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'The Professor' offers a lesson or two for young Russian players

A recent celebration in San Jose gave Igor Larionov a chance to drop the first puck and offer his opinions on a range of topics. Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

When your nickname is "The Professor," there's a certain expectation that you'll be intelligent, think deep thoughts and possess wisdom beyond that of your peers.

For Igor Larionov, the one true professor in hockey circles, these expectations are increased because of his legacy as the playmaking center that drove the fabled Russian Green Unit, which also included wingers Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, and defensemen Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.

In a 26-year career on both sides of the Atlantic, Larionov's list of accomplishments is lengthy, although his two Olympic gold medals, three Stanley Cups and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame highlight his status as a bona fide legend.

Twelve years since he played his final game, Larionov's opinions remain relevant because he has remained a central figure in Russian hockey by becoming a well-respected player agent. Although he's based mostly in Detroit, Larionov specializes in helping young Russian teenagers navigate a complicated North American hockey landscape for the first time. He has two NHL players, six KHL players and two in the Canadian Hockey League. Larionov's most notable current NHL client is Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov.

"Myself, I've been involved in hockey for a long time, where I think I know every detail of how to be successful," Larionov told ESPN.com recently. "I try to help the young guys to get a career and have a smooth transition from junior hockey to pro hockey."

Larionov was recently in San Jose, where he was honored during the Sharks' yearlong celebration of the team's 25th anniversary season. It was there that ESPN.com caught up with the 55-year-old to discuss his role as an agent and get his opinion on several pertinent issues surrounding hockey today.

Dan Marrazza: What do you feel are your most important responsibilities while representing your clients?

Igor Larionov: It's about the education of the players. Nowadays ... things are different than they were 20 years ago. The success and the money, I find that sometimes when you have success and you're young, you think it's going to be forever. I help them to stay focused, analyze every time they play and all the details, like preparation. I try to pass my knowledge and my experiences to these players to play long, be successful and avoid dangers because it's a dangerous game in a lot of ways.

DM: You're an agent for both NHL and KHL players. What's the biggest difference between representing a player in the two leagues?

IL: Different type of negotiations. The market in the NHL is much harder because the scouting system and the scouts all watch the players for quite a few years. They know about the way you perform, your results, stats and what you do for the team on a consistent basis. The KHL is different. It's a different culture of the game and the development process.

DM: You were part of the golden age of Russian hockey, where your teams dominated international hockey. Since then, Russian teams have struggled to win gold medals. With the World Cup coming up this year and the Olympics shortly after that, what can Russia do to get back to the top of the podium?

IL: When you're talking about high-end competitions like World Cups and Olympic Games, you're talking the highest possible tournaments and competition that you can imagine. It's the best against the best. That's where they're going to have to elevate their level. When the games get tougher and the conditions get harder, somebody's got to shine and somebody's got to be the new superstar on that stage.

DM: Speaking of superstars, Alex Ovechkin recently scored his 500th NHL goal. He also passed Sergei Fedorov for the most career NHL goals by a Russian-born player. How do you think Ovechkin stacks up against Russian players from the past, in particular those that spent the prime of their careers in the Soviet Union rather than the NHL?

IL: It's hard to compare because we came to the National Hockey League at the age of, like, 30. That's what he is now. Still, Ovie's a different player than what we were. He's never been a typical Russian player. Russians are normally more based in skill. Ovie's got skill and, also, Ovie's got power. He's got the desire to drive hard every night and has a nose for the goal. He always wants to take more shots.

All the Russian players, my generation, were playing a different kind of game. We played as units and more puck possession, creativity, so we did not have as many shots. But we created more scoring chances, masterpieces, when we scored goals. What stands out about him is he's a unique Russian hockey player.

DM: What's the biggest difference between the NHL when you first came into the league and the NHL now?

IL: I know when the Sharks [originally] came to San Jose, we put a show on every night. No matter if we'd be losing or winning, we played good, exciting hockey to entertain the people. We showed them how to play a puck-possession game, a puck-control game. Where you're creating these great masterpieces for scoring chances, that's when the people start to realize it's something they want to see more and more. I wouldn't pay my money to watch the kind of hockey it is today sometimes. Sometimes it makes me want to stay home and bang my chest against the house.