Russians comprise some of the most talented, most dominant players in the NHL today. In this decade alone, they have won Vezina Trophies, “Rocket” Richards, Hart Memorials, Art Ross Trophies and Conn Smythes, and of course, the Stanley Cup. If Russia has not put forth the largest amount of superstars in the current NHL, then they have certainly contributed the most dynamic.
At least one Russian has had his name inscribed upon Lord Stanley’s Cup in each NHL season since 2015-16. For the decade of the 2010s, the only instances where a Russian-born player was not on a Cup-winning team were the 2010-11 Boston Bruins, and 2012-13 and 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks. Otherwise, a Russian has been a factor in bringing home a championship to their city’s faithful.
THW took a close look at our friends born (in most instances) behind the “Iron Curtain”. We have determined who the Top-10 Russians are in the NHL today, and have explained why. See if your favorite Russian made our list.
10) Andrei Vasilevskiy
Vasilevskiy made his NHL debut during the 2014-15 season. He was part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, where they would lose in six games to the Blackhawks. Vasilevskiy would end up acquiring the starting netminder duties for the team in 2016-17, and he has held those reigns ever since.
Vasilevskiy won the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s Best Goaltender. He lost only 10 games in regulation during that season, while earning a whopping 39 victories. Factoring in his six shutouts, no goaltender in the league gave a finer performance as he backstopped the Bolts to a President’s Trophy-winning record by going 62-16-3-1.
What is rather shocking is that Vasilevskiy only finished third in voting for the Vezina in 2017-18, despite winning an NHL leading (tied with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck) – and current career-high – 44 games. With Vasilevskiy signing an eight-year contract extension on Jul. 29, 2019, Lightning fans can be rest assured that they have an elite goaltender for years to come.
9) Andrei Svechnikov
Drafted as the second selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, Andrei Svechnikov has quickly become one of the star players for a young Carolina Hurricanes squad. In his rookie 2018-19 season, he was one of just four “Jerks” to reach at least 20 goals on the season. Factoring in his 17 assists, Svechnikov finished sixth on the team in scoring. Such a solid first-year performance would see him finish sixth in voting for the Calder Trophy.
Come playoff time, Svechnikov became the first NHL player born in the 2000s to score a playoff goal. At just 19 years and 16 days old, he became the ninth-youngest player in NHL history to score two goals in a playoff game. Svechnikov also became the fourth teenager in NHL history to score two goals in his playoff debut, when he beat Braden Holtby twice in the ‘Canes 4-2 loss to the Capitals.
Through his first eight games of his sophomore 2019-20 season, Svechnikov recorded eight points (1G, 7A). Having signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Jul. 1 2018, Carolina has found a bonafide star player who already seems destined to become the face of the franchise.
8) Evgeny Kuznetsov
Evgeny Kuznetsov is arguably the most exhilarating player to behold from our list, especially in person. His Capitals’ teammate Nicklas Backstrom is known to have said about the Russian, “It looks like he’s dancing out there.”
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 was arguably the most instrumental player from the season’s beginning to when the Caps hoisted the Cup.
In his first (full) five NHL seasons, Kuznetsov hit the 20-goal plateau three times and just missed doing so for a fourth (19 goals in 2016-17). He signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract on Jul. 2, 2017
7) Alexander Radulov
Radulov’s game has matured through his three separate chapters in the NHL. Highly-skilled but aggravatingly youthful during his time with the Nashville Predators, he has since blossomed into a go-to player for Dallas.
In his five full NHL seasons, Radulov has never scored less than 18 goals in a season. His highest goal totals of 27 and 29 in 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively have happened since he signed a five-year, $31.25 million contract with Dallas on Jul. 3, 2017. Each of those seasons included back-to-back performances of 72 points.
Radulov’s first six seasons saw him record 300 points (121G, 179A) in 382 games. As he has matured, he has become of the most consistent players – let alone Russians – in the game.
6) Artemi Panarin
“The Bread Man” joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16 after seven KHL seasons. As an NHL rookie, Panarin scored 30 goals and 77 points to win the Calder. Following back-to-back 30-goal seasons in “The Windy City”, he would be traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jun. 23, 2017, along with Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth-round draft pick in exchange for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round selection.
Panarin’s penchant for scoring would continue in Ohio. While his goal totals dropped slightly to 27 and 28 in 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively, he surpassed his own career highs in points with 82 and 87.
Panarin moved to the “Big Apple” beginning with the 2019-20 season by signing a ginormous seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the New York Rangers. He would have four points (2G, 2A) in his first four games with the “Blueshirts”.
5) Vladimir Tarasenko
One of the best goal scorers in the NHL today, Tarasenko has recorded at least 33 tallies for the St. Louis Blues across five straight seasons beginning in 2014-15. His highest output thus far came in 2015-16 when he scored 40 80 games. Tarasenko is the one St. Louis player with a legitimate chance of reaching 50 goals in a season, which has not been done by a Blue since 1993-94.
As St. Louis won the Stanley Cup in 2018-19, Tarasenko finished second on the team in playoff goals with 11 in 26 games. He passed the 200-goal plateau during the regular season by leading the Blues with 33 goals in 76 games.
Tarasenko was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2015 and 2016, and has finished in the top-15 in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy in three of his first seven seasons.
4) Sergei Bobrovsky
If Sergei Bobrovsky is not the best goaltender in the NHL, he is certainly within the top-three. He won the Vezina Trophy in both 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.
Prior to joining the Florida Panthers for 2019-20, he played nine seasons between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. In that time, Bobrovsky accumulated 255 wins and 33 shutouts.
He signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers on Jul. 1, 2019. Likely finishing out his career in sunny South Florida, it would seem that Bobrovsky has already paved the way to a Hockey Hall of Fame career. Might need a Stanley Cup ring to seal the deal.
3) Evgeni Malkin
In some ways Evgeni Malkin does not get the credit that he deserves. Some debaters would place him at number-one on our list, and are probably irritated that we did not either. While we did not put Malkin at the top, he indeed came very close.
When it comes to sheer strength, there is no Russian player in the NHL that is more powerful. We would be hard-pressed to find a player of any nationality who outdoes him. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Malkin is the perfect blend of size and skill.
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.
In his first 13 NHL seasons – all spent with the Pittsburgh Penguins – Malkin scored 391 goals, 611 assists, and 1,002 points in only 852 games. A Hockey Hall of Fame career for sure.
2) Alex Ovechkin
Whenever Alex Ovechkin decides to retire, he could very well be considered the greatest goal scorer in hockey history when he does. By the time he was 33 years old, he had scored 658 goals. If there could ever be a player capable of reaching Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 894 for tops overall, it would be Ovechkin.
Much of that stems from the consistency in which “the Great Eight” has scored prolifically. He has never scored less than 32 goals in a season. Eight times Ovechkin has reached 50 goals or higher. His career best came in his third season (2007-08) when he scored 65 goals in 82 games.
Ovechkin owns a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe, eight Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophies, the Calder Trophy, three Hart Memorials, one Art Ross, and three Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Awards.
Many are hoping that he plays long enough to break Gretzky’s record. His ability to generate goals shows no signs of diminishing.
1) Nikita Kucherov
There is no better Russian in the NHL today than the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, and it should be no surprise that he is on the top of our list. 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.
With the exception of his rookie 2014-15 campaign, he has yet to score less than 29 goals in a season. Upon scoring 128 points (41G, 87A) during 2018-19, Kucherov earned the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award.
While the Lightning have an entire cast of talented players (one of whom was on our list earlier), the individual who could conceivably be the difference in winning them the Stanley Cup is Kucherov. He already had one stab at in 2014-15 when he finished second in playoff scoring for Tampa with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 26 games. Kucherov and the Lightning would lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks in six games.
Additionally, he is the holder of multiple league records including most assists (87) in a single season by a wing in NHL history, most points (128) in a single season by a Russian-born player. He also possesses numerous Lightning team records. Before his career comes to a close, it is likely that Kucherov will write his name in a few more pages of the record books.