Many Washington Capitals fans may not know Ilya Nikulin very well, but they should learn more about him now that Alex Ovechkin is playing in Russia.
Nikulin was captain of the Russian national team that won the 2012 IIHF World Championship this May. Ovechkin was a part of that team, as well as other rosters for the national team that included Nikulin.
Ilya also played with Alex on Dynamo Moscow from 2001-2005 in what was then called the Russian Superleague, before Ovechkin left Russia to join the Washington Capitals in the NHL.
Nikulin joined Ak Bars Kazan at the same time, signing a contract that allowed him to join an NHL team. He had already been drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Draft. But despite being a world-class defenseman, the Moscow native was content to play hockey in his home country.
And he has been very successful in doing so. Nikulin is still playing with Ak Bars Kazan, which is now part of the KHL, and he has a career regular season plus/minus rating of 44 in 211 games, and a career postseason plus/minus rating of 23 in 60 games. In all action, Ilya averages 24:34 per game on the ice, yet only 1:16 per game in the penalty box.
Ilya Nikulin may convince Alex Ovechkin to make the same career choice and continue playing in the KHL. And Alex may listen. According to Ilya Nikulin's Wikipedia page, Alex Ovechkin is the godfather to his son.
Career advice may be difficult to ignore coming from a friend that close.