Russian Hockey

In my study of Russian Hockey, I’ll take a look at the impact Russian players have had on the NHL. This post will be about the best individual seasons. Let’s break it down further:

In league history, there have been five Hart Trophies for Most Valuable Player handed out to Russians. Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin tops the list with three Harts (’07-08-’08-09, ’12-13). Current Pittsurgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin took the award in 2012. Recently inducted Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov won it in ’93-94.

Fedorov became the first Russian born player to win the Hart during ’93-94. At age 24, he finished second in scoring with 120 points (56-64-120) in 82 contests for the Detroit Red Wings helping lead them to a division title. As noted in the previous post, Fedorov led the league with 39 even-strength goals and finished second in plus/minus (48). He also scored four shorthanded goals and was not surprisingly the Selke winner for top defensive forward. His big year was also recognized by his peers who elected him the Lester B. Pearson Award as MVP by the players.

Ovechkin won the first of three in ’07-08. At just 22, he lit it up with a league-leading 65 goals and 112 points taking home the Art Ross and Rocket Richard. How lethal was he? Ovechkin led in even strength goals (43) and power play goals (22) and game winners (11)  while pacing the league in shots (446). That dominant a season allowed him to win the Pearson. The Caps topped the old Southeast Division with 94 points returning to the postseason.

For an encore, Ovechkin repeated with a league best 56 markers, 56 assists and 110 points. He led the league with 36 goals coming at even strength. He still put up big numbers in power play (19) and game-winners (10) while recording a incredible league-leading 526 shots. His second postseason was also strong with 11 goals, 10 helpers for 21 points in 14 games. Unfortunately, the Caps fell to the rival Pens in a entertaining seven-game second round series. It remains the only one that matched up Ovechkin with Sidney Crosby. That could change in ’15-16.

Before Ovechkin won his third MVP, fellow Russian Malkin took home his first in ’11-12. Having already established himself with a Conn Smythe at age 22 when he followed up a career best 113 points (35-78-113) with a playoff-leading 36 points (14-22-36) in leading the Pens to a third Stanley Cup in ’08-09, the incredibly talented Malkin came back from injury to produce his first ever 50-goal season with 59 assists and a league-leading 109 points in 75 contests. Of his 50 goals, 37 were even strength and 22 were power play. For his effort, he also took home the Ted Lindsay Award which replaced the Pearson.

After a couple of down seasons, Ovechkin returned to form during the shortened season of 2013. He took home his third Hart tying Bobby Clarke, Mario Lemieux, Howie Morenz and Bobby Orr for the third most all-time. He can catch Eddie Shore (4) and possibly Gordie Howe (6). All-time leader Wayne Gretzky (9) looks unreachable. A strong finish allowed him to win the Rocket Richard with 32 goals. He tied for third in scoring with Crosby tallying 56 points (32-24-56) while playing in all 48 games. Ovechkin led the league in power play goals (16) and shots (220). For the third time in his career, he led the Caps to the second round but the Rangers eliminated them in a hard fought seven games. Unfortunately, that’s been a recurring theme for the emotional Washington leader. His team blew series leads of 3-2 in 2013 and 3-1 in 2015 to the Rangers losing in gut wrenching fashion last Spring in Round 2. On a better team that leads the East by a nice margin, Ovechkin has a chance to rewrite the script.

Throughout history, Russian players have led the NHL in scoring three times. Ovechkin was the first in ’07-08 with 112 points, Malkin followed suit with 110 in ’08-09. He won his second league scoring title in ’11-12 with 113.

The Rocket Richard count is at eight. Ovechkin is responsible for five. Ilya Kovalchuk has one and Pavel Bure won the award twice in ’99-00 and ’00-01 but also led the league in ’93-94. The award recognizing former Canadien legend Maurice Richard started in ’98-99 with Teemu Selanne fittingly winning it with 47.

While all three are deserving, the forgotten Russian who isn’t recognized is Alexander Mogilny. In ’92-93, Mogilny scored 76 goals to tie Selanne for the league lead. Playing in obscurity for the Buffalo Sabres, the electrifying Mogilny was a highlight reel while teaming with centerman Pat LaFontaine. His 76 goals in 77 games is one of the few marks that’s gotten lost. That’s basically a goal-per-game clip for a entire season. His 76 remain the most ever scored in a single season by a Russian born player. Mogilny also set the single season mark for most points by a Russian in ’92-93 with 127 (76-51-127).

Mogilny is an interesting case for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He doesn’t have the star power of Fedorov or Bure. But he did total 473 goals and 559 assists for 1,032 points in 990 career NHL games. Injuries limited his production. Had he been healthier, 500 goals would’ve been a lock along with 1,000 games. His final season was ’05-06 with the Devils when he totaled 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 34 contests. The bitter conclusion to an otherwise brilliant career has made him overlooked. He ranks second behind Fedorov in most points (1,032) as a Russian star. He was over a point-per-game and won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000. Will he be recognized?

Somewhat curiously, Kovalchuk has 816 points in 816 games. When he returned home to star in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for St. Petersburg SKA, Kovalchuk was at 417 goals with 399 assists. He last played in the NHL in ’12-13 totaling 11 goals and 31 points in 37 games. He’s still only 32. If he ever returned, 500 goals would be a lock as would 1,000 points. It remains to be seen.

Interestingly, Russia has never produced a Norris winner for top defenseman. They’ve had some excellent ones including former Rangers’ Cup hero Sergei Zubov and former Cap/Pen Sergei Gonchar. Both had superb careers that should be recognized. Gonchar played in 1,301 games for six teams (Caps, Bruins, Pens, Sens, Stars, Habs) totaling 220 goals and 591 assists for 811 points. The 811 are the most ever by a Russian defenseman in the NHL. Gonchar won a Cup with the Pens. He retired last year with Montreal posting a goal and 12 helpers in 45 contests.

Zubov is a two-time Cup winner (’94 Rangers, ’99 Stars) who tallied 152 goals, 619 assists and 771 points in 1,068 games. His last NHL season was ’08-09. Zubov played one season in the KHL with St. Petersburg SKA totaling 42 points (10-32-42) before retiring. He went out the right way.

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