Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Andrei Kuzmenko will be the Calgary Flames’ first Russian forward in 20 years
By Mike Gould19 days ago
Calgary is still abuzz with chatter about last week’s big trade with the Vancouver Canucks.
In a deal that pretty much came out of the blue, the Flames sent No. 1 centre Elias Lindholm to Vancouver in exchange for winger Andrei Kuzmenko, defence prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo, and two picks in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Everyone knew Lindholm was on the trade block. Not many of them expected the Flames to send him to one of their closest rivals. And to do so over a month in advance of the trade deadline? It certainly caught more than a few fans off guard.
But one of the biggest surprises was Kuzmenko’s inclusion in the deal — and not just because he had to agree to waive his no-trade clause to come to Calgary. When he makes his Flames debut on Tuesday, Kuzmenko will become the first Russian forward to play for the team in two decades.
Not since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final has a Russian forward suited up for the Flames in a game during the regular season or playoffs. They’ve had a few Russian defencemen since then (Andrei Zyuzin and Nikita Zadorov, among others) and even a goaltender — remember Artem Zagidulin? — but not a single forward over that span. Until now.
With the occasional exception, the Flames generally avoided Russian players during the managerial tenures of Brad Treliving, Jay Feaster, and Darryl Sutter. But back in the late 1980s, the Flames were at the forefront of helping the first Soviet players defect to the NHL. For whatever reason, the Flames’ stance seemed to change dramatically shortly after the turn of the century.
It’s not as though the Flames haven’t been drafting Russians, especially recently. Under Treliving, the Flames selections Arsenii Sergeev, Yan Kuznetsov, Daniil Chechelev, Ilya Nikolaev, Dmitri Zavgorodniy, and Pavel Karnaukhov out of the Russian and North American ranks, mostly with late-round picks. Of that group, only Kuznetsov — the highest pick — has played in the NHL as of yet.
In any case, the Flames could be on the verge of another paradigm shift under new GM Craig Conroy, whose big forward acquisitions thus far have been Kuzmenko and Belarusian sniper Yegor Sharangovich. And with Kuzmenko set to lace ’em up for the first time with Calgary against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, it’s high time to take a look at the 10 Russian (or Soviet) forwards in Flames history.
Andrei Kuzmenko (2024–): Everyone knows the story with Kuzmenko by now. He scored 39 goals with last year’s Canucks team while riding a ridiculous shooting percentage and playing mostly under the run-and-gun system of Bruce Boudreau. But after the scoring dried up for Kuzmenko this year under new head coach Rick Tocchet, he became a healthy scratch and was quickly put on the trade block. The Flames were happy to take on the 28-year-old winger to equalize cap hits in the Elias Lindholm deal. If Kuzmenko can rebound even a little bit post-trade, the Flames might be able to flip him next year for even more picks and/or prospects. There’s very little downside here.
Oleg Saprykin (1999–2004): Although he never quite lived up to his billing as the No. 11 overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft, Saprykin played a key part in some huge moments for the Flames in the early 2000s. He made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old immediately after being drafted and went on to establish himself as a strong bottom-six forward in Calgary over parts of five seasons. Saprykin peaked with the Flames in 2003–04, adding onto his 12 goals and 29 points in the regular season with the overtime winner in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then, shortly after losing to Tampa Bay, the Flames traded Saprykin and Denis Gauthier to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Daymond Langkow. Good trade!
Valeri Bure (1998–2001): The Flames acquired Pavel Bure’s kid brother from the Montreal Canadiens ahead of the 1998 trade deadline. Bure had struggled at times to find his footing in Montreal but quickly developed into a top offensive player with the Flames, topping out with 35 goals and 75 points in 82 games with the team in the 1999–2000 season. Candace Cameron, a Full House star and Bure’s wife, could often be seen hanging around the Saddledome in those years. The Flames never made the playoffs during Bure’s time in Calgary and they traded him in 2001 to the Florida Panthers, where he reunited with his older brother. The two Bures spent less than one full season together before Pavel was traded to the New York Rangers; Valeri ended his own NHL career after the 2004–05 NHL lockout.
Sergei Krivokrasov (2000): The player with the second-shortest Flames tenure of any on this list, Krivokrasov skated in just 12 games with the team to close out the 1999–2000 season after being acquired from the Nashville Predators. The No. 12 overall pick in the 1992 NHL Draft managed 11 points (including 10 assists) in those 12 games before being left exposed and selected by the Minnesota Wild in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. Krivokrasov lasted just two more seasons in the NHL after that. He topped out at 25 goals and 48 points in 70 games with Nashville in 1998–99.
Andrei Nazarov (1999–2000): Yet another high draft pick whose Flames tenure was relatively brief, Nazarov arrived in Calgary midway through the 1998-99 season and was gone by the end of 2000. He became a Flame in January 1999 by way of a lopsided 1-for-1 trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning which saw Michael Nylander head the other way. The hard-hitting, 6’5″ Nazarov collected 46 points (and 108 penalty minutes) in 112 games over parts of two seasons with the Flames before being traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim alongside a future second-round pick in exchange for the rights to defence prospect Jordan Leopold.
Pavel Torgaev (1995–1996; 1999): Torgaev appeared in two seasons with the Flames nearly five years apart. His first stint with the club comprised of 41 games in 1995–96, in which he collected six goals and 16 points and went on to appear in his first and only Stanley Cup Playoff game. But after being assigned to the AHL to begin the following season, Torgaev headed to Switzerland for three years before finally returning to North America in 1999. But after appearing in just 14 more NHL games split between the Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999–2000, Torgaev returned to Russia to finish his playing days. Torgaev eventually settled in Calgary in retirement before embarking upon a coaching career in the KHL.
German Titov (1993–1998): There was an extended period in the mid-1990s in which German Titov was the Flames’ No. 1 centre. Taken two spots after Kimmo Timonen in the 10th round of the 1993 NHL Draft, Titov immediately joined the Flames as a 28-year-old rookie in 1993–94 and put up his first of three 20-goal seasons in Calgary. Although not the biggest or most talented player, Titov managed to produce on some underpowered mid-’90s Flames teams and topped out with 28 goals and 67 points in 1995–96. After brief stints with the Penguins, Oilers, and Mighty Ducks, Titov called it a career and, like Torgaev, moved back to Calgary with his family. (More ex-NHL players live here than you might think).
Nikolai Borschevsky (1995): Borschevsky might’ve been the Andrei Kuzmenko of his day. The former Spartak Moscow winger burst onto the scene with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992–93, scoring 34 goals and 74 points in 78 games as a 27-year-old rookie. In the 1993 playoffs, Borschevsky scored the Game 7 overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings to send the Leafs to the second round. But after scoring just 14 goals the following season, Borschevsky managed exactly zero in 27 games split between Toronto and Calgary in 1994–95. He managed one more in 12 games with the Dallas Stars in 1995–96 before returning to Spartak after that.
Sergei Makarov (1989–1993): The only member of the Hockey Hall of Fame on this list, Makarov is a legend for his accomplishments both in North America and the USSR. As a member of CSKA Moscow — the “Red Army” — Makarov played a critical role on the KLM Line with Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. He became one of the most distinguished Olympic athletes of his generation while also leading CSKA to eleven league championships. Makarov defected from the Soviet Union in 1989 and won the Calder Trophy in 1990 after scoring 86 points in 80 games as a 31-year-old rookie with the Flames, causing the NHL to add an age restriction to the award. In 297 games over parts of four seasons with the Flames, Makarov collected 94 goals and 292 points. He subsequently made brief stops with the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars before retiring in 1997, but it somehow took nearly two full decades before the Hall of Fame finally named Makarov to its Class of 2016.
Sergei Priakin (1989–1991): Although Makarov is widely (and rightfully) recognized as being the trailblazer at the forefront of the NHL’s first wave of Soviet players, Priakin was the one who helped pave the way for even Makarov to come over. Although he was never a star at Makarov’s level in the USSR, Priakin (also spelled Pryakhin) is a pivotal figure in his own right for being the first Soviet player granted permission to defect to the NHL. Priakin signed with the Flames on March 29, 1989 — mere months before Makarov arrived — and appeared in two games with the Flames during the 1988–89 regular season. He suited up for one more game in the playoffs as the Flames captured their first and only Stanley Cup championship. As a result, Priakin is the only player on this list with a Stanley Cup ring. But Priakin didn’t last long in the NHL, collecting just three goals and 11 points in 46 games with the Flames before embarking upon a successful late-career run in Finland, Switzerland, and Japan.
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