(Al Goold, algooldphoto.com)
With the NHL lockout in full non-swing, many of the league’s best and brightest are plying their trade overseas in Europe and Russia. All-Stars like Henrik Zetterberg, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and John Tavares escaped the day-to-day drudgery of the lockout to continue playing the game they love and keep in shape for the possibility of an NHL season.
Of course, the league’s dullest and most mediocre players have also been locked out, with many of them also looking for a place to play. Some of them, in fact, looked for an opportunity to be the superstars they never could be in the NHL.
It’s not surprising to see Jaromir Jagr putting up big points in the Czech league, even if he was drafted into the NHL the same year John Tavares was born. It is surprising, however, to see a borderline NHL player doing the same, even if it’s in the minorest of minor hockey leagues. In fact, the top four lockout scorers are not exactly top-line NHL talent.
Here are the four most unexpected lockout stars in Europe, with two of them being particularly surprising.
4. Erik Condra
Condra is the least surprising name on this list, thanks to a solid NCAA career for the University of Notre Dame, finishing just one point shy of a point-per-game with 158 points in 159 games. He also established himself as a solid AHL player before playing the full season with the Ottawa Senators in 2011-12.
It is unexpected, however, to see him dominate the second and third tiers of the German Bundesliga, scoring a total of 31 points in 14 games between the two leagues. In the second tier, Condra’s point-per-game pace of 1.71 is second behind only the Islanders’ Josh Bailey and ahead of the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds at third. 15 of those 31 points are goals, including 7 in his 7 games in the second tier.
Chris Stewart and Clarke MacArthur also play in the second tier of the Bundesliga and sit 11th and 16th in points-per-game, respectively.
3. Nick Bonino
Bonino has yet to play a full season in the NHL, though he did play 50 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season. Like Condra, Bonino was a standout in the NCAA, scoring 117 points in 116 games for Boston University. He is also just short of a point-per-game in the AHL. During the lockout, however, he’s just short of 3 points-per-game.
Bonino appears to be the only NHL player in the second tier of the Italian league, where he has scored 40 points in just 14 games for HC Neumarkt Egna. In the process, he’s helped his club to the top of the standings. It’s entirely possible that he shouldn’t be playing in that league, although he is only second in league scoring, albeit in 5 fewer games than his competitors.
His Italian heritage may have played a factor in choosing this league, but the chance to put up Gretzky-level point totals probably didn’t hurt.
2. Dale Weise
Weise has just 8 career points in the NHL, all last season with the Vancouver Canucks, but he does have a decent AHL resume and showed some scoring prowess in the WHL as well. That said, Weise is known more for his average knuckle-chucking and his drinking problem than he is known for being good at hockey, which is a little unfair given that he had one of the lowest offensive zone start percentages in the league last season. Man, it feels good to reference Behind the Net again. Stupid lockout.
In any case, Weise made his way to the Netherlands, where he has become a veritable superstar, with 30 points in 10 games for the Tilburg Trappers. He leads the league in points-per-game and is also fourth in penalty minutes thanks to a 25-minute match penalty for “fisticuffs,” according to Google Translate.
With Weise leading the way, the Trappers are currently first in the standings with a 12-2 record. The Trappers have lost just one game with Weise in the lineup, the same game that Weise received the penalty for fisticuffs. Weise scored 4 goals and added 3 assists in his most recent game, a 13-7 victory.
1. Paul Bissonnette
Unlike the previous three players on this list, Bissonnette has never had much offensive success at any level higher than the ECHL. His best offensive season was with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, where he put up 42 points in 65 games in 2006-07. He has 8 career points in the NHL in 135 games and is far better known for his Twitter account than he is even for his fighting.
During the lockout, however, he is an offensive star in the United Kingdom. He currently has 19 points in 9 games for the Cardiff Devils, giving him a 2.11 points-per-game average, easily the best in the league. He scored his first goal just 72 seconds into his first game.
The Devils seem to like having Bissonnette around: they are organizing a Paul Bissonnette Night to “help raise funds to keep Paul as a Cardiff Devil for the remainder of the season or for as long as the NHL lockout will allow.” Considering they have a 7-2 record since he joined the team, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’d like to keep him.
The truly surprising thing is that Bissonnette isn’t the only NHLer in the Elite Ice Hockey League; he’s just the most successful. Drew Miller has 21 points in 15 games, Matt Beleskey and Tom Sestito have 20 points each in 17 games, and Anthony Stewart has a lowly 11 points in 18 games. In the UK, Bissonnette is a more dangerous offensive threat than any of them.