The 2018 Winter Olympics will be hosted by South Korea, which is only a little more than six years away. The national men's team is ranked 31st in the world by the IIHF, and is currently playing with much more difficult competition due to continued improvement, finishing 25th in the 2011 World Championships. I'm not sure if its a strategy of the country in order to make further strides to compete with the top 11 nations in the world come 2018, but I noticed something interesting when sorting through the 'Recent Transfers' section of Elite Prospects.
Two South Korean nationals had transferred from the Asian League powerhouse that is Anyang Halla to start their careers as low-level minor league professionals abroad. Ki Sung Kim has signed with the Tulsa Oilers of the AA level Central Hockey League (USA). And Woo-Sang Park has signed on with the Coventry Blaze of the Elite Ice Hockey League (UK).
Why is this significant? Last year's South Korean national men's team was made up entirely of players playing in the Asian League, a small six team circuit that has two teams based in South Korea. It's really hard to discern how high of a league the Asian League is in comparison with other professional leagues, as most of the top players from East Asia don't get the opportunity to move to a different league, unlike the common practice of switching leagues amongst European nationals. Two players on the South Korean national team had played abroad before: veteran D Woo Jae Kim spent the 2006-07 season with Jokipojat of Finland's Mestis (Finland's 2nd league), and forward Tae An Kwon actually played Junior B hockey in British Columbia before trying to catch on with the Elmira Jackals of the single A level UHL, and then playing 2007-08 in Sweden's third division where he scored at nearly a point per game for Börlange HF.
Beyond that, no South Korean players had any experience playing outside of Asia. Is this simply a fluke occurrence, or are we going to see more South Korean players leave their native land in order to face tougher competition and improve? If nothing else, it'll be interesting to monitor their progress.
In the meantime, fans of Anyang Halla get to witness the talent of former NHLer, and former 5th overall draft pick, Ric Jackman in lieu of their national team stars.