4 îêòÿáðÿ 1992 ãîäà.
The year of the European // Toronto Star
As more highly skilled players arrive from other countries the staid,
old NHL is quickly becoming a truly international league
IT is the dawn of a new day in the National Hockey League and, as you
haul your sorry North American body out of bed, time for a little exercise.
The 20-minute European workout, that is, courtesy of conditioning expert,
Winnipeg Jets general manager Mike Smith.
"For the next few months I want you to look at the NHL game summaries
each morning," Smith says. "Look at the goals and figure out how many of
them were either scored or assisted by European players."
Smith knows because he's been on the program right through this NHL
"If 11 goals are scored in a game, figure about eight or nine of them
will involve Europeans," he says. "That tells you two things. One, there
are an awful lot of Europeans in the league. Two, they are obviously skilled
This is indeed the year of the European in the NHL. And how's that for
stating the obvious?
There were 64 European-trained players (who played 10 or more games)
on the 22 NHL clubs last season. This season, the number is certain to
be at least 90 and maybe more, depending upon the teams' final cuts this
week. That doesn't include the half-dozen or so Europeans expected to be
with expansion clubs Tampa Bay and Ottawa when they commence operations
this week. In all, then, there are likely to be about 100 in the NHL and
as many as 20 to 30 new European faces in the minors, too.
And the numbers, Smith advises, will only get bigger in the years to
"If there are 100 this year, there'll be between 120 and 140 next year,"
says Smith, who appears intent on making that a self- fulfilling prophesy.
Smith's Jets are the leading proponent of Euro-hockey in the NHL and
provide an interesting case study this season.
Four of the Jets' six starters on defence - Fredrik Olausson, Teppo
Numminen, Igor Ulanov and Serge Bautin - are Europeans. Forwards Teemu
Selanne, a Finn, and Alexei Zhamnov, a Russian, are both potential impact
players, exciting rookie talents who are capable of generating the kind
of offence that will put them in the 1992-93 NHL rookie race. Figure in
Russian winger Evgeny Davydov and Swedish veteran centre Thomas Steen and
the Jets boast eight Euro- regulars in all, about half their lineup on
any given night.
They are not alone.
The New Jersey Devils will have eight. The Montreal Canadiens, who had
none a year ago, will have a pair. The St. Louis Blues will go from zero
It's obvious why so many NHL clubs are pursuing so many Europeans at
Just look at the Vancouver Canucks' success with Pavel Bure, the most
exciting player in the NHL. Or Pittsburgh's experience with the superlative
It's little wonder the New York Rangers are excited about right winger
Alexei Kovalev, a mercurial talent cut from the same cloth as Bure. Ditto
for the Chicago Blackhawks and right winger Sergei Krivokrasov; and, the
Detroit Red Wings and centre-right winger Viacheslav Kozlov.
But NHL GMs aren't so presumptuous as to think they're going to hit
a home run each time out. Most of them are looking for solid- but-instant
That's why the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Nikolai Borschevsky, the
small but gifted offensive right winger who's being looked to for 20 to
30 goals as a rookie.
It's the same thing everywhere.
The Minnesota North Stars lack offence from the blue line. Enter 27-year-old
Swede Tommy Sjodin. The Philadelphia Flyers have a huge void in net and
on defence because of the Eric Lindros trade. Meet Swedish goalie Tommy
Soderstrom and Russian defenceman Dmitri Yushkevich.
Still, there are no guarantees. The Boston Bruins' plan was to, for
the first time in franchise history, dive deep into the European talent
pool and totally overhaul their lineup.
Dmitri Kvartlanov, Jozef Stumpel, Sergei Zholtok, Jiri Dopita, Grigory
Panteleyev, Evgeny Pavlov and Denis Chervyakov were all hoped to make an
impact in Beantown. The betting is Kvartlanov, their first-round pick,
is the only one who'll stick to contribute in a full-time way.
If so, the NHL clubs who have been drafting and developing Europeans
with success for years can't suppress a giggle.
Still, until the busts outnumber the beauties, the move to imports will
continue in a big way.
Skill is the reason.
"The simple fact of the matter is the Europeans are producing more highly
skilled players than we are," Smith said. "It's a fact."
One that is repeated by almost every NHL scout who evaluates young talent
on both sides of the pond.
It's an emotional subject, rife with too many extreme stereotypes.
The Don Cherrys of the world conclude all Europeans lack courage, emotion
and willingness to play defence. The Euro-boosters figure every European
who comes over is infinitely more skilled than his North American counterpart
and is, therefore, a better player.
Bure and Detroit's Sergei Fedorov, among many others, shatter the anti-European
stereotype. Detroit's Steve Yzerman and San Jose's Pat Falloon, to name
only two, dismiss the argument Canadians can't be highly skilled on offence.
But there is no question that, generally speaking, the average European
can skate and handle a puck better than his North American counterpart.
And he seems to be assimilating courage and grit at a quicker rate than
we are in on-ice agility and deft puckhandling.
Canadians know how to build winning teams. Europeans put the emphasis
on building a better hockey player.
And this European influx comes at a time when hockey legislators are
trying to cleanse the game of clutching and grabbing, devaluing team defence
and inflating individual skill.
It's not just an NHL phenomenon either.
The Canadian Hockey League, in an effort to regulate its alien content,
conducted an import draft, with each major junior club permitted to draft
and sign an enforced quota of one.
The CHL may have put in a strict quota system, but the bottom line is
there'll be more Europeans in major junior hockey this year than ever before.
All of which suits Smith, an eclectic hockey guy with a doctorate in
Russian studies, just fine.
"The NHL has an opportunity to do something no other professional league
can do and that is to present a truly international, world- class product
right here in North America," he says.
But will the paying customer buy into every Tomas, Darius and Janne
who shows up in the NHL?
"If they're skilful, exciting hockey players," Smith responds, "how
can the fans not like them?"
Some NHL teams, even those at the forefront of the Euro- movement, are
asking themselves, how many Europeans is too many? Is it worth having third-
and fourth-line Europeans and risk a chemistry imbalance?
Their answer would be seem to be that the ceiling hasn't been hit yet.