Outlier Leafs seasons: Nikolai Borschevsky

via DGB, who now has a book out

I’m from a time and a place where not too many people know Nikolai Borschevsky, a 5’9″ forward from the USSR who played for the Leafs in the mid-1990s. I learned about him from that picture above, familiar to us as the avatar of friend of the Leafs Nation @67sound.

Borschevsky is best known for this goal:

Unfortunately, the subsequent interview, which was lampooned in an old Down Goes Brown post, is not part of the video.

MacLean seems to sense he’s in trouble right away as he asks for an apparently non-existent translator before deciding to solider ahead. After MacLean spends several moments trying to explain the concept of “feelings” (helpfully clutching at his heart at one point), Borschevsky finally understands the question and begins a rambling answer that’s completely incomprehensible, causing MacLean to start making subtle “get me out of here” faces at the camera. Borschevsky, frantically gesturing with one hand, finally punctuates his mumbling soliloquy with the classic “unbeeleebabba” line.

MacLean takes that opportunity to cut the interview short, but not before inexplicably ending things by gently poking Borschevsky in the tummy.

This was quite possibly the greatest few minutes of comedy the CBC has ever aired.

The video embedded into that post has been removed because of a copyright claim against the uploader by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. It doesn’t get much more 1990s than that.

Anyway, Borschevsky is more than that goal. That may have been his most famous moment, but he had a near-dominant rookie season, scoring 34 goals in 78 games in 1992-1993, the season after being drafted and coming over. In fact, Borschevsky’s 34-goal season tied Wendel Clark for the best rookie season in Maple Leaf history. The difference, of course being that Borschevsky was 28 at the time, and not eligible at all for the Calder Trophy.

Also, Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals that season.

The real interesting thing about Borschevsky is that he had the excellent breakout campaign, and then not much else in his career. I think I know a breakout campaign when I see one:

  Goals/82 Shots/GP Shot %
1993 35.7 2.62 16.7%
1994 25.5 2.33 13.3%
1995 0.0 1.48 0.00%
1996 6.8 1.83 4.6%
Career 24.8 2.29 13.2%

Borschevsky was a late bloomer. In the old Russian league with Moscow Dynamo, he was a diminuitive third line player for his earlier years, scoring a handful of goals, but breaking out when he went crosstown to play with Spartak alongside Alexei Tkachuk in the 1990 through 1992 season.

We don’t have shooting percentage numbers from those old Russian days, but I’m willing to bet Borschevsky didn’t take too many shots in his earlier days and was relegated to less ice time until he went to Dynamo. That team either knew how to use him better, or they simply gave him ice time.

Unfortunately for Borschevsky, he may have, ironically, stuck at the NHL level if he hadn’t created such wildly unsustainable expectations after his first season. His shooting percentage dipped in his second season, as did his shot rate as he slowly lost powerplay time and first line minutes, fading away into obscurity.

Well, maybe not that obscure. On August 27, 1993, a few months after Borschevsky’s OT winner, a couple in Richmond Hill, ONT named their child “Nikolai”. He played last season in the OJHL with the Orangeville Flyers.

UPDATE – It’s been pointed out to me that Nikolai Borschevsky of Richmond Hill, ONT is in fact, the original Nikolai’s son. Well, now that goes from being a cool story to a guy having too much of an ego.