Detroit Red Wings: The forgotten member of the Russian Five

9 Mar 1999: Vyacheslav Kozlov #13 of the Detroit Red Wings skates on the ice during the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. The Kings defeated the Red Wings 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kellie Landis /Allsport
9 Mar 1999: Vyacheslav Kozlov #13 of the Detroit Red Wings skates on the ice during the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. The Kings defeated the Red Wings 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kellie Landis /Allsport /

A scout once told former Detroit Red Wings General Manager Jimmy Devellano that he was the best 15-year-old prospect he’d ever seen.

I ask you one question; was Vyacheslav Kozlov the forgotten member of the Russian five?  The Detroit Red Wings drafted young Kozlov in the third round, 45th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Level Draft.

You’ve got to remember this was during a time where the uncertainty of these young Russian players being able to defect to North America was in real question.  Drafting these players this high in the draft was a huge risk because you may never see them within your franchise little own your lineup.

The year before Kozlov was drafted, Jim Devellano and the Detroit Red Wings selected the great Sergei Fedorov in the 4th round, 74th overall.  Vladimir Konstantinov was the last player chosen in 1989.  He went in the 11th round, 221st overall, the same year as Fedorov.  Many people consider that to be the best Detroit Red Wings draft of all-time, and it is hard to argue.  The draft doesn’t even go that many rounds anymore; the current format ends at the conclusion of the 7th round.

More from Octopus Thrower

The three members of the Russian-five, the Detroit Red Wings, were bargains, for two reasons.  The Detroit Red Wings were credited with being one of the first teams overseas scouting.  In turn, their European scouting was well advanced by the time the rest of league caught on and started scouting abroad themselves.

Another reason was the risk of the player not being released by the Red Army (Russian Government) allowing them to play in the NHL.  In the film, The Russian Five directed by Joshua Riehl, Jim Devellano explains that a scout mentioned to him about this young kid, Slava Kozlov being the “best” 15-year-old player he’d ever seen.  Devellano replies “best Russian 15 year old?”  The scout replied, “no, best ever.”

Devellano felt he needed to grab Kozlov in the third round rather than wait until the fourth as he did the year before with Fedorov for fear another franchise may have seen Kozlov and followed suit as the Wings did in 89′ by taking him in the fourth round before the Detroit Red Wings had a chance to pick him.

When you say the term Russian Five, what comes to your mind first?  I’m sure Kozlov is the fifth name you think of.  First I think of Sergei Fedorov, that is simply because he is personally my favorite of the group.  He’s actually one of my favorite hockey players of all-time, so I am admittedly biased.

The second is Vladdy; I hate to say it but because of the devastating accident.  He was a Norris Trophy candidate in back to back seasons prior to the limousine accident.  He was a top defender in the NHL.  He was entering the prime of his career, and we were left to wonder what could have been if that unfortunate accident didn’t occur.

Igor Larionov was nicknamed the professor.  In 1995 the Detroit Red Wings sent a former 50 goal scorer in Ray Sheppard to the Sharks for Larionov.  So the price was steep but in the end, it would pay off in a big way.

Slava Fetisov  Detroit acquired in a deal with the New Jersey Devils for a 3rd round pick in 1995.  The Wings would end up being swept by the Devils in the 95 Stanley Cup Finals.  When Fetisov defected to North America, he was regarded as one of the best defensemen in the world.  We’ll talk much more about Fetisov another time.

Basically what I’ve tried to say is Kozlov always seems to be the fifth guy mentioned.  He had a tremendous career, a better career than many people probably realize.  He played sparingly in his first two seasons in which he made a mere 24 NHL appearances.  In those combined 24 games he recorded 7 points.

He was able to burst onto the scene at the age of 21 in 1993.  He played 77 games and scored 34 goals, added 39 assists and totaled 73 points.  He was a plus 27 and owned a shooting percentage of nearly 17%.

The two-time Stanley Cup Champion continued on for 16 more years in the NHL.  He was the main player sent to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal that landed the Detroit Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek.  The Wings also sent a first round pick that would end up being Jim Slater who recorded 138 total points throughout his career.

Kozlov also continued to thrive into his mid 30’s while playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.  From the age of 33-36, he recorded point totals of 71,80,41,76 respectfully in consecutive seasons.

This brings me to a conclusion; I wonder if Slava Kozlov wasn’t just overlooked as a member of the Wings, I wonder if he isn’t a Hall of Famer? Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov, and Slava Fetisov are all represented in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.  Surely if Vladdy were able to continue his career, he’d be in the HOF.  Larionov started his NHL career later in life at the age of 29.  He recorded 644 career NHL points in 921 games.

Flashback Friday Vladimir Konstantinov. dark. Next

Kozlov played in 1182 career NHL games recording 356 goals, 497 assists totaling 853 career points.  The Hall of Fame is the “Hockey Hall of Fame” and not just the NHL players are represented.  It begs me to wonder if the HOF shouldn’t have the entire group represented.  It was a unique time and a critical part of hockey history.