Sergei Mozyakin, One of the Best to Never Play in the NHL

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JANUARY 29, 2017: Metallurg Magnitogorsk's Sergei Mozyakin (L) and CSKA Moscow's Igor Ozhiganov in their 2016/2017 KHL Regular Season ice hockey match at CSKA Arena. Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS (Photo by Stanislav KrasilnikovTASS via Getty Images)

Valeri Kharlamov. Vladislav Tretiak. Boris Mikhailov. Sergei Mozyakin.

Those are the names Mozyakin is up with. In a time where we have Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Evgeni Malkin, there is one Russian who we have never seen. And he might be the best to never play in the NHL.

The NHL Entry Draft

Let’s begin back in 1999. As a 17-year old, Sergei Mozyakin came over to North America. He joined the Val d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL but played just four games. He would record one assist, the only point Mozyakin has scored playing for a North American team.

Mozyakin went back to Russia, where he has stayed his entire career. He went undrafted in 2000. At the time he was listed at just 5’11”, 171 lbs, and was playing in Russia. Not a great recipe to be drafted. Even with his outstanding 48 points in 44 games in the second division of Russian hockey, he was passed over.

The same occurred in 2001, even with 50 points in 37 games in the second division, and a nine-game stint with CSKA Moscow, where he registered two points.

Then, in 2002, something changed. Mozyakin didn’t play with CSKA Moscow, playing the entire year in the second division. He recorded 64 points in 54 games. But, in his final year of NHL Entry Draft eligibility, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a trade in the ninth round of the 2002 Draft. They traded their 2003 ninth round selection to the Florida Panthers, in exchange for the 263rd pick. And with that 263rd pick, the Blue Jackets selected Sergei Mozyakin.

After the Draft

Columbus wanted to sign Mozyakin. They tried time and time again, according to a former scout. But he never wanted to come. After being drafted, Mozyakin had already played three years as a professional in Russia. He was comfortable, playing in the CSKA system in his home country. Columbus just didn’t have the lure of contending for a Stanley Cup. Why would he leave the familiarity of home for a team that wasn’t competing?

In the year following his selection in the NHL Entry Draft, as a 22-year old, he recorded 27 points in 33 games with CSKA. It was his first as a full-time player in the top Russian league, a place he would never leave.

He continued to progress in 2003-04. He nearly reached a point per game (PPG), with 40 points in 45 games with CSKA.

Then came 2004-05, and the NHL lockout. Russian players came fleeing back, looking for pay. Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, and more came back to terrorise the Russian Superleague. In his worst season of his entire career, Mozyakin only tallied 23 points in 49 games, still good for third in team scoring.

The following season, the NHLers went back and Mozyakin came back on. CSKA made the playoffs, losing in the second round. But Mozyakin was incredible. He recorded his first PPG season, with 52 points in 51 games. He led the team in scoring, with the next closest player 24 points behind. Mozyakin was becoming a superstar but was being held back by a subpar team.

Mytishchi

That offseason, Mozyakin made the move to Khimik Mytishchi, where he would remain for five years. In his debut season in Mytishchi, he set career highs in goals, 27, and points, 60. The team finished below CSKA in the standings, however, losing in the second round.

Now 26, Mozyakin was flying high. He destroyed the league, with 37 goals and 66 points. For the first time in his career, Mozyakin had led the league in goals and points. But once again, the team around him just wasn’t good enough. They finished fourth in the regular season but lost in the first round of the playoffs to 13th seed Severstal Cherepovets.

Kontinental Hockey League

The Russian Superleague was replaced by the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) following the 2007-08 season. Khimik Mytishchi became HK Atlant, and Mozyakin stayed.

Mozyakin would annihilate the KHL. 34 goals and 72 points in just 56 games, leading the league again. However, his team couldn’t get it done in the post-season, losing in the second round again. However, he would be named to the All-Star Game, and would also win the Gentleman Award with 14 penalty minutes.

His dominance continued: 66 points in 2009-10, but the team fell short again. Mozyakin was getting frustrated. He had been playing in the top Russian league since 2003 and had yet to make it past the second round.

2010-11 was different. Mozyakin fell to 61 points, still leading the league in scoring. But Atlant was better. They beat Severstal in the first round and defeated SKA St. Petersburg in the second. Mozyakin was finally in the Conference Finals. Up against his hometown team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Atlant defeated the giants, advancing to the Gagarin Cup finals. Mozyakin had been carrying his team the whole way. In the finals, against Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Atlant just couldn’t keep up. They were defeated in five games. Mozyakin had 21 points in the 23 games playoff run.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk

Mozyakin was done in Mityshchi. He joined Metallurg Magnitorogorsk, looking to finally win the Gagarin Cup.

Then came a disappointing 2011-12 season. With just 39 points for Mozyakin, Magnikta still finished third in the Eastern Conference. They lost in the second round, however. At 31 years old, was Mozyakin starting to regress?

Not a chance. The next year he nearly doubled his point total from the year before, finishing with 35 goals and 76 points. Once again, Mozyakin’s team fell apart. They lost in the first round.

At this point, it seemed like the great Mozyakin would never win the Gagarin Cup. A call came from Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Penguins were interested in bringing Mozyakin to the NHL, over ten years after being drafted by the Blue Jackets. After much deliberation, he declined, citing family and familiarity. Instead, Mozyakin signed a six-year extension with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Mozyakin wouldn’t regret that decision. At 33 years old, he had another incredible season. 73 points, leading the league once again. But Mozyakin didn’t care about the regular season. He just wanted the Gagarin Cup. Magnikta easily got through Admiral Vladivostok and swept Sibir Novosibirsk. They met Salavat in the Conference Finals and beat them in five. Mozyakin was back in the Finals, taking on Lev Praha. It went to Game Seven. Metallurg Magnitogorsk won 7-4, with the game winner coming from non-other than Sergei Mozyakin. He had finally won the Gagarin Cup, with 33 points in 21 playoff games.

Magnikta couldn’t go back-to-back, though, as they lost in the second round in 2014-15. Mozyakin cooled off, with 54 points in 49 games.

Ageless Wonder

Entering his age 34 season, Magnikta was ready for another Gagarin Cup run. So what does Mozyakin do? Lead the league in scoring again of course! With 67 points in 57 games, he led Magnitogorsk to another deep run. They ploughed through Avtomobilist Yekatinberg, Sibir, and Salavat en route to the Finals, where they met Mozyakin’s first team, CSKA Moscow. In six games, Mozyakin was champion again. 25 points in 23 games, he was not slowing down anytime soon. But even Mozyakin didn’t expect what would come in 2016-17.

The GOAT (in Russia)

2016-17 has been unbelievable for Mozyakin. At 35 years old, he has set the KHL record for goals AND points in a season, and it’s not even over yet. Today, February 1, 2017, Mozyakin broke the points record against Severstal Cherepovets. Metallurg Magnitogorsk still has three games remaining. With 44 goals and 81 points, Mozyakin is looking to pad his records. His season has been truly remarkable.

He is the all-time leading Russian goal scorer, passing Boris Mikhailov this year. He is also the leading points scorer, with 861 points in the Superleague and KHL. That’s in 781 games as well. He’s made all nine KHL all-star games. He’s a five-time, soon be six-time, First Team All-Star; 12-time Player of the Month winner; five-time Gentleman Award winner. Add to that a five-time, soon to be six-time, KHL MVP; three-time, soon to be four-time leading goal scorer; five-time, soon to be six-time, leading points scorer; two-time Gagarin Cup MVP; two-time Gagarin Cup Winner. He has had an all-time career, and it doesn’t look like Mozyakin is slowing down.

It is criminal this man never received full North American attention. He hasn’t represented Russia at the Olympics, and he hasn’t played in the NHL. Mozyakin does have five World Championship medals (two gold, two silver, one bronze). But the World Championships are on at the same time the NHL Playoffs are and don’t get much attention.

For a multitude of reasons, Sergei Mozyakin is largely unknown outside of Europe. He has the career deserving of the Hockey Hall of Fame but will likely never get in. It took Sergei Makarov forever to get in, and Boris Mikhailov isn’t even in for crying out loud. Every year we need to remind ourselves that it is the HOCKEY Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame. Mozyakin deserves North American attention, and let’s give him his due while he is still playing.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Sergei Mozyakin is a great hockey player. His goal to overtake Radulov was reminiscent of Kane to Panarin. It’s a slower, more deliberate game than the NHL, but Mozyakin’s game would absolutely translate to the NHL if a team were to utilize his skills appropriately. Just ask Igor Larionov about him.

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