(This article was originally published on Aug. 22, 2020.)
It may not seem like it, but there are some distinct ties between the BC Hockey League and the Kontinential Hockey League, which many see as the top professional league in Europe and Asia and second-best in the world behind the National Hockey League.
The KHL is mostly based in Russia with other teams based in Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. In 2019-20 alone, no fewer than 10 players with BCHL experience skated in the KHL, including notables like Gilbert Brule (Quesnel Millionaires), Brandon Yip (Coquitlam Express), Cory Kane (Vernon Vipers), and Geoff Kinrade (Cowichan Valley Capitals).
However, there is one other tie that binds the KHL with the BCHL. There are three players who joined BCHL teams after being selected in the KHL junior draft.
The KHL junior draft was first held in 2009. Teams were able to select North American or European players between the ages of 17 and 21. Eligible players also couldn’t be under contract to a KHL, Minor Hockey League, or Supreme Hockey League team.
The MHL is the biggest major junior hockey league in Europe and Asia while the SHL is the second-highest level of Russian hockey. The North American equivalent of the MHL is the Canadian Hockey League, composed of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Western Hockey League. The North American equivalent of the SHL is the American Hockey League, which has each of its franchises affiliated with an NHL team.
The first year that saw a future BCHL player selected in the KHL junior draft was 2010. It was the second edition of the draft and came prior to the KHL’s third season.
The Kunlun Red Star has announced an official signing with David Bondra. pic.twitter.com/s5WOgi1sm4
— Kunlun Red Star (@KRSchina) September 14, 2019
David Bondra (1st round, 21st overall by Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2010)
Forward Dávid Bondra was 17 when he was selected in the first round, 21st overall by Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The son of NHL veteran Peter Bondra spent the 2009-10 season with the Washington Jr. Nationals of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League and put up 51 points in 40 games. He also played six games for Slovakia at the 2010 World U18 championship and notched three assists.
Bondra was still ten years away from actually skating in the KHL though. He joined the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2010-11 for his 18-year-old season. He underwhelmed with just nine points in 58 games and was planning to return to the Steel before the team decided to go in a different direction.
After being unable to stick with another USHL squad, Bondra was contacted about joining the Chilliwack Chiefs. He signed with the Chiefs after a lengthy approval process by Hockey Canada and made an immediate impact. The 19-year-old finished third in scoring in Chilliwack with 63 points in 59 games.
Bondra then spent the next four seasons playing NCAA hockey at Michigan State University before signed with HK Poprad in the Slovakian League. He played with Poprad from 2016-19 and also represented Slovakia twice at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
This past season, Bondra finally suited up in the KHL, but not with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the team which drafted him in 2010. Instead, he signed with Kunlun Red Star, a team based in Beijing, China, and put up three points in 18 games.
— Lillehammer IK (@LillehammerIK) July 23, 2020
Spencer Humphries (5th round, 164th overall by Traktor Chelyabinsk in 2012)
Defenseman Spencer Humphries had already played in the BCHL when his name came up at the KHL Draft in 2012. The Delta, BC product spent most of the 2009-10 season with the then-Westside Warriors. He had 14 points in 49 games with the Warriors as a 17-year-old that season but had also played four games with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans by that point, so he had designs on playing major junior hockey.
Humphries was a WHL regular in 2010-11 with Tri-Cities before being traded to Calgary midway through the season. He broke out offensively with the Hitmen, finishing the year with 12 points in 24 games. 38 points and 107 penalty minutes with the Hitmen in 2011-12 caught the eye of someone with Traktor Chelyabinsk as Humphries was one of only two Canadians chosen in the 2012 KHL Draft.
He played out his 20-year-old year with Calgary before making his KHL debut in 2013-14. It wasn’t with Traktor though as Humphries signed with Lev Prava in the Czech Republic. He only played 17 games with Lev Praha and was loaned to Stadion Litomerice in the Czech second league where he scored nine points in 10 games.
Humphries returned to North America in 2014 and spent the next two seasons with three different teams in the ECHL. He returned to Europe in 2016, signing with the Stavanger Oilers in Norway. After two seasons with the Oilers, the blueliner found his way to Denmark for 2018-19, and Kassel this past season, where he had 29 points in 48 games in the DEL2, which is the second tier league in Germany.
He signed a contract in July to return to the Norwegian league with Lillehammer in 2020-21.
The Panthers are proud of alumnus Chong Hyun Lee for representing Korea at the World Hockey Championship!
— Port Moody Panthers Junior Hockey Club (@PJHLPanthers) May 15, 2018
Chong Hyun Lee (2nd round, 64th overall by Admiral Vladivostok)
Forward Chong Hyun Lee was coming off his 16-year-old season with Sun Duck High School in his home country of Korea when he was selected by Admiral Vladivostok in the KHL Draft. He added two points in five games for Korea at the World U18 Championship Division 1 B tournament.
The following season, he stayed with Sun Duck High, but posted 11 points in five games as an alternate captain for Korea at the 2014 World U18 championship Division 2 A tournament. As captain for Sun Duck High in 2014-15, he exploded with 30 points in 14 games and also made his North American debut.
Lee played 13 games with Coulee Region in the North American Hockey League as an 18-year-old and put up three points. He also scored seven goals and seven assists in 14 games with La Crosse in the North American 3 Hockey League, which is a tier below the NAHL.
In 2015-16, Lee took his game to Canada for the first time, signing to play junior B hockey with the Port Moody Panthers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League. After being approved by Hockey Canada and BC Hockey, Lee scored 28 points in 20 games, including six multi-point efforts. He also had five points in 14 games with the Prince George Spruce Kings as an affiliate player.
As a 20-year-old rookie with the Spruce Kings in 2016-17, Lee posted 36 points in 45 BCHL games. He also played 22 games internationally for Korea, scoring four points. After one season of college hockey for Yonsei University in 2017-18, Lee signed with Anyang Halla in the Asia League and continued to play for the Korean national team. He had three points in 10 games for Anyang Halla in 2019-20 before joining the Daemyung Killer Whales and finished with 14 points in 29 games.
Lee is the lone player who played in the BCHL to be chosen in the KHL Draft who has not actually played in the KHL. However, at just 24 years old, he could still decide to take his game to the Russian-based league.
BCHL alumni are everywhere
The link between the Kontinental Hockey League and the BCHL isn’t exactly obvious. But with so many former BCHLers playing in the KHL this past season and others playing all over the world, it’s not really that much of a surprise to see.
Meanwhile, Bondra, Humphries, and Lee are forever etched into the history books as the only players to have the distinction of being selected in the Kontinental Hockey League junior draft and playing at least some of their junior hockey in the BC Hockey League.