Valeri Kamensky had played top-level hockey for nearly a decade before he joined the Quebec Nordiques during the 1991-92 season. A star player for the illustrious CSKA Moscow team of the late 1980s, as well as a fixture on the Soviet world championship and Olympic teams in international play, Kamensky had a globe-spanning reputation as a great player before he ever set foot in North America.
But once he joined the Nordiques, and especially once the team moved to Denver and became the Avalanche, Kamensky got even better. His offensive abilities helped to propel the Avs to their first Stanley Cup in 1995-96. Though he played only four seasons in Colorado, Valeri Kamensky's raw talent and timely contributions to his team make him an obvious addition to the list of Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time.
Kamensky joined the top team in his region, Khimik Voskresensk, when he was just 16 years old in 1982-83. Though his stats were initially unimpressive, it took only one year before he was representing the Soviet Union on an international stage. He was a member of the European Junior Championships team that won gold for the Soviets in 1983-84.
Kamensky collected a lot more hardware during the course of his international career. In 1986 he won a gold medal in the Hockey World Championships, and then in 1988 he took home gold from Calgary when the Soviets defeated Finland in the Winter Olympics. Also during the mid- to late-1980s, Valeri played for the powerhouse CSKA Moscow team that won repeated national championships.
In 1988, on the heels of his Olympic victory, Kamensky was drafted in the seventh round (129th overall) by the Quebec Nordiques. But he didn't join the NHL immediately. With the Cold War still not over and Russian pioneers like Igor Larionov still finding their way tentatively in North America, Kamensky remained with CSKA Moscow and continued to put up impressive numbers. In 1990-91, his final season in Russia, he scored 46 points in as many games, including 20 goals.
Finally, in 1991-92, Kamensky joined the Nordiques and began his NHL career. Unfortunately, his first two seasons were greatly shortened by injuries. Still, the graceful, focused forward scored 21 points in 23 games as a rookie on a horrendously bad team. In 1992-93, the Nordiques improved dramatically, and though Kamensky played only 32 games, he scored 37 points and finished ninth among his teammates.
Kamensky finally enjoyed a near-full season in 1993-94, but while his 65 points in 76 games were good for third-best on the team, the Nordiques finished with a record of 34-42-8 and missed the playoffs. The 1994-95 season was shortened by a work stoppage, but Kamensky stayed relatively healthy and was able to play 40 games, scoring 30 points.
Finally, in 1995-96, at the age of 29, Kamensky enjoyed real success in the NHL. The newly-named Colorado Avalanche dominated the Western Conference during the regular season, and then went on to sweep the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Kamensky scored 85 points in 81 regular season games (38 goals), but had an even more impressive 22 points in 22 playoff games. He was a critical factor in the Avs' Cup win, just as important as Peter Forsberg offensively.
Kamensky kept up his torrid scoring pace the next season, too, but was again plagued by injury and appeared in only 68 games. His 66 points were still good enough for fourth on the team. Valeri also played extremely well in the ill-fated 1996-97 playoffs, and scored 22 points in 17 games.
Kamensky's scoring then began to tail off a bit. In the 1998 Olympics, he managed only three points in six games with the Russian team but still earned a silver medal for his trouble. In the 1998-99 NHL season, he only scored 44 points in 65 games. His prime was definitely behind him at this point.
In 1999-00, Kamensky joined the New York Rangers, and would also play for the Stars and Devils before eventually returning to Russia and his home team of Khimik, with whom he retired from professional hockey in 2005.
Kamensky's impressive skating, great hands, clean-cut appearance, full-ice vision and calm demeanor typified most early Russian imports in the NHL. Though initially separated from his teammates by culture and language, he communicated well on the ice and played extremely well on the left wing of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, his centers.
Valeri also had a reputation for being a bit of an on-ice acrobat, earned through one of the most famous NHL goals of all time:
And though Kamensky was a quiet, calm player who rarely got involved in unnecessary scuffles, he wasn't afraid to stand up for himself. One of his greatest moments of self defense came at the expense of notorious asshole Ulf Samuelsson, who had the audacity to slash the Russian's stick from his hands:
Almost as beautiful as Tie Domi's similar smackdown of the Swedish pest.
Finally, though he had already left the Avalanche by this time, Kamensky's fight with Scott Niedermayer (huh?) during his stint with the Rangers is great in a lot of ways:
Wrapping a Rangers jersey around the head of a Devils player and then beating the crap out of him had to have been well-received among the Blueshirt faithful.
But, rare bouts of fisticuffs aside, Valeri Kamensky's career was defined by his speed, skill and finesse. His offensive contributions to the Colorado Avalanche during the mid-1990s were invaluable to a team that was so dominant for so long. He played well with his teammates, proudly represented his country, and made a name for himself as a classy, talented player. Had it not been so frequently hampered by injury, his career could have been even more impressive than it already was.
[Highest rating: 7. Lowest rating: 16. Average score: 10.17]*
* Kamensky's relative low position on the Top 19 list considering his high overall nomination score is due to me promoting two players I think deserve slightly higher spots. His uniform number actually had nothing to do with it. Trust me. - Joe