By Andrey Osadchenko
The Oilers could never really brag about their Russians. It might the cold, it might be the distance between Motherland and Edmonton (which is huge) and it might be something else, but the ugly truth is that none of the Russians ever spent a whole lot of time with the team. Here’s a quick look at five who did and left their mark. Ironically, four of them are defensemen.
1. Boris Mironov
Birthday – 21.03.1972
Position – Defense
Height – 6’3
Weight – 212lbs
Drafted – 1992 round 2 #27
Stats with the Oilers – 42+118=160 points in 320 regular season games, 5+11=16 points in 24 play-off games
Even though the younger of the Mironov brothers was originally drafted by the Jets, Boris finished his rookie season with the Oilers. He was traded to Edmonton along with Mats Lindgren and 1st (Jason Bonsignore) and 4th (Adam Copeland) round draft picks to Edmonton in exchange for Dave Manson and a 6th round draft pick (Chris Kibermanis).
It’s never a good thing to get traded in your first season in the NHL, especially for someone who was only getting accustomed to the language, lifestyle and North American style of hockey. However, Mironov managed to perform well enough to be included on the NHL All-Rookie team that year.
He spent the next 5 seasons in the Oil Country, flourishing into a top-4 defenseman. He wasn’t afraid to deliver hard checks as well as fight just about anybody.
In Edmonton they called him "BoBo" and the fans back home put their hopes on Mironov every time the Olympics were in motion. Unfortunately, he never won neither Olympic gold, nor the Stanley Cup. Interestingly enough, he played in played in the play-offs only 3 times and 2 of them were with the Oilers.
Boris was traded from the Oilers to the Blackhawks in 1999 along with Jonas Elofsson and Dean McAmmond for Chad Kilger, Ethan Moreau, Daniel Cleary and Christian Laflamme. He retired last season, having spent it as a playing coach for Krylia Sovetov – the team where he older brother, Dmitry, began his hockey career. He now lives in USA and runs a business
2. Andrei Kovalenko
Birthday – 07.06.1970
Position – Right Wing
Height – 6’0 Weight – 227lbs
Drafted – 1990 round 8 #148
Stats with the Oilers – 51+58=109 points in 176 regular season games, 4+3=7 points in 13 play-off games
They called him a ‘Russian Tank’ for a reason. It’s a safe to say that none of the Russians either before nor after Kovalenko stormed the crease with such intensity as he did. He was always known for his relentless rushes and fearless nature, which allowed him to compete at the highest level.
He joined the Oilers organization in the summer of 1996 after having spent exactly 1 year with the Montreal Canadiens, who in turn got him from the Colorado Avalanche as part of Patrick Roy deal. The guy the Oilers sent to Montreal was Scott Thornton. Kovalenko spent 3 seasons in Edmonton and the best of them was probably the first one.
In 1996/97 Andrei was second on the team in scoring with 32 goals in 74 games, only 7 goals behind Ryan Smith. He was also third on the team in total points (59) and tied for the 4th in the play-offs with 4+3=7 points in 12 games. Kovalenko was traded to the Boston Bruins in January 1999 for… Alexandre Daigle. Don’t get all jumpy. The Oilers then got rid of Daigle by trading him to the Bolts for another Russian – Alexander Selivanov. As for Kovalenko, he retired in 2008 and now runs KHL PA.
3. Igor Kravchuk
Birthday – 13.09.1966
Position – Defense
Height – 6’1
Weight – 205lbs
Drafted – 1991 round 4 #71 Stats with the Oilers – 27+61=88 points in 160 regular season games (0 playoff games)
In Russia, Kravchuk was always considered as one of the smartest Soviet defensemen. No wonder – he won the Olympic gold twice and played at the NHL All-Star game in the 1997/98 season. He currently works as North American scout for Team Russia.
Kravchuk became an Oiler in the February of 1993 when the Blackhawks traded him and Dean McAmmond for Joe Murphy. Igor was amazing in his first full season in Edmonton and finished fifth in scoring (1st among defensemen) on the team with 12 goals and 50 points in 81 games. He was also only 7 points behind third-placed Zdeno Ciger that year.
That turned out to be probably his best season in the NHL. At least, iproduction-wise. In 1996, Igor was traded to the Blues along with Ken Sutton for Jeff Norton and Donald Dufresne.
Kravchuk retired in 2003. His 18-year-old son, Kristofer Kravchuk, plays defense for the red Army and recenlty won the Kharlamov Cup (main trophy of the Russian Junior Hockey League).
4. Denis Grebeshkov
Birthday – 11.10.1983
Position – Defense
Height – 6’0
Weight – 179lbs
Drafted – 2002 round 1 #18
Stats with the Oilers – 16+60=76 points in 190 regular season games (0 playoff games)
Unlike other players presented in this chart, Grebeshkov played for the Oilers recently. The former 1st-rounder joined the team in 2007 when the Oilers traded him from the Isles for Marc-Andre Bergeron and a 3rd round pick.
At very least this hard-working, all-around defenseman didn’t disappoint his new bosses. In the season 2007/08 he was second among defensemen on the team in scoring 3+15=18 points in 71 games. Next season – same story. Only this time he had 7+32=39 points in 72 games. Both times the only defensemen who had more points than Grebeshkov was Tom Gilbert.
Unfortunately, the Oilers continued to underperform and a few changes had to be made. Trading Grebeshkov for a 2nd round pick to the Nashville Predators in 2010 seemed like a good idea at the time. It turned out well for Edmonton since later on Denis left for SKA St.Petersburg (KHL). Interesting fact – Grebeshkov hasn’t missed a World Championship once since 2007. He also has won 2 gold medals with Team Russia at the World Juniors.
5. Igor Ulanov
Birthday – 01.10.1969
Position – Defense
Height – 6’1
Weight – 203lbs
Drafted – 1991 round 10 #203
Stats with the Oilers – 11+42=53 points in 160 regular season games, 0+0=0 points in 11 play-off games
Ulanov and the Oilers had a very interesting relationship. He was originally drafted by the Winnipeg Jets but truly found his legs as an NHLer in E-town. Igor was traded to the Oilers in 2000 from the Habs along with Alain Nasreddine in exchange for Christian Laflamme and Matthieu Descoteaux.
In his first full season with the organization, Ulanov, who was always better known for his hitting ability rather than for having a knack for scoring, set his personal record registering 3+20=23 points. That was good enough for him to sign with the Rangers next summer as free agent.
Ulanov was apparently born to shine in Edmonton though. He came back 2 years later once again as a free agent. This time he set his personal record in goal-scoring, notching 5 tallies. Altogether, he spent 4 seasons with the Oilers and 2 of them were the most productive in his entire career.
He retired 2009 and currently resides in his hometown of Krasnokamsk.
(Andrey Osadchenko is the Nations Russian Correspondant. Follow him on twitter @Aosadchenko)