Rick Gosselin of the Dallas News recently put new Dallas Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar on the spot, asking the veteran Russian defenseman to name the best Russian players of all time.
As Gosselin suggests, Gonchar is the perfect person to ask.
The eyes of Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar provide a window to Russian hockey.
Gonchar grew up watching Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov and the KLM line win world championships and Olympic gold medals. Gonchar himself became a first-round NHL draft pick in the 1990s and went on to play against the next generation of Soviet greats: Pavel Bure, Sergei Zubov, Alexander Mogilny and the Russian Five in Detroit.
Gonchar, 39, has seen his countrymen enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s seen them capture league and playoff MVP honors. He’s seen them win NHL scoring titles and rookie of the year acclaim. Name a Russian great, and he’s in Gonchar’s mental Rolodex.
So I asked Gonchar the other day to pick his all-time Russian team.
So who did Gonchar select?
Alexander Ovechkin on right wing, over Alexander Mogilny.
“Great shot, great power,” Gonchar said. “He has an ability to go through a defense with his energy and power.”
Valeri Kharlamov on the opposite wing, over Ilya Kovalchuk
“The guy could win games by himself. He was doing things with the puck that no one else could do.”
In the toughest decision Gonchar selected Sergei Fedorov at center, over Pavel Datsyuk, only saying "He’s probably the best pure skater we’ve ever sent over here.”
On defense Gonchar refused to consider himself, naturally, even though he is the highest scoring Russian defenseman in NHL history. He selected Viacheslav Fetisov and Sergei Zubov.
“Fetisov changed the game back home with the way he jumped in and created offense by joining the rush,” Gonchar said. “That was tough for him, because not every coach liked that style from a defenseman. He was doing something different that people weren’t used to. You have to respect him for that. He belongs at the top of this list.”
“Zubov controlled the puck on the breakouts and power play,” Gonchar said. “He had the rare ability not only to see everything but to control the pace of the game. He could slow it down or speed it up. That’s not easy to do, especially at this level.”
To no one's surprise Gonchar opted for the great Vladislav Tretiak in net.
“I’m told he was one of the game’s greatest workers and one of its greatest students — plus that natural talent. Put those three things together, and you’ve got a great mix.