Player of the Month
The European Hockey.Net European Player of the Month is awarded to the player with the most oustanding performance over the course of the month
Nominations are collected at the end of each month, then a vote by the site's admin team decides the winner.
April 2006 - Aleksei Morozov
Russian forward Aleksei Morozov is a special player who has seen it all. The talented 29-year old came through the Russian youth system to make his debut in the Russian elite league in the 1993-94 season and soon showcased his skills there too after a dominating junior campaign. But he didn't just blossom within the Russian borders. He has played both in the US-minor leagues as well as in the NHL with mixed success. On top of that he has represented Russia in nearly every competition that could be thought of. European junior championships, World Junior championships, World Championships and Olympics. Despite having seen it all Morozov is still going strong and eager to produce on the ice.
Morozov, a Christian-Orthodox who is said to regularly visit church, helped his team Ak Bars Kazan capture the Russian championship not in the least by producing results himself. He led all players during the playoffs in no less than 4 categories: points, goals, assists and plus/minus.
He also won no less than six awards at the end of the season for; Top Scorer, Top Goal Scorer, Play-offs MVP, Coaches MVP, and was on the forward all-star team.
Morozov as always sharp and focussed around the net. Yaroslavl goaltender Marc Lamothe has another objective.
EH.N: What was the Morozov-factor last season?
EB: He was an invaluable member of the team. His scoring throughout the season and especially in the playoffs really helped the team when needed. He had a presence on the ice that few players in Russia could show. Even when he did not score, he was a threat and the other teams had to pay special attention to him.
SA: Morozov is not just a gifted scorer and passer, he is also Ak Bars' captain for the second consecutive season, so his factor in his team victory should be considered. I believe he contributed a lot in his teammates motivation and at the same time gave them confidence that at least a goal or two would be scored by his line in any game.
SA:Let's look at some figures. Ak Bars played 6 games in April where Morozov scored 6 goals and added 4 helpers. Total figures run as it follows: in 13 play-off games Morozov had 26 (13+13) points with highest in Ak Bars (along with Vitali Proshkin) +13. These figures speak for themselves.
EB: Zinovjev and Zaripov were Morozov's two constant linemates. Zinovjev was definitely planned to be the center of the top line, as he is the other star of the team, but Zaripov was a pleasant surprise. He was not likely in the plans, as he has always been the team's supporting cast. Now, he was able to take over the leadership role.
SA: I believe we should speak about Morozov - Zinoviev chemistry. The pair played together almost all of last season on the first offensive line in spite of different big names signed by Kazan during the lockout year. They began that season with Ilya Kovalchuk but it didn't work. So the biggest part of the season their third linemate was either Hlinka or Kovalev. Morozov and Zinoviev ended the season with Enver Lisin. As for Zaripov he spent the previous season playing between 3rd and 4th lines. So Morozov Zinoviev - Zaripov emerged as a line only in the beginning of the 2005/06 season. But we should not just focus on the offensive unit, but should give credit to both defensemen Vitali Proshkin and Ray Giroux as well.
SA:By the way in play-off Kazan coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov came up with a change in attack moving Zaripov to the second unit and promoted Vladimir Vorobiev to the top unit on the power-play. The veteran answered with 7 scored goals (third bestin the RSL play-off after Morozov (13) and Zinoviev (9).
EH.N: Despite his excellent resume, Morozov hasn't been representing Russia in international competition recently. What's behind this?
EB: Morozov first wasn't invited to the team and then it was stated that he did not want to play, but in an interview after the WC, he said he always wanted to play. I think coach Vladimir Krikunov overlooking Morozov for the Olympics really hurt the player, and the Russian team - as it could not recover from Aleksandr Korolyuk's injury and Evgeny Malkin's suspension. Morozov would have been a great player to have a that point. This is likely the reason behind Morozov's absence from team Russia at the WC.
SA: Morozov felt hurt by Krikunov's decision not to take him to Olympics. I'm totally on the coach's side in this case. Krikunov took Morozov to the Karjala Cup as a Team Russia captain and first line forward. Morozov got there just 2 assists and showed lack of leadership on this level. Just before the Olympics, Krikunov selected Morozov - Zinoviev - Zaripov as a second line unit of Team Russia to the Rosno Cup. They didn't score at all in Moscow. At the same time Maksim Sushinsky (3+2) and Aleksandr Kharitonov (0+5), who competed with Morozov for a place in the Olympic squad, did their best. It made sense Krikunov went with the others.
EH.N: Morozov was honoured Rookie of the Year in 1995. How do you look back on his career so far?
EB: He has not yet been able to establish himself in the NHL as the scoring forward he was projected to be in the early years. He showed some of that when playing with Mario Lemieux, but as soon as the legend and then Morozov got injured, Morozov's points suffered a serious decline. The new NHL rules will likely benefit Morozov's softer, more skilled approach to the game, but he still has a lot left to prove in the NHL. Sure, he did well in Russia, but it's the NHL where the best players in the world compete.
SA: I think the 2005-06 season was his best ever and the player told the same in the numerous interviews. Morozov in his prime right now, he owns excellent combination of skills, speed and experience.
EH.N: He left the NHL, Pittsburgh after the 03-04 season. With the lock-out it was obvious he was to play in Russia. How surprising was it for him not to return to North-American when the NHL ended its lock-out?
EB: I wouldn't say it was a big surprise. He is getting paid a lot of money over there and I think he really "padded" his resume. Morozov signed a very lucrative 2 year deal with a very stable club. He would likely make less money in the NHL.
SA: Not a surprise to me, Ak Bars is a very wealthy organization and I believe this explains everything. Morozov surely understood that Pittsburgh wouldn't be a Stanley Cup contender so he ran for the trophies in Russia and spent a season analyzing the essence of the new NHL from a distance. I think it was good decision.
EH.N: Do you see him returning to North-America? He has stated he'd like to play for Detroit
EB: Despite the good contract he has in Russia, I think he will return to the NHL. This season the Russian Super League suffered a decline in quality, and I doubt he is content with being the biggest fish in a small pond.
SA: I'm sure he will go to the NHL if he sees good perspective. I think he owns enough skills to contribute overthere.
Aleksei Morozov has stated he has received an offer from the NHL in recent interviews to Russian media. He won't likely decide before the first of July but it's said that the Detroit Red Wings are in the hunt for him. The chances that he remains with the Pittsburgh Penguins are slim. In an interview with Soviet Sport, Morozov was quoted as saying: "In 2006 I'll become an unrestricted free agent, so it's uncertain if I'll continue my career in Pittsburgh. Perhaps, I'll change the team." He has also already sold his house in Pittsburgh.
In the meantime Ak Bars Kazan can only wait and see if they will be able to retain the superb services of Aleksei Morozov in the upcoming season as well as 2007 IIHF European Champions Cup. There is a glimmer of hope for them though. Today (June 19th) Russian news paper Sport-Express announced that Morozov had signed a new three-year deal with Ak Bars. So far there has been no official confirmation on it from the team itself, but it's promising news for all Ak Bars Kazan fans.
- March 2007 - Petr Sykora
- February 2007 - Bernd Brückler
- January 2007 - Martin Prochazka
- December 2006 - Martin Kariya
- November 2006 - Pavel Brendl
- October 2006 - Kimmo Rintanen
- September 2006 - Aleksei Morozov
- May 2006 - Kenny Jönsson
- April 2006 - Aleksei Morozov
- March 2006 - Reto von Arx
- February 2006 - Nicklas Lidström
- January 2006 - Patrick Yetman
- December 2005 - Miroslav Hala
- November 2005 - Vasily Koshechkin
- October 2005 - Tony Salmelainen
- September 2005 - Sergei Zinoviev
- May 2005 - Jaromir Jagr
- April 2005 - Henrik Lundqvist
- March 2005 - Henrik Lundqvist
- February 2005 - Marian Gaborik
- January 2005 - Jaromir Jagr
- December 2004 - Tim Thomas
- November 2004 - Marian Hossa
- October 2004 - Jukka Voutilainen
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