GP: 793; G: 405; A: 492; Pts: 897; +/-: 201; PIM: 170
Clubs: Atlant, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
He’s Russia’s most prolific forward, a multi-titled master marksman who keeps on setting new records. Sergei Mozyakin is, not surprisingly, the deadliest forward to play in the KHL.
However you tot up his numbers, the stats are superlative. It’s more than three years now since Mozyakin overtook Boris Mikhailov’s tally of 428 goals in top-flight Russian hockey and set out into uncharted territory. His haul in the KHL alone is unmatched: 405 goals, 492 assists and a trophy cabinet groaning with individual awards from a career that has brought two Gagarin Cups, two World Championship wins and Olympic gold in PyeongChang two years ago. In total, he has 1,018 points in Russian Superleague and KHL play.
And yet, strangely, Mozyakin’s career did not make a promising start. Born in Yaroslavl, his talents were overlooked by Torpedo’s hockey school (now Lokomotiv’s). He left his hometown club in 1998, shortly after his 18th birthday, without ever playing for the first team. The following season, he played just four official games, briefly featuring for Val-d’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL and picking up one assist — his sole point in North American hockey. A contract dispute cut short his spell in Canada, and Mozyakin re-emerged in Russia with CSKA for the 1999/2000 season. As he celebrated his 20th birthday, he could call himself a Russian Superleague player, but had just nine appearances and two assists for the Army Men at that level. There was no junior international recognition, despite scoring heavily in the second tier, and he was twice overlooked at the NHL draft. In 2002, when he was finally taken by the Blue Jackets, he was a 21-year-old in his last year of draft eligibility. He went in the ninth round, more a hopeful punt than a prestige prospect.
At CSKA, he continued to develop. By 2005/06 he was producing a point a game in the Superleague and got his first international call with three points in four games at the World Championship in Riga. It was the start of a 13-year run in which he only once dropped below a point a game in the Russian Championship.
When the KHL started, Mozyakin was with Mytishchi. To mark a new era in Russian hockey, his team changed its name from Khimik to Atlant. The forward wasn’t the highest profile player in the new league — the likes of Alexander Radulov, Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Morozov were grabbing most of the headlines — but he outstripped them all to top the scoring with 76 (37+29) points in the regular season. He also made his first All-Star appearance and, to date, has been selected for that showpiece occasion every year.
Season two saw Mozyakin top the scoring again; season three brought a first Gagarin Cup final run, with 21 points in 23 playoff games before Atlant was halted by Salavat Yulaev in the Grand Final. That was the final season in the Moscow suburbs. Metallurg came calling, and Mozyakin made the move that would secure his status as a Russian hockey legend.
Today, Mozyakin and Metallurg are indelibly linked. So it’s strange to note that his first season in Magnitogorsk was — by his standards — a disappointment. In 2011/12, the left-winger managed 39 (20+19) points in 53 games. Decent, but hardly groundbreaking. Bigger things were to come. Fast forward a year, and despite injuries limiting him to 48 regular-season appearances, Mozyakin was back on top of the scoring charts with 76 points. In 2014 he got his hands on the Gagarin Cup for the first time, piling up 33 (13+20) points in the playoffs and sweeping the individual honors at the end of the season. When Russia faltered at the Sochi Olympics that season, many — including IIHF President Rene Fasel — were quick to suggest that things might have been different if Mozyakin had been on Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s team.
The distinctions kept coming. Another Gagarin Cup in 2016, a record-breaking 85 points in the regular season in 2017 and that long-awaited Olympic call-up a year later. By now he had led the KHL in scoring on six occasions and set the mark for most appearances in the league with 793, just ahead of Metallurg team-mate Evgeny Biryukov. And Metallurg’s captain confirmed a further one-year extension with the club this summer, bringing up 10 years in Magnitogorsk and keeping him at the highest level as he approaches his 40th birthday.
However, all of Mozyakin’s achievements have prompted much speculation about why he never tried to crack the NHL. If the Soviet-era stars whose records he has broken were denied the opportunity to cross the Atlantic, Mozyakin never lacked for suitors. And yet, the move never happened.
A man of relatively few words, always happiest to let his hockey do the talking, Mozyakin quickly concluded that the grass would not necessarily be greener elsewhere. The Blue Jackets were reportedly desperate to bring him over but there was little chance of a Stanley Cup contender emerging in Columbus, so Sergei stayed home. Later, Pittsburgh made an approach but Mozyakin preferred the security of a six-year deal at Metallurg, giving his family a level of domestic stability that would have been hard to ensure after a move overseas.
And today, family remains a huge deal. Mozyakin’s son, Andrei, is now 19 and playing regularly for Metallurg’s Junior Hockey League team. Father has spoken about one more hockey dream: to play on the same line as Andrei for Metallurg. Next season, we might see that dream come true at last.