The Columbus Blue Jackets have won just one playoff series in 18 previous NHL seasons, and the lack of post-season success has opened the door for the franchise to make a number of notable picks in the draft. Rick Nash, Pascal Leclaire, Derick Brassard, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jakub Voracek and Zach Werenski, among others, were fantastic early selections for a franchise that hasn’t had much in the way of big-time success since entering the NHL fray.
But perhaps one of the most impressive picks the team has made since its inception is the selection of Russian winger Sergei Mozyakin with the 263rd pick in the ninth round of the 2002 draft. By then, Mozyakin already had a handful of high-scoring seasons under his belt in Russia’s second-tier league and was ready for the big show. By 2005-06, right at the height of the Evgeni Malkin hype, Mozyakin eked out Malkin and Alexei Morozov for the Russian League’s scoring crown, giving the Blue Jackets every reason to think he was the real deal.
The thing is, though, Mozyakin never made the move to the NHL.
For the past 18 years, first with CSKA Moscow, later with Atlant Mytishchi and currently with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Mozyakin has plied his trade in Russia, spending the past dozen years as one of the premier players in the KHL. And last week, Mozyakin put a stamp on his claim as one of the best and brightest to ever grace the league when he became the first player in KHL history to record 400 goals in the circuit. (Albeit, 338 were regular season tallies and the other 62 were post-season goals. The league combines both to get the total.)
Given his level of offensive prowess in the KHL, Mozyakin will forever remain one of those what-ifs for the Blue Jackets. But he’s not the only player whose overseas success makes one question how he would have fared in the NHL. There are several other players who were drafted by NHL clubs who went on to have tremendous careers in Europe without playing a single NHL game, and here are five of the most notable:
Tony Hand, C – Edmonton Oilers, 12th round in 1986 (252nd overall)
Hockey in the United Kingdom has had a slow growth, but when Tony Hand was selected by the Oilers in the middle of the team’s dominance during the 1980s, it looked as though the Scottish-born center was set to be the first NHL representative from the region. Hand, who was the first of just three British players to be drafted in the NHL (Colin Shields and Liam Kirk are the others), had a successful training camp and spent the entire two weeks with Wayne Gretzky and Co., but returned home due to homesickness before he could skate in an NHL game. He proceeded to place an absolute beating on his home league, scoring 921 goals and 2,259 points in the BHL (825 points more than the next-best scorer) and 298 points in 229 EIHL games. His career lasted from 1982 through to 2015, during which time he won more than 50 awards and served as a player-coach for 14 seasons.
Vladislav Tretiak, G – Montreal Canadiens, 7th round in 1983 (138th overall)
Given the natural talent of the Soviets back in the day, there’s more than a few who would have been superstars in the NHL. But perhaps the one that got away was Tretiak, considered by many to be one of the greatest goalies in the sport’s history. You know the story: three Olympic golds, 10 world championships and many, many personal awards that made him one of the most decorated goaltenders of all time. The Canadiens drafted Tretiak in 1983, but the 31-year-old was prevented from signing with the Canadiens by the Soviet government despite his wish to pursue an NHL career. Tretiak retired at 32. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989.
Richmond Gosselin, C – Montreal Canadiens, 7th round in 1976 (118th overall)
Gosselin was a late-round pick out of Manitoba who didn’t seem to factor into Montreal’s plans. Gosselin managed to receive a three-game cup of coffee with the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets before heading to Switzerland. While his career was short-lived – he played roughly 300 career games (exact numbers in the 70s are a bit foggy) – Gosselin recorded 573 points during his time in Switzerland and was the top-scoring player in the circuit during his time there. Following his retirement in 1990, Gosselin coached in the Swiss NLA and NLB, and also spent time behind the bench in Asia, Italy and as assistant coach of the Netherlands’ men’s national team.
Guy Fournier, F – Winnipeg Jets, 4th round in 1980 (65th overall)
The French League has never been the home of elite hockey action, but Fournier, a French Canadian, completely obliterated the league during the 1980s. Early stats are hard to come by, but from 1986 through 1997, Fournier registered 693 points in 325 games. While that puts Fournier 600 points behind Franck Pajonkowski in all-time scoring, it also puts the one-time Jets pick more than 200 points ahead of everyone other player who suited up during that span. Fournier found his home in France and has remained there since, serving as Rouen’s coach from 1997 until 2006. He has since moved into the GM chair, a role he holds to this day.
Vyacheslav Bykov, C – Quebec Nordiques, 9th round in 1989 (169th overall)
Impressive about Bykov is that he was dominant in not one European league, but two. As a member of CSKA Moscow during the 1980s, Bykov had 365 points in 430 games, the fourth-most among all players in the Soviet league during his time in the league. Throw in two Olympic golds and five World Championship titles and Bykov was as decorated as players come. However, Bykov didn’t sign with the Nordiques despite having the skillset to be an offensive leader and instead penned a deal with Fribourg-Gotteron in 1990 while remaining with the Soviets and later Russians in international play. During his 263-game career in the Swiss League, Bykov had 530 points, the most of any player during his time in the league, and his 87-point campaign in 1991-92 is only six points shy of the league record, which was set by Oleg Petrov (93 points) in 1997-98. Post-career, Bykov coached the Russians to consecutive World Championship golds in 2008 and 2009, won a pair of Gagarin Cups in the KHL and has since returned to Fribourg-Gotteron as a consultant.
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