killing skills in Anaheim.

7. Niklas Nordgren, LW/RW, Hurricanes
Nordgren has enough grit to fill a role on the third or fourth line, but so far ice time has been hard to come by with the surprising Hurricanes. The 26-year-old Swede spent the past four seasons in the Elitserien with Timra IK, so he has enough experience to be a role player at the NHL level. That said, Nordgren also has untapped offensive potential. He may blossom in Raleigh.

8. Petr Prucha, C/W, Rangers
Prucha burst onto the scene at the 2004 IIHF World hockey championships, and even saw time on the same line as current Czech mate Jaromir Jagr. He's a little undersized, so he may not play regularly with the Rangers this season. However, he has the speed/skill package required in the 'new' NHL. Furthermore, rookie Prucha is feisty and does not shy away from contact.

9. Johan Franzen, C/LW, Red Wings
A versatile Swede, Franzen has taken over as Detroit's fourth-line center this season. He sees plenty of ice time in shorthanded situations, and can also take important face-offs. The 25-year-old Franzen was a major surprise draft selection at No. 97 overall in 2004, but he's proving that the days of selecting older European players in the entry draft may not be a thing of the past.

10. Mark Streit, D, Canadiens
The Habs are still searching for a quarterback for their power play, and Streit may fit the bill nicely. However, he's seeing limited action and can't seem to crack the team's top-six rearguards. Streit is an accomplished member of the Swiss national team but the jump to the NHL may be a little too big at the moment. He could use AHL seasoning, but would prefer to return home.


1. Aleksey Morozov, RW, Penguins
Morozov was essentially replaced on the wing in Pittsburgh by Zigmund Palffy, Mark Recchi and John LeClair. However, he's proving his mettle in the Russian Superleague for the second year in a row. Morozov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and there is certain to be plenty of interest in his services from both NHL and European teams.

2. Artem Chubarov, C, Canucks
A quality checker in Vancouver, and valuable member of the fourth line, Chubarov is trying to improve his offensive game in Russia this season. Don't be surprised if the Canucks bring 'Chubie' back in the fold next summer, since he was never truly replaced. This season, rookie Ryan Kesler and veteran Trevor Linden are playing the center role on lines 3 and 4.

3. Alexander Korolyuk, RW/LW, Sharks
The Sharks might be lacking in depth up front this season, so losing Korolyuk to Europe won't help. After his best NHL campaign in 2003-04 (63 GP, 19-18-37, +20, 18 PIM), 'Korky' was looking to cash in with San Jose. Instead, he is toiling for Vityaz Podolsk of the Russian Superleague. Like Morozov, Korolyuk will receive offers as an unrestricted free agent.

4. Stanislav Chistov, LW, Mighty Ducks
The flashy left wing is looking to rebound in Russia, after a forgettable two-year stint in the Ducks organization. However, he will be back in the NHL some day because of exceptional offensive potential. Chistov was a monster for the Ducks during the '03 Stanley Cup run, but his play has regressed since. He needs to find his confidence again before returning to North America.

5. Tony Salmelainen, RW/LW, Oilers
There was a numbers problem on the wing in Edmonton, so Salmelainen headed overseas this season. Salmelainen is the type of player who could blossom in the 'new' NHL, but it's doubtful his time will ever come with the Oilers. This year, he's among the top scorers in the SM-Liiga playing for HIFK Helsinki. Eventually, some NHL team will give Salmelainen another shot.

6. Denis Arkhipov, C, Predators
Arkhipov received ample opportunity to become the No. 2 or 3 center in Nashville but never found his A game. At this point, it's debatable whether the 26-year-old Russian pivot will get another chance at the NHL level. Either way, it likely won't be in Nashville. Part of Arkhipov's problem is his lack of assertiveness both on and off the ice. His style does not fit the Predators at all.

7. Alexander Semin, LW, Capitals
The Capitals expected Semin in training camp, but he was a no-show. As a result, the NHL club has sued both the player and his agent for breach of contract. The Caps probably wouldn't be making such a major deal out of this situation if not for the fact they truly love Semin's game. Eventually, Washington views Semin as franchise player Alexander Ovechkin's sidekick.

8. Sergei Zinovjev, C/RW, Bruins
At this point, Zinovjev's lack of urgency to play NHL hockey is a concern to the Bruins. He's definitely talented enough to play in the NHL, but he needs to start making a greater commitment to the B's organization. Zinovjev appeared in 10 games with the Bruins in 2003-04, but refused to remain at the AHL level and bolted home. He may not get another chance with Boston.

9. Alexander Svitov, C, Blue Jackets
A two-way center, Svitov is a player the Blue Jackets could use in 2005-06. However, his stubbornness in contract talks led to his current deal with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague. Svitov is expected back in the NHL next season, and it will probably be in Columbus--who are paper-thin at the all important center position. Svitov will be back.

10. Milan Kraft, C, Penguins
Like Svitov, Kraft is playing with Avangard Omsk in the RSL this season. He was expected to become a top-six forward with the Penguins, but never quite fulfilled expectations. Ironically, the Pens are lacking in center depth this season, but the recent emergence of Erik Christensen--to go along with the expected arrival of Evgeni Malkin next year--has likely sealed Kraft's fate.