Who is the best goalie in the KHL?
We saw Sergei Bobrovsky post a .932 in the KHL during last year’s lockout, then come to the NHL and win the Vezina with that same save percentage. We also saw Semyon Varlamov post a .946 before his solid .923 so far this season. On the other hand, we have seen Karri Ramo consistently top .925 in the KHL, but record just .907 as an NHL goaltender in Calgary this year. Which leads us to ask: who are their real star KHL goalies?
To answer this question, we looked at the goaltending data from 2008-09 to present day from the KHL’s official website. In terms of raw numbers, the best goalies have been Curtis Sanford, Konstantin Barulin, and Petri Vehanen, at least among those who have faced at least 1,000 shots.
But it is actually not that simple, because the quality of the KHL can change significantly from one season to the next. The average save percentage from 2008-09 to 2010-11 was significantly lower than it has been since then, especially so far in 2013-14.
Average KHL save percentage
Looking at just the raw save percentage data will bias the results against those who have competed in the KHL for more than just the past three seasons. That is why we have also calculated a goalie’s save percentage relative to those league averages, and normalized it to the level shared in 2011-12 and 2012-13, .9166.
KHL Leader Board
Using that approach, here is the leaderboard, among those who have faced at least 1,000 shots over the past six seasons, and have an adjusted save percentage of at least .920. Complete data is available at Hockey Abstract.
KHL Save Percentage, 2008-09 to Present
Goalie GP SV% adjSV%
Curtis Sanford 48 .936 .934
Sergei Bobrovsky 91 .925 .934
Georgy Gelashvili 184 .925 .932
Konstantin Barulin 224 .928 .932
Alexander Yeryomenko 174 .926 .931
Stanislav Galimov 116 .926 .931
Petri Vehanen 137 .927 .930
Vasily Koshechkin 241 .924 .929
Karri Ramo 173 .923 .928
Vitaly Kolesnik 138 .921 .927
Ilya Proskuryakov 142 .919 .926
Stefan Liv 39 .916 .924
Ari Ahonen 92 .924 .923
Jeff Glass 158 .919 .922
Dominik Hasek 46 .915 .922
Christopher Holt 110 .920 .922
Vitaly Yeremeyev 167 .917 .922
Mikael Tellqvist 93 .920 .922
Erik Ersberg 63 .919 .922
Martin Prusek 70 .909 .921
Ivan Lisutin 125 .918 .921
Maxim Sokolov 89 .913 .921
Ratislav Stana 214 .916 .921
Dmitrij Kotschnew 114 .912 .920
Ilya Ezhov 54 .921 .920
Robert Esche 114 .910 .920
Jakub Stepanek 65 .919 .920
Alexander Fomichev 65 .909 .920
Minimum 1,000 shots faced
While there are only eight NHL goalies who have faced 1,000 over the past six seasons and posted at least a .920 save percentage (Tuukka Rask, Robin Lehner, Tim Thomas, Cory Schneider, Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, Braden Holtby, Ben Bishop), the KHL boasts 28. Let’s look at the top five in more detail.
Curtis Sanford, Yaroslavl
Leading the way is 34-year-old Canadian Curtis Sanford, whose save percentage is even ahead of Sergei Bobrovsky’s. He currently leads the KHL with a .944 save percentage.
We last saw Sanford in the NHL in 2011-12 when he posted a .911 save percentage in 36 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets, much better than their starting goalie Steve Mason (.894). This year he is the starting goalie for Yaroslavl, the same team that suffered that tragic plane crash in 2011.
He is backed up by fellow 34-year-old Vitaly Kolesnik, who finished 10th on the list, and who we saw very briefly for the Colorado Avalanche in 2005-06. Last year, they were joined by Semyon Varlamov, who posted a .946 save percentage in his 16 games with the club.
Sanford also had considerable success for the Manitoba Moose and Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL from 2008-09 through 2010-11, posting a .925 combined save percentage in 97 games, winning the Hap Holmes award (equivalent of the William Jennings) in 2009-10, and making the second All-Star Team in 2010-11.
Georgi Gelashvili, Nizhny Novgorod
Nizhny Novgorod is splitting the goaltending duties between their new 30-year-old goalie Georgi Gelashvili and their former starter Vitali Koval.
Gelashvili was voted the KHL’s best goalie in 2008-09 for Yaroslavl, and played in the All-Star Game the following season. He then moved to Magnitogorsk where he was eventually transitioned into more of a backup role to 32-year-old Ari Ahonen, who is 13th on the list. Ahonen was drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils in 1999, and played in the AHL for five years before returning to Europe in 2006.
Konstantin Barulin, Kazan
A common name heard in discussions about the KHL’s best goalie is Kazan’s Konstantin Barulin. Taking over from Petri Vehanen as their starter two years ago, who is seventh the list, Barulin has posted an amazing .939 save percentage.
Barulin was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the third round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but never signed an NHL deal. He is now 29 years old and has a long list of KHL accomplishments under his belt, including four All-Star Games, and being named both the KHL’s best goalie and the playoff MVP in 2010-11. He also backstopped Russia to gold at the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
Alexander Yeremenko, Moscow
When you ask KHL fans to name a winner, Alexander Yeremenko will likely be the first name that passes through their lips. The 33-year-old has played in a lot of international tournaments, and has won a lot of championships in Russia. He is also a two-time playoff MVP.
In the regular season, Yeremenko has kept his goals against average under 2.00 in five of the past six seasons. He was also twice named the KHL’s best goaltender.
Vasily Koshechkin, Magnitogorsk
Skipping two places down the list, we come to 6’7”, 30-year-old Vasili Koshechkin, tucked between the aforementioned Petri Vehanen and Karri Ramo.
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the eighth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Koshechkin has instead remained in the Russia. The giant goaltender was a reserve on the 2010 Russian Olympic team, and played in the 2007 and 2010 World Championships, winning all six games he played.
With the up-and-down nature of goaltending statistics, and the number of team effects that can influence them, it is hard to identify the KHL’s best goaltender, and what his statistics might be in the NHL.
That being said, there is ample evidence that each of these five goalies are at least as good as those we have seen in the NHL, like Karri Ramo, Mikael Tellqvist, Erik Ersberg, Martin Prusek, and Robert Esche. They may even have upsides comparable to Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov.
Is anyone looking for a good backup goalie?
Rob Vollman is one of the founding authors of Hockey Prospectus, long-time contributor at ESPN Insider, author of Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, an author of all four of our annuals, and the creator of all of the great charts you find in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @robvollmanNHL.