Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL
While perusing the web yesterday I came across an article at Bleacher Report by a “Featured Columnist” that I just couldn’t ignore. The claim was that Russia is no longer producing quality hockey players. The author’s proof? There are very few Russians and even fewer Russian superstars in the National Hockey League. He supports this claim with a superficial glance at recent NHL draft history, and the fact that Russians aren’t being highly drafted, if at all.
And I thought only First Nations hockey players were victims of such bigoted and irresponsible “journalism.” Pretty shallow reporting from someone who has written for NHL.com and other big online sites.
Anyone who follows the NHL, the draft and developing talent is well aware of the shift in the paradigm in international talent. The talent in Russia is obviously still there. Newer players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin are clear examples of the type of talent the Motherland is still producing.
So why are there fewer Russians in the NHL? The answer is simple: The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Unfortunately, the author tries to deflect any attention from the KHL by saying that he doesn’t want to hear that there is talent in the KHL, because it’s not the NHL, the best league in the world. This superficial claim insults the intelligence of knowledgeable hockey devotees and only serves to feed the xenophobia of lay hockey fans — something that does not behoove a sport that is trying to grow its popularity in the United States.
Russian-born Dmitry Kulikov, a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, plays in the NHL.
To refute these claims, one doesn’t have to look too far into the dynamics between the KHL and NHL. The KHL may not be quite NHL caliber (as I discussed last month in another HockeyGoddess.com exclusive) but the money is, and that has kept many a Russian NHL prospect at home. Why leave the comfortable confines of your homeland, where your dollar goes further, you don’t have to worry about learning a language you have zero knowledge of and your chances of getting hurt are a fraction of what they would be in North America?
Similarly, if you are an NHL general manager drafting talented hockey players why take a chance on a guy who might look at his options: To scratch and claw in the AHL for a couple and make a whole lot less money, or to stay home and have a higher salary? Why squander a high-round pick on a player who may never come play in North America? (Ever hear of Ilya Nikulin, a highly touted defensive prospect who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers? Didn’t think so.) Even some of the young kids who have come and played Junior hockey in North America, claiming the NHL is their end goal, have bolted back to the KHL after being sent down to the minors. And really, I can’t completely fault them for that decision.
Remember, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. Top talent doesn’t have to defect to America to make their millions — they can do it at home. While the standard of living in most of Russia is still well behind North America, it’s a familiar and stable culture. Why not stay there?
Of course, we have seen some financial difficulty in recent times in Russia, with teams folding or merging under the stress of the international economic crisis. We’ve heard rumors of some teams unable to pay their players. This all may contribute to an increase in Russian talent in the NHL. And while I wish the best for the Russians, I secretly hope to see more of them here in North America. We have large Russian-speaking communities, a great standard of living, health care that far exceeds the level in the former Soviet states and a fair system to live under. So you may not be a big fish in a little pond, but you’ll have a chance to prove you’re one of the best hockey players in the world.
Photos: Alexander Ovechkin and Dmitry Kulikov by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.