Russian star Nail Yakupov
In recent years the CHL has been flooded with Russian talent. In pursuit of avoiding being passed over at the NHL draft, young Russian players are crossing the Atlantic to prove themselves worthy in front of a North American crowd. But, Alex Ovechkin's Russian compatriots made a big impact historically in the CHL, too.
Here's a list of the all-time best Russian scorers in the history of the league.
1. Konstantin Panov (Kamloops Blazers, WHL) 195 games, 120+116=236 points.
2. Alexander Radulov (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL) 127 games, 93+134=227 points.
3. Vitali Yachmenev (North Bay Centennials, OHL) 125 games, 114+104=218 points.
4. Denis Shvidki (Barrie Colts, OHL) 122 games, 76+124=200 points.
5. Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting, OHL) 107 games, 80+90=170 points.
6. Ivan Telegin (Saginaw Spirit, Barrie Colts, OHL) 156 games, 81+87=168 points.
7. Dmitri Afanasenkov (Moncton, Sherbrooke, Q) 125 games, 84+78=162 points.
8. Nikita Alexeev (Erie Otters, OHL) 189 games, 72+88=160 points.
9. Oleg Saprykin (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL) 114 games, 77+82=159 points.
10. Maxim Spiridonov (London Knights, OHL) 121 games, 85+66=151 points.
Five of the listed players were picked in the first round at the NHL draft — Radulov, Shvidki, Alexeev, Saprykin and, of course, Yakupov, who went first overall in 2012. Interestingly, Nashville Predators picked Radulov and Panov, while Tampa Bay Lightning chose Alexeev and Afanasenkov. Radulov is the only one on the list who managed to win the Memorial Cup.
The Russian invasion of the CHL is still relatively new so it's not surprising that two players on the list could be seen around the league last season — Telegin and Yakupov. What is most striking, though, is that none of the Russians successful in the CHL had a smooth ride in the NHL.
While nobody questions Alex Radulov's skill-set, his attitude problem was one of the top stories of last season's NHL playoffs and eventually was one of the reasons he came back to the KHL, where he is now allegedly that league's highest paid player. Konstantin Panov never got a shot to play in The Show and returned to Russia in 2003. He is now one of the key players for Traktor Chelyabinsk. Maxim Spiridonov also didn't play a game in the NHL but has had a decent career in Russia.
Denis Shvidki was going back and forth from the NHL to the AHL in the early 2000s, despite being drafted 12th overall. He never fully adapted to professional hockey even though he spent some time playing with the newest member of the Hockey Hall Of Fame Pavel Bure. For the past two seasons Shvidki played in Germany for the Krefeld Pinguine. In 81 games he scored just five goals and 21 points.
Another first round pick, Nikita Alexeev, who went eighth-overall, has always been known for his perfect conditioning and big 6-foot-5 frame. However, in 156 NHL games he scored just 37 points and went back to Russia. He spent four seasons with Ak Bars Kazan and won two Gagrin Cups, but he hardly was the best player on the team as he scored just 12 goals and 27 points in 120 games.
Vitali Yachmenev had a promising 53-point rookie season but turned into a mediocre player averaging 23.2 points in the next 7 seasons. He is now 37 and plays in the VHL - Russian second-tier pro league.
Dmitri Afanasenkov is an exception from the rule to some extent. He played 227 games in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. However, he wasn't as much of an impact player in the NHL as he was in junior. He spent last season in Switzerland but came to the KHL where he now plays for Avtomobilist.
Keep in mind that the chart doesn't include many other Russian players that ripped the CHL apart back in a day. Here are a few noteworthy players who didn't make the list.
- Mikhail Yakubov (Red Deer Rebels, WHL)
A native of Barnaul shocked the WHL in 2001-02 with 32 goals and 57 assists, finishing seventh-overall in scoring. He led the rookies in assists and made it to the final with the Rebels. Nevertheless, Yakubov had problems adjusting to a pro game and played just 53 games in the NHL before returning back to Russia. He now plays for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.
- Alexander Ryazantsev (Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL)
A now 32-year-old defenceman spent his years in the Q scoring 134 points including 40 goals in 134 games. In 1999 Ryazantsev also won the gold medal in the World Juniors in Winnipeg and led the tourney in assists among blueliners. Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, Alex spent three seasons in the AHL and moved back to Russia. Last year he had a career season with 18 goals and 36 points in 51 games for Traktor. He also set a new world record for hardest shot according to KHL at 114.1 mph. He now plays for Severstal in the KHL.
- Evgeny Grachev (Brampton Battalion, OHL)
The big Russian (6'3 and 225-pounds) from Khabarovsk scored the most goals (40) and points (80) among OHL rookies in 2008-09 playing on a line with Cody Hodgson. Grachev lost the fastest skater competition at the OHL All-Star game by less than a 1/100 of a second to Taylor Hall. The Battalion made it to finals that season but lost to the Windsor Spitfires in five games, including a 10-1 loss in Game 1. Grachev is slowly adjusting to pro hockey as he spent most of the last three seasons in the AHL. Currently, Grachev has played just 34 games in the NHL and scored four points.
- Fedor Tyutin (Guelph Storm, OHL)
After being drafted 40th overall in 2001, Tyutin spent the next season in the OHL and scored 59 points, including 19 goals in 53 games. The Storm appeared at the Memorial Cup that season as a host-team but were the first team knocked out of the tournament. Tyutin has had a very decent NHL career. He's played 558 games and scored 185 points (42+143). He signed a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer and is reported to sign in the KHL for the lockout.
Konstantin Panov's scoring record for Russian players in the CHL may seem unbeatable, but NHL lockout forced Mikhail Grigorenko to come back to the Quebec Remparts. Last season Grigorenko scored 85 points in 59 games. This year Grigorenko opened up with three goals and eight assists in four games. Certainly, he has a long way to go the Remparts have a tendency to pick extremely skilled Russians. Case in point - Alex Radulov.
For all we know we can be witnessing history right now.
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