The Los Angeles Kings
are holding Russian Heritage Night on Thursday to mark a rare visit from Alex Ovechkin
and the Washington Capitals
Players from Russia and the former Soviet Union have made an indelible mark on the NHL in the nearly 20 years since Sergei Priakin
debuted with the Calgary Flames
in March 1989. A Russian player (Alexander Ovechkin) won the scoring title and MVP awards last season, and two Russian-born players (Evgeni Malkin
and Alexander Semin
) are 1-2 in the scoring race this season.
Here's our all-time two-deep team of Russian and Soviet players since that time, with a minimum of three NHL seasons needed to qualify (listed alphabetically within positions):
Pavel Bure --
Few players lived up to their nicknames as well as Bure. "The Russian Rocket" might still be terrorizing NHL goaltenders today if his knees hadn't given out. Bure was chosen by Vancouver in the sixth round of the 1989 Entry Draft, scored 34 goals as a rookie in 1991-92 and followed by back-to-back 60-goal seasons, something no one has done since. He began to be plagued by injuries, but in the three other seasons in which he played 70 or more games, Bure broke the 50-goal mark. He retired at age 32 in 2003 with 437 goals in just 702 games. There was not an NHL goalie who wasn't glad to see Bure hang up his skates.
Sergei Fedorov --
Now the holder of the NHL records for goals, assists and points by a Russian-born player, Fedorov is still one of the League's top skaters as he approaches his 39th birthday. He was drafted by Detroit in 1989, defected to North America during the 1990 Goodwill Games and quickly became an elite player, winning the 1994 Hart Trophy as League MVP as well as the Selke and Lester Pearson trophies. He was a member of Detroit's Cup-winning teams in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and would like to make it four Cups with Washington this season.
Alexander Mogilny --
Mogilny's defection from the powerful Soviet team at the World Junior Championships in Sweden (he, Bure and Fedorov were the designated successors to the famed "KLM Line" of Vladimir Krutov
, Igor Larionov
and Sergei Makarov
) stunned the hockey world and turned out to be a key point in opening the door for Russians and Eastern Europeans to play in the NHL. Mogilny had 15 goals as a rookie in 1989-90, increased his total to 30 and 39, then lit up the League with 76 goals and 127 points in 1992-93. He never had that kind of success again, but did put up 55 goals with Vancouver in 1995-96 and 43 for New Jersey in 2000-01, after coming to the Devils at the 2000 trade deadline and helping them win the Stanley Cup. Only injuries prevented him from becoming the first Russian player to reach 1,000 points (Fedorov got there a few games earlier).
Alexander Ovechkin --
Few players in NHL history show the enjoyment of the game that Ovechkin does -- his leaps into the glass after scoring a goal have become a staple of highlight reels. The No. 1 pick in the 2004 Entry Draft won the Calder Trophy in 2005-06 (beating out Sidney Crosby
) by scoring 52 goals and 106 points. He followed that with 46 goals and 92 points in his second season, then led the Washington Capitals
to the Southeast Division title last season with 65 goals and 112 points. There is no more dangerous offensive force in the NHL today, and perhaps no player who's as much fun to watch. Here's the scary part for goaltenders: He's just 23 -- and still getting better.
Ilya Kovalchuk --
Kovalchuk became the first Russian player to be chosen No. 1 when the Atlanta Thrashers
took him first in the 2001 Entry Draft. He opted to wear No. 17 in honor of 1970s Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov. Kovalchuk had 29 goals and 51 points in 65 games as a rookie, finishing second to teammate Dany Heatley
in the Calder Trophy race. He improved to 38 and 41 goals in his next two seasons, then broke out with 52 in 2005-06, when he set a career best with 98 points. He fell to 42 goals in 2006-07 but fired home 52 again last season. At age 25, he entered this season needing just 46 goals to reach 300.
Igor Larionov --
Numbers don't tell the whole story about Larionov, who spans two eras of Russian/Soviet hockey and was brilliant in both of them. He was the man in the middle of the famed "KLM Line," which helped the Soviets dominate international hockey throughout the 1980s. In 1989, at age 29, he came over to the NHL and played for 15 seasons. Most of that time was spent with Detroit, where he was a key part of Cup-winning teams in 1997, 1998 and 2002. His overall list of accomplishments, in addition to the three Cups: two Olympic gold medals, four World Championship golds, the 1981 Canada Cup championship and two World Junior Championship titles.
Viacheslav Fetisov --
Fetisov starred for the famed Central Red Army and Soviet National teams for more than a decade, earning the reputation as "the Russian Bobby Orr
," before getting permission to join the NHL's New Jersey Devils
in 1989. "I had played for the Red Army," Fetisov explained at the start of his first NHL season. "I had won world championships and the Olympics. There was nothing left to prove anymore. Playing in the NHL was the next plateau for me. That's why I came." He spent six seasons with the Devils before moving to Detroit, where he and the rest of the "Russian Five" were keys to the Wings' Cup win in 1997.
Sergei Gonchar --
During the past 12 seasons, few NHL defensemen have put up offensive numbers that can match Gonchar's. Washington's No. 1 pick in the 1992 Entry Draft joined the Caps in 1995 and has hit double figures in goals 11 times since then, including a career-high of 26 with the Caps in 2001-02. Washington dealt Gonchar to Boston in 2003-04, and he signed with Pittsburgh for the 2005-06 season. He's averaged more than 63 points in his three seasons with Pittsburgh while becoming a more complete player, and was a key factor in Pittsburgh's run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.
Andrei Markov --
The Montreal Canadiens
had no idea of the player they were getting when they chose Markov in the sixth round of the 1998 Entry Draft. Since joining the Habs in 2000-01, after being named the Russian League's MVP the previous season, Markov has been one of the most reliable blueliners in the NHL and a key reason for the improvement of the Canadiens. He had career highs of 16 goals and 58 points last season while making the All-Star Game for the first time. It won't be the last.
Sergei Zubov --
Want to win a trivia contest? Ask your friends who led the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers
in scoring in 1993-94. Believe it or not, the answer is Zubov, who led the Rangers with 77 assists and 89 points. Zubov has more points than any other Russian-born NHL defenseman. After three seasons in New York and one in Pittsburgh, Zubov is now in his 12th season with the Dallas Stars
and has quietly built a career that will make him a serious Hall of Fame candidate when he retires. Few players have been better at moving the puck, quarterbacking the power play -- and doing the job with a minimum of hype.
Nikolai Khabibulin --
The Winnipeg Jets struck gold when they chose Khabibulin in the ninth round of the 1992 Entry Draft. He came up to the NHL with the Jets in 1994-95 and led them to the playoffs the following season. Khabibulin stayed with the franchise when it moved to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season, leading the Coyotes to three consecutive playoff berths. After holding out for a season, Khabibulin was dealt to Tampa Bay in March 2001 and re-emerged as a premier goaltender, capping his time in Tampa by leading the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He signed with Chicago in 2005 and has played with the Blackhawks since then. He entered 2008-09 with 274 career wins, the most by a Russian-born goaltender.
Evgeni Nabokov --
Last season's Vezina Trophy runner-up is the first Russian goaltender (he was born in a part of the Soviet Union that's now part of Kazakhstan but plays for Russia internationally) to be named a First-Team All-Star. The San Jose Sharks
took Nabokov sight-unseen in the ninth round of the 1994 Entry Draft, but he didn't play his first NHL game until six years later. In his first start (Jan. 19, 2000), he made 39 saves while battling Patrick Roy
to a scoreless tie. He won the Calder Trophy in 2001, when he won 32 games with a 2.19 goals-against average, and has been among the NHL's best since then. "Nabby" won a career-high 46 games with the Sharks last season -- and after they were eliminated from the playoffs, led Russia to the gold medal at the World Championships.
Contact John Kreiser at email@example.com