After his SC Bern team was routed the Rangers 8-1 on Tuesday night at PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland, former NHL defenseman John Van Boxmeer, the home team’s coach said that the Blueshirts had clearly shown why the NHL was the best league in the world.
|Defenseman Karel Pilar is one of the more experienced ex-NHL player on Magnitogorsk's roster. He has played in 90 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a few against the Rangers. |
Today, in the inaugural Victoria Cup game, the Rangers will meet a more polished European team in Russia’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Even though Magnitogorsk is the reigning European Champions Cup winner and only season removed from the Russian Superleague title, it is still a significant underdog against any NHL team.
That’s not to say Magnitogorsk won’t present a challenge for the Rangers. Indeed, 10 of the players on this Continental Hockey League (KHL) team were once drafted into the NHL, and four of them actually played in the league -- a decrease from the Bern team, which had six former NHL players in its lineup. In addition, Metallurg’s No. 1 goaltender, Andrei Mezin, saw considerable North American playing time during the 1990s, when he spent five years in the minor leagues.
Ironically, the highest scorer on Magnitogorsk’s team is a former Rangers draft pick. Jan Marek, a Czech player taken by the Rangers in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, never came over to North America, instead choosing to remain in the Czech Republic and later play in Russia.
The Rangers eventually traded Marek’s rights to Los Angeles in the 2007 Sean Avery
deal, but Marek still balked at the idea of playing NHL hockey and is now in his third season with Magnitogorsk.
Marek, one of the smallest players on his team, leads Magnitogorsk with eight goals and 16 points in 11 games. He is a European scoring dynamo, and Rangers fans will at least today get a chance to see what might have been had Marek been willing to try his hand at the NHL game.
From an NHL perspective, the biggest name on the Magnitogorsk team that the Rangers face today is forward Stanislav Chistov, a former No. 5 overall draft pick of Anaheim in 2001. Chistov played 196 NHL games for the Ducks and Bruins, scoring 19 goals and 61 assists. He never lived up to his high first-round draft pick status, but he can certainly skate with the Rangers players.
Other former NHL players with Magnitogorsk include Alexei Kaigorodov, a second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2002. Ravil Gusmanov, a fourth-round pick of Winnipeg in 1993, and defenseman Karel Pilar, a second-round Toronto draft choice in 2001.
Kaigorodov played only six NHL games for Ottawa, and Gusmanov played only four for Winnipeg, where the team trainer was current Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay. Pilar, however, saw 90 games of action with the Maple Leafs and played much of the 2003-04 season. Last year, he was a teammate of Rangers prospect Brian Fahey in Chicago, where the two won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup championship.
Two of the other NHL draftees on Magnitogorsk’s roster, Vladislav Boulin and Denis Platonov, played briefly in the minor leagues. Platonov was a third-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2001 and is third on Magnitogorsk in scoring with six points in 11 games this season.
Another player to watch on Magnitogorsk is defenseman Vladimir Malenkikh, a Penguins’ fifth-rounder in 1999 who never came to North America. The same was true of defenseman Vitaly Atyushov, a Senators ninth-round choice in 2002, defenseman Alexander Seluyanov, a Red Wings fourth-rounder in 2000, and forwards Nikolai Zavarukhin, a Devils seventh-round selecdtion in 1993, Jaroslav Kudrna, San Jose’s sixth-rounder in 1995, and Evgeny Fedorov, selected by Los Angeles in the 2002 draft.
On paper, at least, Magnitogorsk is a stronger team than Bern and used to tougher competition. What remains to be seen today, however, is whether one of the better KHL teams can truly compete with a team from “the best league in the world.”
Today’s winner will receive the Victoria Cup, a new IIHF trophy designed to promote annual exhibition games between the NHL and European league clubs.