March 31, 1989 – Calgary, Canada
Viktor Nechayev was a very average player in the Soviet league when he left his country in 1982 and somehow played his way onto the Los Angeles Kings roster. In all, he played just three games in the NHL, scoring one goal, and later he continued his career in Germany. So by definition, Nechayev is the answer to the trivia question: Who was the first Soviet-trained player to play in the NHL?
But Nechayev is really just a piece of trivia. The distinction of being the first Soviet national team player to come to the NHL with the approval of the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation belongs to Sergei Priakhin. The forward from Krylia Sovietov (Soviet Wings) was not of top-notch Soviet calibre and was far from being a talent in the Larionov, Krutov, or Makarov tradition of greatness. Priakhin, though, represented the Soviet Union in the 1987 Canada Cup and two World Championships (1987, 1990). It was this quality of being a perfectly respectable player—but not a superstar--that made him the perfect candidate as the first Soviet export to the NHL. Priakhin was decent enough not to give Soviet hockey a bad name, but he was also a player who the Soviet league and national team could reasonably afford to lose.
The Calgary Flames drafted Priakhin in the 12th round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. After spending the first part of the season with his Moscow-based Soviet Wings, Priakhin joined the Flames toward the end of the NHL season, making his debut on March 31, 1989. Although he played in only three NHL games with the Flames that season, he brought good karma with him. Calgary won its first and still only Stanley Cup that spring with the Soviet player on the roster. Priakhin never got his name on the Stanley Cup, however, because he hadn’t played enough games to qualify.
Praikhin remained with the Flames for two more seasons, playing 44 games and scoring 11 points. In 1992, he returned to the Soviet Wings but later continued his career in Zurich, Switzerland and Espoo, Finland. Priakhin didn’t have any major impact on the NHL, but his transfer was of historic value. NHL teams hoped that it would pave the way for future players to make the sanctioned trip to the west, but massive political change beat the NHL to the punch, as it were. Just seven months after Priakhin signed with the Flames, the Berlin Wall was dismantled and the Iron Curtain was no more. Less than two years after the transfer, the Soviet Union was dissolved and players from the former Eastern Bloc (primarily the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia) started to flood the NHL.
But whatever later developments brought, Sergei Priakhin will forever be remembered as the first player allowed to leave the closed world of Soviet ice hockey for the NHL.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.