was always considered a thinking man's hockey player.
That probably factored into his becoming the sixth Russian-born inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame back in 2008. But following a much heralded international career and 14 seasons in the NHL, Larionov now finds himself thinking for others as a player agent.
Two of his clients this season just so happen to be the top two prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list of the top 25 skaters from the Ontario Hockey League -- teammates Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting. Yakupov is listed No. 1 and Galchenyuk, despite being sidelined by injury, is No. 2.
Yakupov is considered by many as the frontrunner to become the first Russian-born player since Alex Ovechkin
in 2004 to be selected with the No. 1 pick. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, is on the mend after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 27.
What advantage does Yakupov have that Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk
or Evgeni Malkin
didn't in their draft years? He'll already have spent two seasons perfecting his craft in North America prior to hearing his name announced at the podium on June 22 in Pittsburgh.
"Nail has always been a big fan of the North American game … the fact it was more physical and played at a more intense level than in Europe. His mindset was to be the top guy, and he said during his first press conference in Sarnia that he wanted to learn how to play a 68-to-80 game season that's physical and fast. That's why he decided to play in North America."
-- Igor Larionov on Nail Yakupov
"Nail has always been a big fan of the North American game … the fact it was more physical and played at a more intense level than in Europe," Larionov told NHL.com. "His mindset was to be the top guy, and he said during his first press conference in Sarnia that he wanted to learn how to play a 68-to-80 game season that's physical and fast. That's why he decided to play in North America."
Larionov, who was part of the "Russian Five" in Detroit with Sergei Fedorov
, Slava Kozlov, Viacheslav Fetisov
and Vladimir Konstantinov
, has but one concern regarding the future of his young clients.
"It's up to coaches and GMs in the NHL not to take away what they each can bring to the game," he said. "It's easy to tell the boys to keep it simple, that it's not junior hockey anymore. But that requires the boys to be in the right hands with the right people. That's my biggest concern right now."
After winning a pair of World Junior Championships, two Olympic gold medals, four World Championships, a Canada Cup and three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, who would argue with Larionov?
"I can tell the boys what to expect all I want, but it ultimately will come down to the mentality of the coaches on the teams they are going to," Larionov said. "Everybody wants to have that player with the defensive style, but at some point, there has to be a balance. I've always believed that if you control the puck, you control the game; it's the perfect combination."
Larionov, who is based in Michigan, was almost 29-years-old when he broke into the NHL during the 1989-90 season with the Vancouver Canucks
. He said he isn't too surprised with the way in which today's young players are entering the League and having an impact.
"It's different than when I first broke in as a 29-year-old; these kids are already playing here and they already speak English," Larionov said. "They can play the North American game; they are physical and can score the goals. They'll have less time to make decisions, but their skill will prevail and they'll make those plays. They aren't small players, but it is a bigger, harder game."
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Larionov, considered to be one the finest passers in League history, had 17 goals and 44 points in 74 games in his first of three seasons in Vancouver. He'd ultimately finish his career with 169 goals, 475 assists and 644 points in 921 contests.
"The boys who can play in this League at a young age are those kids who seem to be way ahead of their peers," Larionov said. "They understand their position, can manage the physical aspect and have the skills, speed and vision that's needed. If you have that all in one package, that'll make you tops in your age group."
Larionov said that Galchenyuk is currently rehabbing three times a week in London, Ont.
"He's anxious to get back on the ice as soon as possible, but I guess you have to be patient, especially at this age," Larionov said. "The rehab is going really well for him and at 17, there's no rush and no timetable to put him back on the ice. The way rehab is going and if he has the right focus, I think he could be back on the ice this season."
Galchenyuk, whose father played for Belarus at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, was born in Milwaukee during a time when dad played for the Admirals of the International Hockey League. The younger Galchenyuk, who suited up for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka
Memorial over the summer, has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Russia.
Yakupov and Galchenyuk finished first and second, respectively, in scoring among OHL rookies in 2010-11. Yakupov was named the Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year after producing 101 points (49 goals) in 65 games. Galchenyuk had 83 points (31 goals) in 68 games.
Larionov was asked to describe each player in a word.
"With my English?" he said, laughing. "Well, they are both multi-talented. Nail is a game-breaker because he's deadly in any part of the game; he sees the ice so well and is always having so much fun out there.
"Alex is like a conductor; he's a guy who can control the game and makes really good decisions. But both of them are special. They play in the defensive end as well, so they're not just one-dimensional."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale