Nathaniel Oliver The Hockey Writers
The NHL’s Top-50 Russians of All-Time
The very first Russian-born and trained player to make it to the NHL was Victor Nechayev. Upon marrying an American woman that allowed him entry into the USA, Nechayev played one season of professional hockey in North America. That included three games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 1982-83 season, one of which saw him score a goal.
Nearly a decade would pass before the league would see a major influx of Russians, as the Iron Curtain began to crumble.
Sergei Pryakhin was the first Russian allowed exodus, and he promptly joined the Calgary Flames. Alexander Mogilny defected to join the Buffalo Sabres, and is still the only Russian to eclipse the 70-goal mark. More former Soviets would quickly become NHL superstars as well, while the 1993-94 New York Rangers would become the first team with Russian players to get their names inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Since that time, Russians are seemingly as commonplace in the NHL as any other nationality – “every team has one”, so to speak. THW takes a look through nearly 40 years of history (yes, we even considered Nechayev) to determine the league’s Top-50 Russians of all-time.
Here is who we came up with.
50. Yuri Khmylev
(Buffalo, St. Louis)
Affectionately called “The Yuro-Train” during his time in Buffalo, Khmylev made his NHL debut at the age of 28. He had back-to-back 20-goal seasons in 1992-93 and 1993-94, while seeing occasional time alongside Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny. Khmylev eventually became more of a defensively-focused player, and would briefly be linemates with Wayne Gretzky followed a trade to St. Louis.
49. Igor Ulanov
(Winnipeg, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Edmonton, New York Rangers, Florida)
Nicknamed “The Mangler” throughout his career, Ulanov was a punishing force on defense for parts of 13 seasons. At 6-foot-2 and well over 200 pounds, he was mean and ornery but never got enough credit for having sound positioning on the ice. Ulanov played 739 regular season games, and chalked up 1,151 penalty minutes in that time.
48. Ilya Bryzgalov
(Anaheim, Phoenix/Arizona, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Minnesota)
Too many people recall Bryzgalov as being more of an oddity, that they forget he was also a talented goaltender. He would win a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07, and eventually became a starting goaltender in the league once he moved onto the Coyotes and Flyers. Bryzgalov’s career numbers came out to 221-162-0-54, with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
47. Igor Kravchuk
(Chicago, Edmonton, St. Louis, Ottawa, Calgary, Florida)
Kravchuk was solid defensively, and possessed an offensive touch as well. In his very first NHL season (1991-92), he helped the Blackhawks reach the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would play 11 more seasons after that. Kravchuk’s finest campaign was 1992-93 with the Oilers when he went 12-38-50 – all career highs – in 81 games.
46. Danil Markov
(Toronto, Phoenix/Arizona, Carolina, Philadelphia, Nashville, Detroit)
A tireless, fearless defender, Markov could take a hit and give one in return. He once infamously took stitches below his eye without any anesthetic in order to keep playing. Three times Markov played for teams that reached the Stanley Cup semi-final round across his nine NHL seasons.
45. Boris Mironov
(Edmonton, Winnipeg, Chicago, New York Rangers)
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Mironov could be a very physical defender – especially in the earlier part of his career – but he possessed a noticeable offensive upswing. Four times in his 11 seasons he would surpass 100 PIMs – all of them happening within his first six campaigns. Mironov also scored at least 30 points from the back end on six different occasions as well.
44. Alexander Frolov
(Los Angeles, New York Rangers)
Frolov had seven good seasons on the West Coast with the Kings, but then disappeared after a season-ending ACL injury during his lone year in the Big Apple. A two-time 30-goal scorer, he hit double digits in goals from 2002-03 through 2009-10 – all with Los Angeles. After his stint with the Rangers in 2010-11, Frolov finished out his career in the KHL.
43. Dmitri Mironov
(Toronto, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Detroit, Washington)
Possessing a very similar build and style to that of his younger brother Boris, the elder Mironov was the more offensive of the two. In 10 NHL seasons, Dmitri Mironov recorded five straight seasons (excluding the 1994-95 lockout) of at least 30 points as a blueliner. His career high of 52 (13-39-52) came in 1996-97. Mironov won the Stanley Cup with the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.
42. Oleg Tverdovsky
(Anaheim, Winnipeg, Phoenix/Arizona, New Jersey, Carolina, Los Angeles)
Though born in Ukraine, Tverdovsky developed his game in Russia and represented the country internationally. A highly gifted offensive-defenseman, he recorded at least 50 points in a season on three separate occasions. Perhaps best thought of as a Duck, Tverdovsky won two Stanley Cups in his career – one with the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils and one with the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes.
41. Maxim Afinogenov
When Afinogenov arrived on the scene in Buffalo in 1999-00, he seemed destined to become the next Pavel Bure. With lightning-speed and exhilarating rushes, he thrilled Sabres fans for nine seasons. The trouble was that as fast as Afinogenov was, his scoring could not keep pace. He never scored more than 24 goals in a season, and that came during his lone and final NHL campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers. Three times he scored at least 20 for Buffalo, but he could never fully harness his raw talent.
40. Andrei Kovalenko
(Quebec, Colorado, Montreal, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Carolina, Boston)
Kovalenko was nicknamed “The Tank”. While standing a modest 5-foot-11, he weighed 230 pounds and was very sturdy in front of the net. Kovalenko possessed a decent scoring touch, and generated double digits in goals for all but one of his nine NHL seasons. His highest total came in 1996-97 when he potted 32 for the Oilers.
39. Alexander Karpovtsev
(New York Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, New York Islanders, Florida)
Though some dogged him later in his career as being a “lazy” player, Karpovtsev was nonetheless a very talented defender. He possessed good size at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, and could contribute offensively. His finest season came in 1996-97 when he finished second among Rangers blueliners in scoring (9-29-38), and fed off of the play of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves. He was one of the first Russians to have his named etched onto the Stanley Cup in 1994. Very sadly, we lost Karpovtsev in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy in 2011.
38. Valeri Bure
(Montreal, Calgary, Florida, St. Louis, Dallas)
Though not as high-scoring as his more renowned older brother, Valeri Bure could still put pucks home. He would surpass the 20-goal plateau five times during his career. When Bure tallied a career-high 35 goals in 1999-00 for the Flames, he and his older brother set the NHL record (93) for most goals in a season by a pair of siblings. He finished her career with 400 points (174 G, 226 A) in 621 games.
37. Alexander Semin
(Washington, Carolina, Montreal)
An incredibly gifted scorer, Semin could have been one of the greats but earned a reputation as being lackadaisical or lazy at times. Still, his god-given talent cannot be ignored. In nine of his 11 NHL seasons, Semin reached double digits. He was at least a point-per-game player in three different seasons, and scored 40 goals in 73 games for the 2009-10 Washington Capitals.
36. Artemi Panarin
(Chicago, Columbus, New York Rangers)
“The Bread Man” is about to embark on the Big Apple portion of his NHL career, but has already established himself as one of the more skillful Russians to have graced the league. Joining the Blackhawks in 2015-16 after seven KHL seasons, Panarin scored 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie to win the Calder. During his two seasons for the Blue Jackets, he scored at better than a point-per-game pace.
35. Viktor Kozlov
(San Jose, Florida, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Washington)
Kozlov was selected 8th overall in 1993 by the Sharks, and it wasn’t difficult to see why. He stood 6-foot-4 and over 230 pounds in a time when bigger always seemed better. Kozlov would end up playing 14 seasons in the NHL, almost half of which were spent with the Panthers. He would score at least 12 goals in 11 of those campaigns, and finished his career with 198.
34. Alexei Zhitnik
(Los Angeles, Buffalo, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Atlanta)
Zhitnik was born in Ukraine during Soviet times, but played internationally for Russia. He could score from the blueline and possessed a cannon of a shot as well (though sometimes he had difficulty in hitting the net). Across his career, Zhitnik played in two Stanley Cup Finals but never won the Cup. On Feb. 20, 2007, he became the eighth defenseman from outside of North America to play 1,000 regular season games.
33. Vladimir Malakhov
(New York Islanders, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Philadelphia)
A behemoth on defense, Malakhov stood 6-foot-4 and near the 230-pound mark. Aside from his hulking figure, he also possessed a great deal of offensive capabilities. In his rookie NHL season, Malakhov had 52 points (14G, 38A) in 64 games. Five times he scored at least 10 goals in a season. He was one of four Russians to win the Cup with the Devils in 1999-00.
32. Alexei Gusarov
(Quebec, Colorado, New York Rangers, St. Louis)
Gusarov was another Soviet-era player who made the jump to the NHL in his late-20s. He would join the Nordiques in 1990-91, and remained with the franchise on into the 2000-01 season. Possessing a touch of offense to his game, Gusarov was also very tough and was instrumental to the Avalanche during their rivalry years with Detroit. He would help the Avs win the Cup in 1995-96.
31. Sergei Samsonov
(Boston, Edmonton, Montreal, Chicago, Carolina, Florida)
After potting 22 goals for the Bruins in 1997-98, Samsonov was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. He would end up scoring at least 19 goals for the next four seasons after that. Samsonov would help the Edmonton Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2005-06, after coming over in a trade from Boston. He would scored 235 goals across 13 seasons.
30. Alexander Radulov
(Nashville, Montreal, Dallas)
Radulov’s game has matured through his three separate chapters in the NHL. Highly-skilled but aggravatingly youthful during his time with the Preds, he has since blossomed into a go-to player in Dallas. Radulov’s first six seasons saw him record 300 points (121G, 179A) in 382 games.
29. Igor Korolev
(St. Louis, Winnipeg, Phoenix/Arizona, Toronto, Chicago)
Korolev was one of the hardest working players in the game during his time. His finest years came as a member of the Maple Leafs when he recorded double digits in goals in all four seasons in Toronto. Though his scoring tapered off at times, he remained defensively responsible throughout his career. Korolev’s life was cut short by the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash.
28. Dmitri Yushkevich
(Philadelphia, Toronto, Florida, Los Angeles)
A superb shot-blocker, Yushkevich developed a reputation as being a fearless battler throughout his entire career. He grew into being a top-4 defenseman, and ended up playing 786 regular season games. Seven of his 11 NHL seasons were in a Maple Leafs uniform. If there was ever a defender who typified the word tireless, it would be Yushkevich.
27. Sergei Makarov
(Calgary, San Jose, Dallas)
Makarov was one of greatest Soviet hockey players to ever lace ’em up. He would receive Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2016, namely due to his play prior to his NHL career. Make no mistake though, Makarov was a topnotch NHLer as well. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie as a 31-year-old, which cause the NHL to institute an age limit for the award. Twice he was a 30-goal scorer – once with the Flames and once with the Sharks.
26. Evgeny Kuznetsov
Not only did Kuznetsov win the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, he was the team’s leading scorer in the postseason with 32 points (12G, 20a) in 24 games. He set career highs in the 2017-18 season as well, both for goals (27) and points (83). He will keep fans in the D.C. area entertained for many years to come.
25. Sergei Nemchinov
(New York Rangers, Vancouver, New York Islanders, New Jersey)
Like Karpovtsev and two other Russians who made our list, Nemchinov was one of the first from his country to win the Stanley Cup when the Rangers did so in 1994. He would win a second one in 2000 as a member of the Devils. Nemchinov scored 30 goals in his rookie season of 1991-92, and was the first player in NHL history to play for all three “Hudson River” teams – the Rangers, Islanders and Devils.
24. Sergei Brylin
If there was a most underrated player on our list, it would have to be Sergei Brylin. He played 12 NHL seasons – all with the Devils – and was a member of their Cup-winning teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003. Brylin’s finest season came in 2000-01 when he set career highs in goals (23), assists (29) and points (52).
23. Andrei Markov
Markov has suffered a lot of injuries in his career, but his time spent in the NHL saw him become one of the most steadfast defenders in the league regardless. In 990 games, he generated 572 points (119G, 453A) from the back end. Seven times Markov generated at least 35 assists in a season. Twice he finished in the top-10 in voting for the Norris Trophy.
22. Vladimir Tarasenko
Tarasenko is easily one of the most dynamic players in the game today. He has scored at least 33 goals for the Blues for five seasons straight. Tarasenko finished second on the team in playoff goals during their Cup-run in 2018-19. Now that he has that Cup and is showing no signs of slowing down, he will likely have earned a much higher spot on our list by the time he has retired. Many wonder if Tarasenko can become the first Blues player since 1993-94 to reach 50 goals in a season.
21. Valeri Kamensky
(Quebec, Colorado, New York Rangers, Dallas, New Jersey)
Kamensky was another key component for the Avalanche during their rivalry years with the Red Wings, and one of the team’s premier scorers. When the Avs won the Cup in 1995-96, Kamensky scored 38 goals that season, plus another 10 during the playoffs. He would finish his NHL career having scored 200 regular season goals in 637 games.
20. Viacheslav Fetisov
(New Jersey, Detroit)
In his younger years, Fetisov was widely considered the best defenseman in the world. He would eventually make his NHL debut with the 1989-90 Devils at the age of 31. Playing until the age of 40, Fetisov appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals with the Red Wings, and won the Cup in 1997 and 1998. Despite the late start, he still managed to record 228 points (36G, 192A) in 546 games.
19. Evgeni Nabokov
(San Jose, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay)
Though born in Kazakhstan during Soviet times, Nabokov primarily represented Russia on the international scene. He would win the Calder Trophy in 2000-01 when he went 32-21-7 for the Sharks and put forth a 2.19 goals-against and a .915 SV%. Nabokov was named to the First All-Star Team in 2008, and finished in the top-5 in voting for the Vezina Trophy on five different occasions.
18. Vladimir Konstantinov
Were it not for the tragic accident that cut his career short, Konstantinov may have had a Hall of Fame career. He was nicknamed “Vlad the Impaler”, and with good reason – there were very few who could bodycheck as well as he could. Konstantinov earned the NHL Plus/Minus Award in 1995–96, with a brilliant plus-60. Though not overly large, he was solid like steel and his hits were devastating. Konstantinov would win the Cup with the Red Wings in 1997, and had his name included with the 1998 team as well.
17. Alexei Yashin
(Ottawa, New York Islanders)
As much as Yashin was criticized during his career for what was felt to be a failure to show up in the playoffs, he was still a very talented hockey player. Contract disputes certainly did not help either, but Yashin scored at least 30 goals in half of his dozen NHL campaigns. He was a Second All-Star Team selection in 1998-99, and finished second in voting for the Hart Trophy that season as well.
16. Vyacheslav Kozlov
(Detroit, Buffalo, Atlanta)
A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Red Wings, Slava Kozlov was one of the most consistent scorers of his generation. Playing parts of 18 NHL seasons, he scored at least 20 goals in a season 11 different times. Even while with the lowly Thrashers for his final seven campaigns, Kozlov had 70-point seasons four times.
15. Nikita Kucherov
Though still early on, it appears that Kucherov is in the process of assembling a Hockey Hall of Fame career. For six straight seasons his point totals have increased for the Lightning. Kucherov reached the 100-point plateau both in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Scoring 128 points (41G, 87A) in 2018-19, he earned the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. Now all he needs is a Stanley Cup.
14. Nikolai Khabibulin
(Winnipeg, Phoenix/Arizona, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Edmonton)
Khabibulin was the first Russian goaltender to win the Stanley Cup when he did so with the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning. His 333 career victories make him one of only 36 goalies to have recorded 300 wins. A four-time NHL All-Star, Khabibulin finished his career with 46 career shutouts.
13. Alexei Kovalev
(New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Florida)
Kovalev is widely recognized one of the most gifted individual players to appear in the league. He won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in only his sophomore NHL season. His 21 playoff points were third most on that particular team, behind Brian Leetch and Mark Messier. Kovalev would go on to score 430 goals in his NHL career.
12. Alexei Zhamnov
(Winnipeg, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston)
Nicknamed “Archie” for his red hair and resemblance to the comic character, Zhamnov was an exceptionally talented center who was strong both ways. Beginning with his rookie season in 1992-93, he scored at least 20 goals for eight consecutive seasons. In the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, Zhamnov reached a career-high of 30 goals in only 48 games. Injuries slowed him down later in his career, but his talent was always frustratingly underrated.
11. Sergei Bobrovsky
(Philadelphia, Columbus, Florida )
It is very hard to find a finer goaltender – Russian or otherwise – than Sergei Bobrovsky. He is the top netminder on our list, having won the Vezina Trophy in 2012-13 and 2016-17. Bobrovsky’s 2.06 GAA and .931 SV% across 63 games for the Blue Jackets in 2016-17 are simply staggering. Now with the Panthers, he begins the next chapter in what could be a Hockey Hall of Fame career.
10. Sergei Gonchar
(Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Dallas, Montreal)
There is a likelihood that Sergei Gonchar receives Hockey Hall of Fame induction someday. Few Russian defenders have been more offensively potent. He was an NHL Second All-Star Team selection in 2002 and 2003, and was picked to play in the All-Star Game in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2008. Twice he surpassed 20 goals in a season, despite being a blueliner. Gonchar earned a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009, and finished his career with 811 points (220G, 591A) in 1,301 games.
9. Ilya Kovalchuk
(Atlanta, New Jersey, Los Angeles)
During his prime, Kovalchuk was arguably the purest sniper in the NHL. He won the “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2003-04 when he tallied 41 goals in 81 games. Kovalchuk would follow that up with seasons of 52, 42, 52 and 43 respectively, before dropping more into the 30s. Had he not gone to play in the KHL from 2013-14 through 2017-18, he would have hit the 500-goal plateau a long time ago. Kovalchuk still may reach the mark regardless.
8. Igor Larionov
(Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Florida, New Jersey)
Larionov was known as “The Professor” for his intellectual approach, his soft-spoken nature and his glasses. He was also one of the finest hockey players to ever skate. Enough so, that throughout the 1980s prior to his arrival in North America, he was thought of as a “Russian Gretzky”. Larionov won three Stanley Cups, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.
7. Evgeni Malkin
When it comes to sheer power combined with skill, there is no other Russian like Malkin – and few other players for that matter. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he has been a beast his entire career but with an elite level of talent. Malkin has surpassed 100 points in a season three times, and led the league in scoring in 2008-09 and 2011-12. He has three Stanley Cup rings, a Hart Memorial Trophy, a Calder Trophy, a Conn Smythe, and a Ted Lindsay in addition to his two Art Ross wins.
6. Sergei Zubov
(New York Rangers, Dallas Stars)
Zubov is the highest-ranking defenseman on our list. He was named a 2019 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Zubov won two Stanley Cups in his career – first with the Rangers in 1994, and then with Dallas in 1999. Eight times he surpassed 50 points in a season, and led the “Blueshirts” in scoring when they ended their 54-year curse. Zubov finished his career with 771 points in 1,068 games.
5. Pavel Datsyuk
Were it not for the player who is ranked at the top of our list, we would probably have considered Datysuk the best all-around Russian to have ever graced the NHL. Nicknamed “The Magic Man”, he is able to do things with a puck that no other player could ever duplicate. Two Stanley Cups, over 900 points, three Selke Trophies, four Lady Byngs – pretty much every reason for Datsyuk to be in the top-5.
4. Pavel Bure
(Vancouver, Florida, New York Rangers)
“The Russian Rocket” was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, and deservedly so. There was arguably no player more exhilarating from his generation than Bure. Twice in his career he scored 60 goals in a season. Three other times he reached 50. Bure’s blinding speed, cannon of a shot, and pure “thrill factor” place him at fourth on our list.
3. Alexander Mogilny
(Buffalo, Vancouver, New Jersey, Toronto)
It is a travesty that Mogilny has not yet been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Were it not for hip and back injuries, his numbers would have been even more prolific. Still, Mogilny generated 1,032 points (473 G, 559 A) in 990 games. Eight times he reached at least 30 goals in a season, including 76 in 1992-93. He also won the Cup in 1999-00.
2. Alex Ovechkin
As each season passes, Ovechkin furthers the conclusion that he is the NHL’s all-time greatest goal scorer. Having scored 658 times by the time he turned 33, there is speculation that he could even reach Gretzky’s mark of 894 for tops overall. Only time with tell, but Ovie has got his Stanley Cup (2018) and will likely set scoring marks that no other Russian will ever duplicate.
1. Sergei Fedorov
(Detroit, Anaheim, Columbus, Washington)
Fedorov is tops on our list for being the best all-around Russian in NHL history, and one of the best all-around players ever. He could play forward or defense, or whatever way the great Scotty Bowman chose to utilize him. Fedorov was the first Russian to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau. He won three Stanley Cups, two Selke Trophies, one Hart Memorial Trophy, one Lester B. Pearson, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
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