Vyacheslav "Slava" Kozlov is stronger today than when he first broke into the League as a 19-year-old rookie almost two decades ago.
And he has the numbers to prove it.
In his first eight full seasons in the League with the Detroit Red Wings
, Kozlov averaged 73 games and 51 points. During his past six campaigns with the Atlanta Thrashers
, the Russian winger has averaged 80 games and 65 points.
Surprised? You shouldn't be.
Fact is the 37-year-old Kozlov has been a study in bodily preservation -- he's a gym rat. Only one season removed from offseason knee and shoulder surgery, the former member of Detroit's famed "Russian Five" amassed 26 goals and 76 points in 82 games in 2008-09.
He's already established a franchise record in Atlanta for consecutive games played with 201, including back-to-back 82-game grinds. He was even a nominee for the Bill Masterton
Memorial Trophy this past season as the NHL player who best exemplified the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey on the Thrashers.
More than anything, Kozlov is a player capable of taking some heat off captain Ilya Kovalchuk
, his Russian teammate.
For Kozlov, the 2008-09 season was a nice turnaround following a tumultuous 2007-08 campaign in which he, despite playing in pain, still finished fourth on the team with 41 points.
"To be honest with you, I knew the knee and shoulder were bothering me, but it was no big deal at the time," Kozlov told NHL.com. "I played through the pain but then had the surgery in the summer (of 2007). I spent a lot of time in the gym over the summer (in 2008) to fully recover and it worked out pretty well for me. I'm always taking care of my body and watch what I eat and drink. I try and stay away from junk foods; I still love this game and in order to keep up with the guys, I have to work even harder off the ice."
Now in the final year of a three-year extension he received just prior to the 2007-08 season, Kozlov is out to prove that his strict offseason regimen will pay dividends once again.
"I feel pretty good, but the years take your speed away," he said. "I don't think I'm fast like I used to be, but in this game, you can use partners and you can compensate your speed with experience and playing a little different role."
Even though Atlanta has only qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in Kozlov's six seasons with the club, the native of Voskresensk, Russia, is still having a ball playing the game he loves.
"We brought in a new coach last year and a new system, so it takes time," Kozlov said. "I know it's been a tough time and we didn't make the playoffs last year but we played well at the end of the season and we played for each other and that was great."
Kozlov feels Atlanta General Manager Don Waddell and coach John Anderson
have the club headed in the right direction.
"We got new guys and play different system so we needed time to adjust," Kozlov said. "Sometimes it takes two or three months, but it could take longer. I think we're in good shape entering this season."