Any player who seriously challenged Wayne Gretzky for a single-season scoring title deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Enter Sergei Fedorov.
During the 1993-94 season, Gretzky and Fedorov captivated fans as they battled for the Art Ross Trophy. Gretzky was 33 and playing for the Los Angeles Kings. Fedorov was a 24-year-old superstar for the Detroit Red Wings. In the end, The Great One won the scoring title with 130 points, beating Fedorov by 10.
It was the closest margin of victory Gretzky ever had during his prime.
The only player to beat him for the scoring title was Mario Lemieux, who accomplished that feat four times. Marcel Dionne tied Gretzky during his rookie season with 137 points. Every runner-up during Gretzky's reign is now a Hall of Famer, including Mike Bossy, Peter Stastny, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Brett Hull and now Fedorov.
"He's one of the best I ever had," said Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman. "He was a great player. Sergei could do it all. He was one of the players you would want on the ice in the last minute."
Bowman compared Fedorov's ability to that of Hall of Famers Dit Clapper and Red Kelly.
"When he first came up, he was noted for unusually strong defensive play for a European player," Bowman said. "He didn't show the offense right away. He was such a great skater. He was an amazing player. He had a heck of a shot, too. He was a wonderful player to have on a team. He could do it all."
The Red Wings' defensive core was riddled with injuries one season, so Bowman decided to put Fedorov back on defense.
"He was the best defenseman in the league for a six-week period," Bowman said.
But due to his offensive skills, Bowman had no intention of keeping the Russian on the blue line.
Fedorov won three Stanley Cup titles with the Red Wings, was the first European player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy and was the first Russian player to reach the 1,000-point plateau in the NHL.
"I have always played hockey because I loved it, not because I wanted to win awards," Fedorov said in a release after the Hall of Fame announced its 2015 induction class. "But now that my career is over, I realize how special it is to be recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame. I am deeply honored to be an inductee."
Gretzky became close with Fedorov during their careers and the two remained friends in retirement.
"He was one of my closer friends that played on another team," Gretzky told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. "Actually, the year he won the Hart Trophy I think it was, he lived with us for six weeks in the offseason and we trained together and spent a lot of time together."
Gretzky pointed to the fact that it's been so rare in hockey history to have a player like Fedorov who could play defense just as well as forward, comparing him to Mark Howe.
"Sergei was right there, too, he was obviously a great offensive player, great vision on the ice, but he was able to play defense just as good," Gretzky said. "That's a rare combination."
Fedorov, now 45, was known as a physically strong, dependable player who is considered one of the first dominant two-way players of his generation.
Hall of Famer and former Red Wings teammate Chris Chelios agreed.
"Absolutely," Chelios said. "Scotty had a lot to do with that. I don't know how he was before [Detroit] but he could control a game offensively, defensively, and he never shied away from the physical play. When he came over, he really believed in Scotty and his systems. He was comfortable with the Russian Five, so at one point there was no better two-way player.
"I guess you can say if you have the puck the whole game, which he did, you don't have to worry about defense."
The Russian Five, of course, was forwards Fedorov, Igor Larionov and Slava Kozlov, and defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov. That five-man unit was a big reason the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997.
At the start of the 1997-98 season, Fedorov was a restricted free agent and held out until February when the Red Wings had to match a $38 million offer sheet by the Carolina Hurricanes to keep him. He played only 21 regular-season games, but his production in the playoffs (10 goals and 10 assists in 22 games) led the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup championship.
"He [had] a big impact in the playoffs," Bowman said. "I doubt we could have won the second Cup in a row if he wouldn't have rejoined us."
The Red Wings won the Cup again in 2002 and Fedorov led the way, with five goals and 14 assists in 23 playoff games. Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman spent his entire career with the Red Wings and was the captain during the Cup-winning seasons.
"He had everything," Yzerman told ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance. "Skating, the skill. He was one of the best skaters I've ever seen. The combination of his size -- big strong powerful man -- and with great skills. He kind of had the whole package."
In the summer of 2003, Fedorov signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after 13 seasons in Detroit.
"It's too bad he didn't stay with Detroit," Bowman said. "He's well-deserving of his nomination to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but I think he would have had more production if he stayed with the Red Wings. His back end of his career wasn't as good as the front end, but that's happened to a lot of players. He had it all. You could count on the fingers of your hand how many players could play adequately at two positions."
Fedorov's NHL career began after he defected from Russia in 1990. The Red Wings prepared a plan to extricate Fedorov from the Soviet national team before the Goodwill Games in Seattle. USA Hockey invited the Soviets to play in an exhibition game in Portland to prepare for the tournament. The plan worked, and before the Russians figured out what had happened, Fedorov was on his way to Detroit.
"There were great players in Russia, but they couldn't leave," explained Bowman. "He was one of the early defectors. Not a lot of players left because they watched them very close. My initial reaction was these are great players, and to get him out was a big bonus for the teams that get them out. There were a lot of good players in the league, but Sergei was an impact player."
Chelios lived close to Fedorov when they were teammates and they spent plenty of time together.
"He was a great kid," Chelios said. "I still stay in touch with him as much as you can for a long-distance relationship to Russia. As far as his talent and his skill ... he was natural, strong, skilled -- he had it all."
Now Fedorov has a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.