The Russian site Sport-Express has put out their list of the top 50 Russian players, and it will get people talking. I have some issues with it, but first, before we get out the complaints, knowing how they made the list helps.

They considered players’ performance this season, but also their historical performance as well. And there was a vote, but the vote was added to an existing ranking. All of that ends up as this list, which is really tough to do across leagues like this, so full marks to them for even trying.

First, and obviously to be loudly criticized by everyone who is sure Nikita Zaitsev is just bad, our own defenceman is 14th on the list. Consider that the Russians actually watched the World Championships where he was their 1RD, played on their top PP unit, and had more points in the tournament than any other defender on the team, and you might start to see a little where they’re coming from. He was also a top pairing man on a top team before he came to the NHL.

They go in depth a little on the state of the Russian defence corps, and I’m using Goggle Translate here, so forgive the syntax:

Perhaps, three or four years ago in the virtual top-30 would be only three or four defenders, now the situation has improved significantly. The optimal composition of the Russian defense, which looks something like this ...

Orlov - Zaitsev

Provorov - Voinov

Sergachev - Zadorov

Gavrikov - Kiselevich

They recognize that this defence corps doesn’t match the Swedes (whose does?), the Canadian or even American offerings, but they’re right that it’s better than it has been in years.  Ivan Provorov of the Flyers is their highest ranked defender, and no one should argue that.

I think Pavel Datsyuk is getting a kind ranking, although he had a good year this past season. I would put Nikita Gusev even higher and Ilya Kovalchuk even lower, making me one of the few NHL fans who aren’t excited at the prospect of overpaying a 35-year-old former star who currently plays on a line with Gusev.  Gusev is the best non-NHLer in hockey.

I’d rank Kirill Kaprizov higher too, higher than Zaitsev, and I’m not sure Evegenii Dadonov isn’t a bit too high.

Of note is Vadim Shipachyov, who washed out of his NHL attempt amid many accusations against Vegas for how they handled the player. I was unimpressed with his play there, unsurprised that another former Gusev linemate wasn’t as interesting away from Gusev, and have always thought there had to be blame for all sides in that mess.

Most of the bottom 25 are KHL players, and one name stands out for me. The Vladimir Tkachyov on that list is the one the Leafs seemed to almost have, and that is a very high ranking for a centre who isn’t really a goal-scorer, but is more of an all-around good player. I still want him.

The top of the list, though, is where it’s both difficult to choose and easy to argue multiple choices. I’d put Evgeni Malkin first. Then Alex Ovechkin, but Nikita Kucherov is almost there, just without the career numbers. And Evgeny Kuznetsov is not a bad name in the top three, but not first, not quite, not if you‘re counting career achievements a little.

The real shock is how low Vladimir Tarasenko is, but then again, it’s not unreasonable, considering his last year.

Argue! Who should go where? I’m going to repeat the poll that S-E did and see how your answers stack up.

Who is the best Russian player?


Someone Else16