[VIDEO] Alexander Mogilny: The Lost Shifts (A Look Back at a Buffalo Sabres Legend)
Due to the positive reception to my close analysis of Pavel Bure, I have decided to produce a spin-off instalment in which we focus our attention on another Russian hockey superstar -- his former-linemate, Alexander Mogilny. This is, in part, due to the lack of footage online of him, and in part because recollections of his game have seemingly been lost with time.
While hockey fans are well aware of, and quite familiar with some of the sport’s greatest all-time players, some players have become relatively obscure and mysterious once retiring from the NHL. Details about these players’ abilities, their styles of play, and their once-renowned presence in the hockey world have rarely been discussed, and it seems as time passes, more becomes forgotten; Alex Mogilny has unfortunately been a victim of this. He retired under unfortunate circumstances, buried in the AHL in the midst of the 2005-06 season and finishing his career with the New Jersey Devils’ minor-league affiliate. Throughout the majority of his career, however, Mogilny proved he could at times be a dominant force against opposing teams. He scored 76 goals in his fourth NHL season to tie for the league lead in scoring, became the first ever European NHL captain, was named to six NHL All-Star games, is a member of the Triple Gold Club, and became the second ever Russian player to reach the 1000-point mark in 2004.
Despite his accomplishments, though, there seems to be much curiosity now about what made Mogilny so effective; strangely, little is heard about him from fans of the Sabres, Devils, Leafs, or Canucks. In many discussions today, Mogilny has fallen under the radar, and many have difficulty recalling exact details about his style of play. Some have only identified him as a gifted skater who could score goals and make plays, but the specifics have been lost by many. Canucks fans recall little of him, and there is little discussion ever about his years in Vancouver. It is remarkable to see that Mogilny is the least discussed of the former-Soviet trio featuring Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, and himself; more surprising is the lack of footage online to educate and remind fans of what made him unique.
To answer several questions and provide a clear understanding of exactly what kind of player he was, I have compiled a footage reel featuring shifts from five NHL games featuring Alexander Mogilny from between 1993 and 2000. This footage includes many regular shifts in which he did not score goals, as well as goal highlights, breakout plays, physical plays, and demonstrations of immense creativity, structure, and control.
Footage was primarily taken from games against Colorado, Florida, and New Jersey; select highlights were taken from a game against Detroit and one against Calgary, however, to highlight successful goal scoring-attempts and to emphasize certain points. Below are the games from which footage was used:
February 24, 1993 vs. the Detroit Red Wings (to highlight how he scored goals)
April 27, 1994 vs. the New Jersey Devils
April 22, 1996 vs the Colorado Avalanche
October 5, 1996 vs. the Calgary Flames
April 13, 2000 vs. the Florida Panthers
Alexander Mogilny was, without question, a sniper, scoring many goals using either his tremendous slap shot or quick wrist shot to blast the puck by the goaltender. He had a magnificent shot, accomplishing a shooting percentage of 20% or above twice during his career while averaging fewer than 300 shots per season. In addition, Mogilny often worked behind the opposition’s net and at the right half-wall, controlling the play and presenting a commanding presence once his teammates had established themselves in the offensive zone. Once established, he would roam throughout the lower half of the offensive zone, often sneaking into the slot for a one-timer if the puck was on the left side, behind the net to make a play, or sometimes parking beside the crease for a tap-in. He was a calculated positional player, and would sometimes generate a sneaky scoring chance from behind the net by skating out front and pulling the puck on his backhand.
Alex was also strong on his skates and had incredible balance. Consequently, he could control the puck well from behind the net or skate into traffic to retrieve the puck. Often, he would be challenged by opposing defenders, forcing him to play a physical and rough style involving much pushing along the boards, behind the net, and at times in the crease. In the footage, he is seen at times involving himself with Adam Foote and Scott Stevens. He was a physical player, and was unafraid to use his body to protect the puck. Furthermore, he would always finish his check.
Mogilny’s vision was remarkable, and he possessed the uncanny ability to perform quick, difficult passes; furthermore, he could remain quite calm while in control of the play, and had a poise to his game that kept opponents guessing. He would not hesitate to attempt a cross-ice pass or to pass back-and-forth with a teammate until a scoring chance became apparent. Due to this patience, he would regularly evaluate when to shoot and when to pass, taking full advantage of his situation.
His stick handling skills were excellent, and his skating was above average. While he was not as explosive a skater as Bure, Mogilny’s tremendous agility allowed him to navigate smoothly throughout the open ice. His speed was also quite admirable. As a result, when carrying the puck into the offensive zone, he could frequently cut across the slot or maneuver into an open space to unleash his shot. Occasionally, though, he would catch the opponent unprepared, and would swiftly stickhandle through the defender. His hands allowed him to take advantage of his breakaways, regardless of whether he took a shot or backhanded the puck.
Defensively, he often remained at the right boards to provide an outlet for his defenders, and would fixate on guarding the point when defending in his own zone; on breakouts, he would rely on his teammates to provide him with a pass either as he left the defensive zone or as he rushed up neutral ice. His ability to send pucks across the ice, however, was quite useful when his team needed to transition quickly.
Alexander Mogilny, for the most part, was a very structured, calculated player, utilizing his patience, physicality, and creative passing plays to generate offense. Offensively, Alex often drifted within a designated area in the offensive zone and would rely particularly on plays from the right side and behind the net; his anticipation, meanwhile, permitted him to retrieve loose pucks and create second opportunities from behind the opposing net. He utilized his shot and side-to-side movement, as well as sneaky tactics to generate chances and would generally return to a number of preferred locations in the offensive zone if he was out of position. If he was freewheeling, however, Mogilny’s skill set allowed him to at times perform remarkable feats with the puck.
Without question, he was a different type of player from his two former-Soviet linemates. It is unfortunate, however, that more details about him have been forgotten than those of Bure and Fedorov. Though Mogilny’s game may not be as exhilarating as Pavel’s or as defensively-slick as Sergei’s, his presence as an intuitive, physical, creative sniper and playmaker should be recalled with fondness by Sabres fans and supporters of one of Russia's greatest all-time players.
I remember walking through the parking lot at Sabre Land in Wheatfield to watch training camp scrimmages before Mogilny's first season as a Sabre.
He had already bought a Prussian blue Porsche 911 slantnose from Northtown Toy Store, which was sitting in the parking lot, complete with Toy Store plate frame, and heavily cracked linen (color) leather interior. A nice car, but this example was rather beaten up.
Jim Lorentz went crazy one game very early in Mogilny's career, commenting on how Mogilny could stick handle well while skating at full speed, which most guys simply can't do.
I also recall the first year the NHL went with the skills competition for the All Star Game. I was at the building for a free event in which all the Sabres had to do the various skills, to see who was the best at what, so we knew who to send to the All Star Game that year for the skills competitions.
After they did the slap shot with the radar gun contest, Mogilny went out to get his WRIST shot clocked, b/c it was so damned hard.
I honestly can't remember, but I want to say it was clocked at around 80mph, which is not bad for a wrist shot.
Was anyone else there who remembers what the shot was clocked at?