Top-5 Russians: Edmonton Oilers

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)

  • Igor Ulanov was my favourite Russian. He was unbelievably tough, and one of the last Oiler defenders that actually tried to hit somebody.

    He will be remembered as a Warrior in my mind.

    If I were to get an Oilers jersey of somebody who was never a “star”, it would be Ulanov.

  • 24% body fat

    nothing against kovalenko, but he needs to do a better job of running the khl pa, or maybe it is a deadend job. maybe i dont have all the details but to me it seems they need to step up the safety in that league on and off the ice.

    also remember the trade trio. czerkawski (misspelled sorry), than kovalenko, than selivanov. We kept trading one for the next great hope, and they showed signs of brilliace but in the long run didnt turn out.

  • I do love me some Russians. Igor, toughest and best shot blocker! He is one of my all times faves!! And Grebs, yes he made mistakes but he did it with such flair, you could not help but adore him. Or was that just me?

    Oilers need some more Russians….get on it!

  • 24% body fat

    It’s about as far from Edmonton to Moscow as it is Detroit to Moscow. Remember, the world isn’t flat, and it isn’t a cylinder. Canada and Russia look gigantic on a flat map, but everything close to the poles gets squished together.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Great group… [Edit – somehow I’ve managed to convince myself for numerous years that Smid was Russian… it’s like finding out you’ve misheard the lyrics to your favorite song since childhood… bizarrely enlightening and embarrassing at the same time] Also Horcov.

    also… normally I wouldn’t be so petty about a typo… but it’s Smyth not Smith!

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        thanks for the tip. updated. eggs benny on face. at least now I have another reason to enjoy my Czechvar during the games!

        [Edit] @Jerk Store – I know right… when entire varieties of beer are named after your cities… you’re on to something! Plzen = Pilsner; Budweis = Budweiser (these aren’t just brands, but varieties)

        I was there right before they joined the EU. I made up for the $75 travel visa with the money I saved on numerous $.50 750ml bottles of the best beer in the world!!

        • Jerk Store

          No problem RA, I lead the league in errors. But as someone who has travelled through the Czech Republic, I am pretty sure Smid would rather be called anything but a Russian. 1968 is not forgotten there.

          Add: czech beer HIGHLY underrated. Cliff Clavin trivia: Per capita beer consumption highest in world…. Czechs. At least they were a couple of years ago. All that, and Smid too!

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Yea… I have no rational explanation. I’ve looked over his history a number of times and somehow autocorrected Czech to Russian in my head, like a dyslexic tic. go figure!

            I went through CR in the early aughts and remember being struck by Špilberk Castle in Brno, home of Mendel and the Bohemian seat of power of yesteryear.


            The basement was basically a massive dungeon and they had this huge exhibit on torture devices used throughout the years… basically every eastern european dictator who managed to get their hands on Brno for 400 years or so took despicable advantage of the place right up to the Nazis and the Commies.

            for the uninitiated and slightly on topic:

            (i actually saw Lena Olin on the street in NYC last year… still smokin’ hot!)

            [edit] @EasyOil

            no worries. it was a boneheaded blunder… deserved to be called out bigtime.

  • Jerk Store

    My favorite was Anatoli Semenov who played 2 seasons in the early 90’s.

    35+38 = 71 pts in 116 regular season games
    6+6 = 12 pts in 20 playoff games

    In game 7 versus the Flames he scored the go ahead goal in third period (before Flames tied it and Tikkanen scored the OT winner).

    Honorable mentions to…
    Alex Selivanov: 35 + 25 = 61pts in 96 games
    Sergei Samsonov: 5 + 11 = 16pts in 19 regular season game. 4 + 11 in 24 playoff games

  • What, no love for our current MVP?! KHABI! KHABI! KHABI!

    In all seriousness though this brought back some memories. I was very young when both Bobo and Kravchuk were here and it’s nice to read about them again.

  • RexLibris

    The funny thing is that if you were to invert this list you’d probably have the list of Russian Oilers as they stand in fans’ hearts. Ulanov may have appeared to produce the least but he was first in fans’ hearts because of his consistent play and his work ethic.

    The best story I can think of about Russian players is the one Robin Brownlee tells when (Oh-No, Bobo) Mironov went out looking for an AWOL Kovalenko one evening and returned saying that he had checked every bar in town, to which someone (Brownlee?) replied “did they all have a two-drink minimum?”. I also remember Sather being interviewed about Kovalenko going through a slump and his response: “with some players, like Klima, it was easy to motivate him. I’d bet him $100 he couldn’t score three goals and he’d go out and score three. It was all about money with him. With Kovalenko I just don’t know.” (paraphrasing)

    Ah, Alex Selivanov. He was probably still a step up from Daigle.

    • The looking for Kovy quote comes from the incident a reader loosely related above.

      I was outside the team hotel in Los Angeles at about 7 a.m. waiting for the bus to the airport. I look over and spot Boris in a cab. I’m thinking, “Great, I’ll just ride with Bobo to the airport.” Problem is, he’s just not getting ready to go to the airport, he’s arriving back at the hotel from a night out in LA.

      He staggers out of the cab with a driver hot on his heels. “Hey, buddy, you’ve got to pay.” Boris blotto as a man can get, keeps going, veering toward the front door of the hotel. With the driver about to grab Boris, and probably get into a helluva brawl, I jump in between. I ask the cabbie what Boris owes and I pay him. He`s got his money and leaves, flipping both of us off on the way. Just then, coach Ron Low appears. He`s mortified.

      I tell Ronnie what happened. He says staight-faced, `You didn`t see that.`Anyway, later just before we get on the bus, a shame-faced and still in-the-bag Boris slaps $40 in my hand and thanks me over and over again for stepping in. We get on the bus and head for our flight.

      Kovalenko never did show up before we left, although he caught a flight to Edmonton that arrived near midnight. We (The Journal) had a photographer waiting for him at the airport and I`d already written a story and talked to Kovy`s wife.

      That`s when Boris hatched the excuse that he was out looking for Kovy when Low grilled him about what the hell had happened. Got a nice front-page story, complete with photo of Kovy looking like death warmed over, out of the episode. Killed The Sun on that one.

      Now you have it.

  • Oilerbill

    “In 1996/97 Andrei was second on the team in scoring with 32 goals in 74 games, only 7 goals behind Ryan Smith.”


    That’s sacrilege! You owe all ON faithful an apology.

    How am I the first to notice this?

    • justDOit

      Ullie is still is one of my favourite Oilers, all time.

      If we could only keep our current man-beast Russian from injuring other Oilers, maybe he’d have a better chance at cracking the lineup!

  • Aitch

    Kravchuk was a beast in NHL ’94 (or ’93, i forget). He would almost always win all the major awards for d-men and was often a leading scorer in the league despite never having put up great numbers as a d-man. Me and my buddies used to get such a kick out of it.

    (Of course, maybe it was because we played as the Oilers and he was the only regular we left in the starting line-up after creating our own players. Five years of living in rez will do things to your memory, eh ~S~K?)