Today is the one year anniversary of the tragic plane crash that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, and it reminded me of another KHL death. On October 13, 2008, 19 year old Alexei Cherepanov collapsed on the bench during a regular season game and died at a hospital two hours later. I assume most people on this blog are familiar with this story but in case you aren't aware, Cherepanov was the Rangers first round pick in 2007 and was arguably the most talented young Russian player in history. In his rookie season in the Russian Superleague at age 17, he had more points than Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk had at that age. Late in that season, Cherepanov broke Pavel Bure's rookie record for goals in a season with 17.
While part of the objective of this post is to remember the player Cherepanov was, another is to wonder what could have been. By 2011-2012, Cherepanov likely would have come over from Russia to play in New York. He could have been slotted perfectly as the first line LW, creating a dynamic line of Cherepanov-Richards-Gaborik. This would have allowed Kreider to start as a second line winger and give the Rangers a legitimate scoring second line of Kreider-Stepan-Callahan. Hagelin would've then been dropped to the third line, which would have kept the Ranger scoring from being so top 6 heavy like it was during much of the year. Obviously this is all speculation, but there is no denying that Cherepanov was an amazing talent. With as close as the Rangers were to the Cup a year ago, it is very possible that a player of his caliber would have pushed them over the top. Unfortunately, we will never know.