During the 1990-1991 NHL season, a phenomenal young man entered the league in Buffalo, New York. Alexander Mogilny became the first player in history to defect from the Soviet Union and come play in the United States. It would not take long for him to become a staple in the Western New York sports scene largely due to his blistering speed, and not long after his arrival he was coined “Alexander The Great” and the “Red Hot Russian” by legendary play by play man Rick Jeanerette. Mogilny was exciting to watch during these years as he could break a game open. The best season in his professional career came when he and Teemu Selanne tied for the league lead in goals with 76.
Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, Mogilny was temperamental and had trouble breaking the game open on his own. Look at his stats and a noticeable void can be found at the times when either Pierre Turgeon or Pat LaFontaine were absent from the lineup. This presented a terrible challenge for Buffalo management as they were always trying to fill a hole in the roster for the purpose of getting Mogilny moving. This and his inability to speak English very well made it appear that he did not like speaking with the reporters.
Eventually the hassle of having to accommodate a single player on the roster and he was shipped to the Vancouver Canucks for the 95/96 NHL season. While with the Canucks he was initially an impact player hitting the 50 goal and 100 point mark for only the second time in his career. His second season was not quite as productive as his first, until he eventually faded into obscurity. He was eventually shipped to New Jersey in exchange for what would be a key member of the famed “West Coast Express” line in Brendan Morrison.
In New Jersey, Larry Robinson was able to finally convince Mogilny that there was more to the game of hockey than simply scoring. He learned defensive zone responsibility and eventually was able to celebrate a Stanley Cup. Afterwards, he spent a brief period in Toronto becoming the winger that Mats Sundin always wanted but never had. Following the season ending lockout he signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils, but he would only play 34 games before being buried in the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment which he never returned from.
So many may be asking, why write about this in a Maple Leafs blog? The answer is simple if you look close enough. The Maple Leafs have a mirror image of this player on their roster. Phil Kessel is an electric hockey player, there is no dispute about that. What is debatable is whether or not a team can be built around him. Mogilny in all of his stops was a great complimentary piece, but he was never the guy carrying the load. Kessel seems poised to have exactly the same kind of career, and if he is it means trouble for Toronto.
The Leafs need to make a determination going forward of exactly what they have on their roster, and it is vital that they determine if they can get the necessary players while holding on to Kessel. If they can than he can be a very productive member of what should be a great squad. If not they need to find a way to maximize his value to the team. Hitting 40 goals is a wonderful accomplishment, one which deserves praise. He currently is 3 goals from hitting 100 in his career as a Maple Leaf, and what do they have to show for it?
Kessel was not exactly embraced in Boston for his inability to play a team gam