March 23, 2012

Aleksey Morozov: The Other KHL Legend

All eyes were on Alexander Radulov on Thursday night. The KHL's all time leading scorer returned to the Nashville Predators, with much controversy.

The Preds were waxed by the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5 to 1, although Radulov did score a goal.

Since the game was in Pittsburgh, I'm sure a few long time fans had some thoughts to their own talented Russian superstar who went back to Mother Russia to become a KHL legend.

This is Aleksey Morozov. In Pittsburgh he may be called Alexei Moron-ov, but back in Mother Russia he is a legend of hockey.

Morozov of course fled the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2004 after seven seasons of teasing and disappointment. Despite being a first round pick and even for a while playing on a line with Mario Lemieux and Alexei Kovalev, Morozov's NHL days were less than noteworthy at best.

He returned to Russia where he has been the best player outside of the NHL ever since. He has won MVP awards and rewritten the Russian record book.

The Penguins chose Morozov 24th overall in the 1995 NHL entry draft and he made the team as a 20-year-old in 1997-98. He put up 219 points in 451 NHL games, all with Pittsburgh, including 50 points in 75 games his last season before the NHL lockout.

"The first few years in Pittsburgh I was a young kid, I didn't speak any English, I didn't understand at all what was going on around me," said Morozov. "I wasn't very good defensively. The first few years were tough for me."

As his game improved, he felt his ice time didn't.

"Some years it was tough because I was a right-winger and we had (Jaromir) Jagr and (Alexei) Kovalev ahead of me, they're superstars," said Morozov. "I didn't have much ice time, not like I have here in Kazan. Everybody knows you can't show what you can do if you don't have the ice time."

What was supposed to be a one-year sojourn to Ak-Bars during the NHL lockout has lasted a career. He's making big bucks, an estimated 3 or 4 million dollars, tax-free.

"The money is good here," Morozov admitted, though that was not the only reason he has stayed. "I had some NHL teams who were interested. But I have a good relationship with Ak-Bars."

Morozov, on the downside of his career, almost certainly will stay in Russia now. He is a KHL legend and has been a national team regular. In fact, he captained Team Russia at the 2010 Olympics, as well as the gold medal winning World Championship squads in 2009 and 2010.

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