Two North Americans Lead KHL Defensive Scoring In 2016
This style stems from the league's predominantly European base. Europe teaches its youth programs puck possession, puck control and creativity. In North America, players grow up in a much more physical game that focuses more on body checking and getting to the gritty areas as well as zone instruction.
Even with some notable exceptions, when the two continents get together--either squaring off internationally or blending together on a team--the differences are certainly visible.
Two North American defensemen, Canadian Chris Lee and American Matt Gilroy, have seen the differences firsthand, and their backgrounds have pushed them to the top of the leaderboard for KHL defensive scoring this season.
Lee, 36, is 43 games into his fourth season with Metallurg of the KHL and has been a consistently dominant blue-liner. Gilroy, 32, is a veteran of 225 NHL games split between the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, but has found a strong offensive game with Spartak.
Lee finished third, second and fourth in scoring in each of his first three KHL seasons, and now owns an 11-point lead on Gilroy with roughly 20 games remaining in the regular season. In Gilroy's first KHL season, he finished sixth in defensive scoring. An injury limited Gilroy to just 49 games and 15 points last season. Now, Gilroy has a four-point cushion in above former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
Even in a league where the average player is 27 years old, the 36-year-old Lee and 32-year-old Gilroy have adapted to the European style in their own way.
Lee's natural offensive instinct and experience of the North American game makes him willing to take a hit to make a play. Gilroy's 6-foot-2, 203-pound frame helps intimidate oncoming opponents as much as when he joins the rush and forces himself deeper into the offensive zone.