Two Pittsburgh Penguins, born 3 years and 1200 miles apart, have an a very mirrored past and a very distant future. Aleksey Morozov & Milan Kraft are two Birds of a Feather.
Aleksey Morozov was drafted by the Penguins 24th overall in 1995, 3 years later Milan Kraft was drafted by the Penguins 23rd overall. Morozov played his first game for the Penguins in 1998 and 3 years later Kraft had his first game with the Penguins.
Both players last game for Pittsburgh was April 4th, 2004. Kraft scored the final goal for the Penguins that year, a game winner again the Capitals. Morozov had the game winning goal the game before that, against Atlanta, his final goal with the Penguins. They both were unable to come to contract terms with the Penguins after the NHL lockout and are both currently NHL unrestricted free agents.
The year of the NHL lockout, Morozov headed back to Russia and joined the Ak Bars Kazan of the RSL (Russian Super League), which as of this year is part of the KHL, the same league Jagr plays in. He has played for the Ak Bars Kazan for 5 years, won two championships, and one playoff MVP.
Here are a few other things he’s been doing in his spare time away from the Penguins: Morozov led the Russian Super League in scoring twice, his team Ak Bars Kazan in 2007 won the ECC (European Championship Cup – each year the best teams across Europe and Russia compete in this), he was voted MVP of the tournament and he captained Ovechkin and rest of the 2008 Russian Gold Medal team last year in Quebec at the World Championships.
Morozov finished 3rd overall in the KHL in points this year with 70 pts despite missing 7 games due to a head injury he suffered hitting of all people, Ray Emery. How good is 70 pts? That Jaromir Jagr guy finished 7th in the league with 53pts and missed just 1 game. Morozov’s team finished the year in 2nd place out of 20 teams. Jagr’s team made it into the playoffs on the final day.
In June of 2006 Aleksey Morozov (he was know as Alexei Morozov while playing for the Penguins) signed a 3 year contract with Ak Bars Kazan, a contract that ends this June. Given the success that Morozov has had with his team, it would be a very easy decision for him to stay with them. He will be highly sought after by other teams in the KHL, though with the KHL’s recent 30% across the board pay cut, he may be interested in returning to the NHL, very similar to how he left the NHL when it was in turmoil.
Aleksey Morozov’s numbers since leaving:
Milan Kraft headed back to the Czech Republic the same year Morozov left the NHL and played for two Czech teams during NHL lockout. The next season Kraft found himself going head to head against Morosov while playing in the RSL on the same team that Jagr joined this year, the Avangard Omsk. Kraft left the RSL part way through that season and headed back to the Czech Republic and joined the Karlovy Vary HC, the same team he played for before leaving for Russia.
This season Kraft jumped teams in the CEL (Czech Extraliga) and joined last years champions, the Slavia Praha HC where he is hoping to win his first championship. Milan Kraft became an NHL unrestricted free agent July 1st, 2008.
As you can see, Milan Kraft’s hasn’t necessarily put up the numbers the Penguins had hoped for when they drafted him 23rd overall:
Morozov & Kraft played their entire NHL careers with the Pittsburgh Penguins and they both still wear the same jersey numbers they wore while playing in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately the point totals that 29 year old Milan Kraft has put up over the last few years won’t necessarily entice NHL teams to break down his door, or even knock on it.
On the other hand 32 year old Aleksey Morozov has been a top scoring star in the RSL/KHL, and has excellent leadership abilities. Unless Morozov signs a contract extension with his KHL team that just docked him 30%, he will be the NHL’s top sought after Unrestricted Free Agent come summertime. Oh, and by the way, he has expressed interest in playing in the NHL alongside his fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin in the past.