Alexander Vasyunov, a New Jersey Devils prospect who had played the better part of the last three seasons with the Devils in the American Hockey League, was among the victims of a plane crash in Russia Wednesday that claimed the lives of 43 people.
Many of those on the flight were players and coaches for Lokomotiv, a team in the Kontinental Hockey League based in Yaroslavl, about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
Vasyunov, a 23-year-old left wing, and defenseman Karel Rachunek, who played the 2007-08 season in New Jersey and totaled 371 NHL games in his North American career, were listed among the dead.
The Yak-42 plane was carrying the team to Minsk in Belarus, where they were to open the KHL season on the road against Dinamo Minsk. Vasyunov had played out his initial three-year contract with New Jersey and was a restricted free agent, but decided to play this year in Russia. The Devils still made a qualifying offer to him, in order to retain his rights if he were to return to North American hockey.
The plane was leaving Vasyunov’s hometown of Yaroslavl, but crashed shortly after takeoff along the banks of the Volga River.
Vasyunov played 50 games for Albany last year, recording eight goals and 17 assists. In his three years with the organization, he played 187 games in the AHL, with 39 goals and 52 assists. He played 18 games in the NHL with New Jersey this past season, and he scored his first NHL goal and handed out four assists in that time.
Rachunek played 47 games for New Jersey, totaling four goals, nine assists and 40 penalty minutes. In his NHL career, he had 22 goals, 118 assists and 227 penalty minutes. He has played in the KHL the last three seasons.
New Jersey owner/president/CEO Lou Lamoriello released this statement:
“Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news it received today. The tragic plane crash involving Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League has left all of us beyond words.
“I had the pleasure of knowing several members of the team, plus the entire coaching staff. In particular, Alexander Vasyunov, who played for us last season, was an outstanding young man and a gifted athlete. Captain Karel Rachunek skated for us in 2007-08.
“Both were members of the Devils family. On behalf of the entire Devils organization, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the entire Lokomotiv club.”