Andy Potts Andy Potts
exclusive for continues its rundown of the top players from the 12 years of the league. And today it’s the turn of one of the most enigmatic players in the game — a defenseman who has outscored them all, while maintaining the lowest possible public profile.

12 from 12. Best defensemen: Evgeny Medvedev

3. Kirill Koltsov

GP: 582; G: 72; A: 248; Pts: 322; +/-: 73; PIM: 483

Clubs: Salavat Yulaev, SKA, Torpedo, Traktor, Spartak, Avtomobilist

Country: Russia

For Kirill Koltsov, the stats from the KHL era only tell half the story. The third most productive D-man in the history of the league was already an experienced player before the league was formed, making his debut in the Russian top-flight way back in 2000 when he was just 17. At that time he was on Avangard’s books, and Koltsov would win the final edition of the Russian Superleague in 2008 with Salavat Yulaev. However, it was in the KHL that the Chelyabinsk-born defenseman would set records.

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The most notable of them came on Jan 21, 2015 when Koltsov overtook Vyacheslav Fetisov as the most productive defenseman in Russian hockey. His goal for Salavat Yulaev that day took him to 376 points — and fittingly it came in a game against Avangard, his first pro club. There was still plenty more to come, with Koltsov eventually compiling 456 (114+342) points in the country’s top league and completing a huge 958 games in the KHL and Superleague.

There were many memorable moments: winning the Gagarin Cup with Salavat Yulaev in 2011, five All-Star appearances, twice leading the league in scoring from defense (2014, 2015). And there was a special goal on Aug. 23, 2016, scoring on SKA’s Mikko Koskinen to get Traktor off to a winning start to that campaign. It was a significant moment as Koltsov, Chelyabinsk born and raised, made his first appearance for Traktor, long after he left the club’s youth set-up to go to Omsk.

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All quiet on the international front

Given that impressive longevity and productivity, Koltsov played surprisingly little international hockey. After winning World Championships with Russia at U18 and U20 level, he appeared just once at an IIHF tournament as an adult. That was in Riga in 2006, where Vladimir Krikunov’s team fell in the quarter-final. Koltsov was named the top D-man on the roster, but never returned for another World Championship campaign. Similarly, he did not take his talents across the Atlantic for long. Despite being drafted by the Canucks in 2002 and earning the nickname ‘the dangling defenseman’ during an interrupted spell with Manitoba Moose, Koltsov never reached the NHL. He left Manitoba during the lock-out season in 2004 and returned to Russia, where he remained until the end of his career.

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That’s one reason why Koltsov’s name doesn’t resonate in the global hockey community as powerfully as many of the others on this list. The other big factor is to do with the player’s temperament. In a sporting world where top stars are increasingly public property, via interviews, social media and all the rest, Koltsov was content to let his performance on the ice do the talking for him. Even at the All-Star Game, usually a day when even the most reclusive players relax a little, comments from Koltsov were hard to elicit. “I don’t care what others think about my game,” was a typical quote from the defenseman — and the numbers did indeed tell everyone what he was worth. At the same time, though, a reputation for grumpiness — his head coach at Salavat Yulaev, Vyacheslav Bykov, described the defenseman as ‘introverted’ — perhaps limited his chances on the international stage. It might also explain why, as a veteran, his fall was relatively swift. In 2017, Koltsov was Traktor’s most productive defenseman as he helped Chelyabinsk to the playoffs; the following season he left in December with a −18 rating and managed just two short spells with Spartak and Avtomobilist before hanging up his skates in 2019. For all his achievements on the ice, Koltsov has rarely been heard of since leaving Yekaterinburg; a career in coaching seems unlikely for this most particular of talents.

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Related clubs

Avtomobilist (Ekaterinburg) Avtomobilist (Ekaterinburg)
Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
Spartak (Moscow) Spartak (Moscow)
Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod Region) Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod Region)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk) Traktor (Chelyabinsk)
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