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Today in Hockey History: Alexander Mogilny is the 1st Player to Defect From the Soviet Union to Play in the NHL

May 4, 1989: 20-year-old Alexander Mogilny becomes the first player to defect from the Soviet Union to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL.

Selecting Alexander Mogilny in the 5th round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft turned out to be far less risky than the efforts taken to get him on North American soil and in a Sabres uniform.

But the risks quickly paid off.

Just days after winning the 1989 Ice Hockey World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, Alexander Mogilny, with the help of Sabres front office, Gerry Meehan (Sabres GM) and Don Luce (Sabres Director of player development), eluded KGB and boarded a flight for New York City and defected from the Soviet Union.

Unlike fellow-countryman Sergei Pryakhin, Mogilny was still seen as “essential to its [Soviet Union] effort at the world championships” for years to come, and therefore not granted permission from the Soviet government to play in the NHL.

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Although he lost the 1989 Calder Trophy to Rangers’ defenseman Brian Leetch, Mogilny put up an impressive 43 points in his rookie campaign.

He proceeded to score 30 and 39 goals in his 2nd and 3rd NHL seasons respectively, but Mogilny’s 4th season in the NHL was him coming out party.

Playing on a line with Pat LaFontaine and part of the season with Dave Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny scored an astonishing 76 goals — the 5th highest single-season goal total in NHL history — while recording 51 assists in the 1992-93 NHL season.

Alexander Mogilny amassed 473 goals in just 990 NHL games but multiple leg injuries and chronic hip problems prematurely ended Mogilny’s NHL career.


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