By Bill Meltzer
Feb 6, 2007
A select few hockey stars ride the fast track to NHL success. On the flip side, many others struggle for years to get a chance at the big time and then spend much of their careers proving themselves worthy of a spot in the lineup. Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ruslan Fedotenko, 28, is a prime example of the latter type of player. Every year, it seems, he must prove himself anew.
Fedotenko rose from humble hockey origins to be a crucial cog in Tampa’s drive to the 2004 Stanley Cup. Time and again, he rose to the occasion during the 2004 playoffs, scoring 12 goals. On June 7, 2004, Fedotenko scored both goals in the Bolts’ dramatic 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames in the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, he scored 26 goals.
Once the NHL lockout ended in 2005, Fedotenko finally had a secure role in the NHL. He took an arduous journey to the NHL. He first left his native Kiev at age 17 to play in Finland (for TPS Turku Jrs. and Kiekko-67), Melfort of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and Sioux City of the USHL.
Signed by the Philadelphia Flyers as an undrafted free agent in 1999-2000, Fedotenko was demoted from the American Hockey League’s Philadelphia Phantoms to the Trenton Titans of the ECHL early in his rookie year. Working his way back up to AHL, Fedotenko shared the Phantoms rookie of the year award. The next year, he was called up to the big club for what initially figured to be a brief cup of coffee. Instead he played so well he never returned to the minors. After scoring 16 and 17 goals his first two years in Philadelphia, Fedotenko was dealt to Tampa in the trade that sent Philly the Bolts’ first-round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, used to select defenseman Joni PitkaneFedotenko, whose value was questioned at the time the trade was made, paid dividends for Tampa. Immensely popular with his teammates for his sunny disposition and work ethic, Fedotenko boosted his goal total to 19 his first year with Tampa and then had his big playoff run the next year.