My list of the most talented hockey players I have ever seen in the National Hockey League has to include Alexei Zhamnov.
Zhamnov graduated from Moscow Dynamo to join the Winnipeg Jets for four years. He was best known as Teemu Selanne's centerman during the Finnish Flash's highest scoring days. Zhamnov, nicknamed "Archie" due to his uncanny resemblance to the famous cartoon character, moved on to Chicago in 1996 for 8 seasons. He rounded up his career with brief appearances with Philadelphia and Boston.
Yet, it seemed, he had trouble finding his top game with any sort of consistency. Ah yes, the classic Russian centerman - skilled beyond belief but frustrating as hell. Although I always though that Russian centermen - and especially Zhamnov - were somewhat misunderstood in the North American game. Perhaps he was so talented and so understanding of the game of hockey and it's positioning that he gave the impression he was floating.
In some ways I think it is a case of buyer-beware by NHL teams and for fan expectations. The old Soviet school of hockey trained centermen differently than North Americans. The center is still arguably the most important player on the ice, but in Soviet hockey the wingers get the offensive chances more so than the center. I don't know if there has been a Soviet-trained center - not even Igor Larionov or Sergei Fedorov - who did not frustrate North American fans with perceived indifferent play.
Maybe that is something to remember the next time your favorite team has a frustratingly talented Russian centerman. That may change over the coming years, although the immediate generation or 2 following the break up of the Soviet Union has continued to come from the same school of thought. Maybe Russian centermen need to be adopt more offensive urgency in the NHL.
Alexei Zhamnov's final line sounds like this: 807 NHL games played with 249 goals and 470 assists for 719 points. In the lockout shortened 1995 season he was a second team NHL All Star. Internationally he represented his country at three Olympics, winning gold in 1992, silver in 1998 and silver in 2002. A career ending ankle injury prevented him from playing in 2006