Russian defender Ilya Nikulin, who was a mainstay on the Russian blueline for nearly two decades, today confirmed his career is over after not having played since 2018-19, when he captained Dynamo Moscow of the KHL.
Nikulin began his professional career with Dynamo Moscow’s junior clubs, joining the senior team in 2000, the same year he was drafted 31st overall by the Atlanta Thrashers. Nikulin would never jump to North America to join the NHL, instead continuing with Dynamo until 2005, winning the Russian Superleague championship in his final year. Nikulin would join Ak Bars Kazan, winning his second straight RSL title in 2006 and the Continental Cup in 2008, before merging with the Snow Leopards into the KHL in 2008. Nikulin saw continued success in the KHL, winning consecutive Gagarin Cups in 2009 and 2010. After ten seasons in Kazan, Nikulin returned to Dynamo in 2015, spending his final four seasons with the Blue-Whites. Nikulin retires as a seven-time KHL All Star, along with winning Playoff MVP in 2010.
First joining The Big Red Machine’s Under-18 squad for the 1999 and 2000 championships, Nikulin joined the senior squad at the 2006 World Championship, marking the first of eight consecutive appearances at the Worlds. Nikulin would capture three Gold (2008, 2009, 2012), one Silver (2010) and one Bronze (2007), captaining Russia for his final Gold medal victory. Nikulin also suited up for both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, with the latter Games on home ice in Sochi serving as his final international tournament. Nikulin was named a Top 3 Player for Russia in both 2011 and 2012, also being named to the tournament All-Star Team at the latter.
Over the course of his long national career, Nikulin captured the IHLC on ten occasions in a seven-year span, his first win coming on the 2006 Euro Hockey Tour, while his final victory came on the Tour in 2013. We wish Ilya and his family the very best for his retirement and the things to come!