Viktor Khatulev

The first Soviet born and trained player ever drafted by a NHL team was a player you probably never heard of.

Viktor Khatulev was a 6'3" 200lb power forward with a reputation for a bad temper and on ice incidents was drafted by, appropriately enough, the 1975 Philadelphia Flyers, of all teams.

Khatulev had impressed at the World Junior Championships earlier that winter, scoring the gold medal winning goal and being named best forward. He would later be turned into a defenseman when coach Viktor Tikhonov became mesmerized with his big size, perhaps envisioning the big Latvian swatting away at Canadian forwards.

Khatulev was one Soviet player who just might have fit in with the old Broad Street Bullies. In 1979 Khatulev was suspended after he accidentally struck the intervening referee during a fight with Vladimir Vikulov. Two years later he was suspended for life for "rough play and other off-ice shenanigans." There were rumors that he was also being punished for his drinking and/or for his being drafted by the American team.

Still, the Flyers were on odd match. Though Flyers coach Fred Shero was infatuated with the Soviet game, his Flyers played a much rougher style of hockey, as the Soviets infamously found out in 1976. Owner Ed Snider, and many of the Flyers players, most notably Bobby Clarke, had a serious dislike of the Russians back then. In fact they were one of the last teams to really embrace the Soviet influx around 1990.

In the March 11th, 2008 issue of The Hockey News, Dennis Gibbons suggests the Flyers had probed the idea of Khatulev joining the team.

"Eric Colville, the eastern head scout for the Flyers, approached (Khatulev) following the 1975 gold-medal game in Winnipeg, but Khatulev resisted the scout's attempts to lure him to the NHL, saying he would be looked after in Russia."

The Flyers drafted him anyways, though Khatulev had no idea until 1978.

Life was not easy for Khatulev. He struggled with alcoholism most of his career, but he spiraled out of control following the deaths of his wife (car accident) and father (heart attack). As his drinking worsened, he jumped from job to job. Gibbons says Khatulev worked as a taxi driver, a bouncer, a tombstone engraver and a warehouse attendant. He was found dead in the warehouse at the age of 39.

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