In my estimation little Slava Kozlov is one of the most underrated players in hockey history. He played in the shadows of the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov and Brendan Shanahan in Detroit, and later Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley/Marian Hossa in Atlanta.
But in his own right Kozlov was a wonderful offensive player. The darting winger had a great knack for shaking his check at just the right time, seemingly materializing out of nowhere for scoring chances. Unlike so many Russian players (especially of his generation) he was never shy to shoot the puck. He had a quick release and loved to pick the top corners of the net.
A wonderful skater, he could be a frustrating player for some fans. He liked to hold the puck, often a little too long at times. While he was willing to take a hit to make a play, the 5'10" and 180lb winger/center generally did not thrive in physical contests.
Playing alongside Fedorov and Doug Brown the native of Voskresensk, Russia, helped the Red Wings capture back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1997 and 1998 and once owned the Detroit franchise record with 12 game-winning goals in the playoffs. One of his biggest fans was coach Scotty Bowman, who described him as reliable - a trait the coaching legend valued highly.
The Red Wings moved Kozlov to Buffalo on July 1st, 2001 in exchange for goalie Dominik Hasek. Replacing Buffalo's most popular and greatest player would be anything but enviable. He was outspoken about his unhappiness in Buffalo, which hardly endeared him to the fans. And it went from bad to worse when he missed much of the second half of the season with a 75% tear of his Achilles tendon. The Sabres moved Kozlov to Atlanta in the summer of 2002.
It turned out to be a great move for Kozlov. He recovered from his foot injury fully and meshed perfectly with countryman Ilya Kovalchuk and later Marian Hossa, his long time Atlanta linemate. But the Thrashers just never had enough depth or luck, and only made the playoffs just once in Kozlov's tenure.
"I've very much enjoyed my time in Atlanta ever since I got traded from Buffalo," said Kozlov. "It's a good organization here, they've treated me really well."
But he desperately missed the NHL playoffs where Kozlov shined the brightest.
"The atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit was unbelievable," he said. "I miss those times. I miss being in the playoffs. I think it's the greatest thing in hockey."
In his career Kozlov scored 20 or more goals 11 times. Five times he topped the 70 point mark. In total Kozlov scored 356 goals, 497 points and 853 points in 1192 NHL games. He added another 42 goals and 79 points in 118 Stanley Cup games - all but four of which came in his 7 full seasons in Detroit.