It was not long ago that Russian hockey players were barred from playing in the NHL by the Soviet Union. Historically, the fall of the Soviet Union was not even that long ago, less than 30 years. So how and when did Russian players make the move to play in the National Hockey League?
In an historic move, Sergei Priakin signed with the Calgary Flames in March 1989, becoming the first USSR athlete allowed to play for a professional, North American team. Not too long after, many others joined Priakin and it didn’t take long for the Russian players to show how valuable they are to their American teams.
Some of the best players to skate on an NHL rink come from Russia. From Sergei Zubov, who won two Stanley Cups in the 1990s to Pavel Datsyuk who spent his entire career playing for the Detroit Red Wings and winning countless awards as well as two Stanley Cups. Of course there is also the first ever Russian to be taken as the no. 1overall pick in the draft, Ilya Kovalchuk, who spent more than a decade in the league and one of the greatest, Alex Ovechkin, who spent his entire career with the Washington Capitals, and became the third youngest player to win the Hart Trophy back-to-back.
As you can see, since Priakin took the plunge into American hockey there have been countless Russian greats who have played in the top American leagues. In fact, though Priakin had an historic role, he doesn’t even rank among the best. So who are the best Russian hockey stars to play in the NHL? We had a lot to pick from but had to narrow it down to these 20, the greatest Russian hockey players to take the ice in the National Hockey League:
[post_page_title]Sergei Gonchar 1995-2015[/post_page_title]
The defenseman played 20 seasons in the league, with six different teams, amounting to 220 goals and 591 assists. The 220 goals are good for 16th on the list of All-Time Defensemen Points Leaders and the highest ranking Russian player on that list. He was drafted 14th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1992. Though he enjoyed a long career, he only hoisted the Cup once, during the 2008-09 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gonchar played in 14 postseasons and made several All Star appearances.