Every year, when the NHL Draft comes to town, there are anxious young men from all over the globe waiting for their name to be called in hopes that they made it to the big leagues. As many as three-hundred players can be drafted in today’s NHL. Out of that three-hundred roughly 50% actually stick it out in the pros. That is a crazy statistic that goes to show it takes a lot more than junior accolades or international tournament trophies to hang with the big boys; it takes commitment, drive, motivation and hunger to be their.
Before each of these players are even selected, each one has his own set of expectations dangling over his name. Now some reach their expectations, some pass them, and some don’t even get close. We like to call this “not matching the hype” and it happens more often than not. It’s mostly due to the fact that the NHL is a lot more face paced, physical, and bigger than minor hockey and some of these guys just couldn’t keep up. They could also have had past injury problems that can easily return in a league like the NHL. Whatever the case may be some, just are not cut out for it. This article in particular is show casing the top 20 Russian born players who couldn’t match the hype.
20. Alexei Yashin
Alexei Yashin was a solid point scorer on the ice, however his issues came off the ice. It seemed every time contract talks would arise, he had some sort of issue, one time even going on strike, which forced Ottawa to hire new management just to get Yashin signed. The Sens didn’t have to deal with Yashin’s attitude for much longer as they traded him to the Islanders in 2001. Yashin made an immediate impact in Long Island when in his first year they reached the playoffs, but after that he didn’t post one good season. He left for the KHL in the summer of 2007, and would play in the KHL for the next five years, only scoring 20 points in his final season. Yashin ended his NHL tenure with 781 points in 850 games., which is a solid total, but Yashin, as a second overall pick, should’ve still been more.
19. Nikita Alexeyev
Nikita Alexeev is probably one of the very few players on this list, that if he tried harder, could have been a very serious player in the NHL. He put up absolutely outstanding numbers in major junior, where he scored 160 points in just 189 games over three years for the Erie Otters, leading to him being selected 8th overall in 2000 by the Lightning. This was a massive guy who could skate, but the problem was that he couldn’t do it that fast. With the speed of the current NHL, Nikita was only good for one thing and that was smashing bodies or standing in front of the net hoping for an easy goal. This ultimately spelt the end of his NHL career in 2007. He only managed 37 points in 159 NHL games before leaving for the KHL.
18. Alexei Semenov
After three solid years in Major Junior just like Nikita Alexeev, the Edmonton Oilers and their rabid fanbase thought they were getting a steal when they selected Alexei Semenov 36th overall in 1999. However, for Alexei, his amazing years in the OHL could not be translated over to the NHL style of game. He struggled to score at a consistent rate thus making him bounce back and forth for a couple of years between the NHL and AHL, eventually moving to Florida and San Jose, before finally darting back home for the rest of his career in the KHL. Semenov only managed to score 33 points in 211 games during his NHL career, Edmonton wished it was more, just like their fans did.
17. Maxim Afinogenov
Maxim Afinogenov was a perfect pick in the third round for the Buffalo Sabres that some considered a steal, as he possessed terrific speed and stick handling, making him a thrill to watch. However, he would get carried away at times, often trying to split the defencemen by himself and getting caught turning over the puck. This happened way too many times with Afinogenov, ultimately making his offensive play inconsistent. His defensive play wasn’t that much better to be honest. Regardless of that, fans and management couldn’t wait until he made his pro debut, which he finally did in 1999-00 with Buffalo and Rochester of the AHL. Maxim would spend the next nine years in the NHL with his final year being with Atlanta in 2009-10. So, how well did Afinogenov fair in the NHL? He scored 395 points in 651 games, which is not good enough for a player that had the talent level of Afinogenov.
16. Evgeny Dadonov
Evgeny Dadonov didn’t spend any time in Canadian major junior, but he did spend four years in the Russian equivalent, having himself a pretty decent career. Then 2007 rolled around and Florida chose Dadonov 71st overall in the third round. He had a good skill set, was a slick skater and wasn’t afraid to take or make a hit to better the team. The only problem was that Dadonov didn’t have a big enough body to keep enduring the hits over and over again, this ended up derailing his progression. He also didn’t posses the greatest hands either or make the best defensive plays, so he spent some time going back and forth from the NHL to the AHL. Eventually Dadonov ended up leaving the NHL for the KHL in the 2012-13 season and he only managed a career total of 20 points in just 55 NHL games played.
15. Maxim Galanov
Maxim Galanov was chosen in the third round, 61st overall in 1993 by the Rangers. After an impressive World Junior showing, while also taking his size into consideration (6’1″, 212 pounds), it seemed like Galanov was a good pick for the Rangers on D. This was something New York always needed to help compliment players like Brian Leetch and Ulf Samuelsson on the back end. His first NHL season came in 1997 where he split half the year with Hartford of the AHL, not something Galanov or the Rangers had anticipated. Things didn’t get much better for Maxim, as he would play for three other NHL teams in the following three years. He returned to Russia for the 2001 season and eventually retired in 2012 to take up a coaching job, which he still has today. Galanov retired from the NHL only registering 20 points in 122 games total.
14. Igor Radulov, Chicago Blackhawks
The older brother of Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov, Igor was selected by Chicago in the 2000 NHL entry draft going in the third round, 74th overall. Igor had two amazing seasons in junior, one with a Russian minor league and one with the Mississauga IceDogs, where he scored 63 points in 62 games. Radulov was a very gifted offensive forward having it all in his arsenal; hands, skating, shooting and amazing vision. He definitely did have it all, minus one thing. That was his hunger and his ability to bring what he had in junior over to the NHL. Igor spent the majority of his first pro season in the AHL, and everything else was downhill after that. This left him returning home to Russia for the 2004-05 season. He’s now retired from the NHL, leaving the league with a total of just 16 points in only 43 games.
13. Nikita Filatov
In 2008, people could not stop talking about Nikita Filatov. He was a human highlight reel and scored 9 points in a World Junior tournament game. 9 points! Believe it or not. Filatov was scouted as one of the purest goal scorers in the 2008 draft, so when the Blue Jackets took him sixth overall, a lot of analysts thought it was an absolute steal. Soon they would find out though that Filatov couldn’t do what he did in junior in the NHL. He did manage to score 4 goals in 8 games during his first stint with Columbus, but, after that, he went back and forth from the NHL to the AHL, before a small stint with the Senators. Nikita eventually left for Russia in 2011-12 at the age of 21 and many don’t think he’ll return. He leaves the NHL with a grand total of 14 points in 53 games and a lot of wasted promise.
12. Vladimir Zharkov
The scouting report for Vladimir Zharkov was something you would read about for an elite player of the game, which is what the Devils thought he would be, as they considered him a steal in the third round, 77th overall. With almost a near perfect scouting report, why did he slip so far in the draft? The answer is that his two-way game wasn’t good enough for the NHL and he sometimes appeared to be lazy on the ice. That won’t get you far in the best league in the world. Zharkov made his NHL debut during the 2009-10 season and only played two more seasons after that before going back home to the KHL. Zharkov left the NHL with 14 points in 82 games played. Now, just imagine if he tried harder.
11. Nikolai Zherdev
Columbus has a history of selecting amazing talent in the first round of the draft who don’t pan out and Nikolai Zherdev helps further that point. He owned everything you need to be successful, but it’s what he did off the ice before coming over to the NHL that still has some people talking. He skipped out of Russia, 20 games into the season for NHL play. There was no rule saying he couldn’t, which was perfect for the fans who finally got to catch a glimpse of this future superstar. However, Zherdev’s career wasn’t all together that amazing. Though he did manage three good years out of his total six, he always left coaches wanting more with a terrible -52 rating for his NHL career. Zherdev left the NHL for good in 2011/12, scoring a total of 261 points in 421 games.
10. Mikhail Yakubov
Mikhail Yakubov was a solid prospect, as he spent four years in the Russian junior program putting up some pretty decent numbers. His scouting reports were fantastic, as he was regarded as a complete player. After being drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft (10th overall) by the Blackhawks, he spent his first full year in North America for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. scoring 89 points in 71 games played in 2001-02. Chicago though they hit the lottery with this pick, but some fans think they might have been off a few numbers. Yakubov’s first pro season came in 2002-03 for Norfolk where he struggled before getting called up to Chicago, and he could never recover. He left the NHL in 2006 to go home and play in the KHL. His final totals for the NHL, after being so highly regarded, were just 12 points in 53 games.
9. Ilya Bryzgalov
Everyone knows that top tier goalies come from either Finland, Canada or the US, but Ilya Bryzgalov was ready to break this stigma in people’s minds. He was an amazing goalie at one point of his career, but what happened? Some believe the pressure of being number one in Philly and getting a massive contract got to him. since he already had a “fragile mentality.” His only spectacular season came in 2009-10 with Phoenix when he posted a 2.29 goals against average, a .902 save percentage with 42 wins in 69 games played, finishing second in Vezina voting. He’d move to Philly two years later on a massive contract, but would post terrible numbers there. Ilya retired from the NHL after the 2014-15 season, leaving the game with a career 2.58 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and 221 wins in 465 games.
8. Enver Lisin
Enver Lisin was scouted as an amazing prospect by what he achieved as a junior player, as he was deemed one of the fastest skaters in the entire 2004 draft. So, when Phoenix managed to grab him in the second round, many thought it was a steal. He had a lot of hype behind him, as some thought he’d be able to come right in, jump on the second line, blow past opponents and score. For some reason, though, that didn’t happen. He made his debut in the 2006-07 season going through a huge slump and the rest of his career seemed to be a reflection of that first season. Phoenix ended up trading him to the Rangers in 2009-10, where he continued to struggle.. He left for the KHL in 2010-11 and still plays there today. Enver’s NHL totals though? 42 points in 135 games.
7. Valeri Bure
When you’re the younger brother of one of the best players to ever touch the ice, you already have a lot hanging over your head. However, Valeri tried to take it all in stride, regardless of the hype placed on him. As soon as he was drafted, the only thing reporters or forecasters could say was” “can he imitate Pavel?” That’s a lot of pressure and Valeri couldn’t live up to his family name. Even though he did have himself a great year in 1999-00 with the Calgary Flames, scoring 75 points in 82 games, that was highest total by far and he never could reach those heights again. That just wasn’t good enough with what was hanging over his head on a daily basis. Valeri eventually retired from the NHL and hockey all together in 2004. He finished with a career NHL total of 400 points in 621 career games played.
6. Timofei Shishkanov
Now when a player is compared to Ilya Kovalchuk before they’re drafted, you know that he has a shot about being something special. This was the case with Timofei Shishkanov, as he possessed everything Kovalchuk did; an elite shot, fast skating, amazing agility, and the perfect size to come in and play right away in the NHL (6′ “1, 209 pounds). But if he’s on this list, that means he wasn’t like Kovalchuk at all. What made him different? His lack of focus, determination and hunger to go out and play every game like it was his last one. This is really unfortunate, cause if he did, some wonder where he would be now. Shishkanov was selected 33rd overall in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Predators. He spent the majority of his North American time in the AHL, with the occasional NHL call up, leaving him with only 5 points in 24 games.
5. Evgeny Grachev
Evgeny Grachev was a stud of a prospect, equipped with smooth hands, good puck protection, great skating, and a big body he would use for physical play. Undoubtedly, his best season ever was his last year of junior racking up 80 points in 60 games, meaning that his NHL career didn’t go as well. That season is why he was selected 75th overall in the third round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Rangers. However, Grachev just couldn’t stick with the big club, as he spent the entire 2009-10 season with Hartford of the AHL. Evgeny’s first season with the big club would come in 2010-11 and his lack of production paved the road for a trade to St. Louis. which would be his final stop in the NHL. Grachev’s final NHL point total was 4 points in 34 games.
4. Ivan Vishnevskiy
Ivan Vishnevskiy knew to get better you have to be better and to be better you have to play against better players. He did just that when he left the Russian junior program for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. During his time there, he had himself three amazing years, scoring 144 points in 159 games. This smart decision to play in the QMJHL unquestionably boosted his stock as a prospect, as Ivan was chosen 27th overall in the first round by Dallas in 2006. He had fantastic skating and speed, as well as a good shot and passing skills, leading the Stars management to fall in love with him. However, when he didn’t have the puck, Ivan was lost on the ice. This stumped his progression as a player and a prospect, where he was sent down to the AHL for most of his career. In the end, he managed just 2 points in 5 NHL games.
3. Ilya Zubov
Ilya Zubov is another top prospect who had everything in spades, as well as two Silver medals from the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Scouts looked at Zubov as a “safe” pick if taken in the early rounds of the draft, but somehow he ended up slipping all the way to the fourth round in 2005. Ilya was a good sized player and barely had any flaws, so many asked “what happened?” Well, some would say that when it came to NHL play, he didn’t assert himself well and that he looked like he didn’t really care to be there. This alleged attitude had him spending majority of his time in the AHL. During the 2009/10 season, Ottawa cut him loose, so he went and finished the year in the KHL. Zubov’s final NHL stats? 2 points in 11 games.
2. Alexander Semin
When Alex Semin was drafted 13th overall in 2002 by Washington, he was projected to come straight into the NHL and be an immediate force. Semin wasn’t though, as he could never consistently get his head around the pace and style of the NHL game. While he had a career season in 2009-10, scoring 40 goals in 73 games, he would never sniff those kinds of numbers again. He was also a very controversial player as well, getting himself suspended for failing to report to Washington’s AHL affiliate in Portland.
After 2009-10, everything for Semin just wasn’t the same, having mediocre seasons, bouncing around from Carolina, Montreal and the KHL. He finally stayed in the KHL during the 2015/16 season after Montreal bought out his contract. He quit the NHL with 517 points in 650 games played, but it’s safe to say that he could’ve been more.
1. Nail Yakupov
The reason why Nail Yakupov is number one on this list is because he was a first overall pick who hasn’t done much in his career. Naturally, a first overall pick has A LOT more hype attached to him than other players. Yakupov hasn’t had a decent year since he left Sarnia of the OHL and some say that he doesn’t have a “Galchenyuk” type centre anymore. Well Edmonton went out and drafted Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, so whoever Nail ends up with is going to have a chance to seriously reignite his career. But if that doesn’t happen, everything points to the fact that he couldn’t do in the NHL what he did in the OHL, making him number one out of all Russian’s who couldn’t match the hype.
However, if he does turn it around, we may have to remove him from this list.
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