Netminder Evgeni Nabokov emerged as the first stringer on the San Jose Sharks in 2000-01. A top performer in the USSR, he worked his way through the minors and became a top flight NHLer in his second year in the league.
Born in Ust-Kamenogorsk, USSR, Nabokov starred in his home town before moving on to the more heralded Dynamo Moscow squad. Chosen 219th overall by San Jose in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Nabokov came to North America and played solidly for the AHL's Kentucky Thoroughblades in 1997-98. The next year he counted 26 wins for the club then suited up for a few games in San Jose in 1999-00. The next year he emerged as the club's top choice between the pipes with 32 wins though the club was eliminated in the first round of the post-season.
In his first full season in with the Sharks in 2000-01, Nabokov won 32 games, posted a 2,19 GAA and went on to capture the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. Nabokov followed his 32 wins in 2000-01 with 37 in 2001-02 before sitting out the early stages of the 2002-03 with a contract dispute. Upon his return to the Shark lineup, Nabokov and the Sharks struggled before rebounding in 2003-04, helping his team reach the Western Conference Final, only to lose in six games to the Calgary Flames.
In the years that followed, Nabokov and the Sharks would become a regular season powerhouse in the Western Conference, consistently among the top teams in the NHL and even winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2008-09. That same year Nabokov would appear in his second career all-star game and would stop all eight shots he saw during his lone period between the pipes.
Despite regular season success in 2008-09, Nabokov and the Sharks were defeated in the first round by their interstate rival, the Anaheim Ducks.
Early in the 2009 season, Nabokov played in his 500th career game and marked the occasion by defeating the New York Islanders 4-1.
Following the Sharks loss in the Western Conference Final in 2010 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks, it was clear that Nabokov would not be returning to the only NHL club he had ever known. On July 7, 2010, he inked a four-year deal with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.
Only 22 games into his KHL career, Nabokov was granted his release due to family matters and returned the United States. His destination appeared to the Detroit Red Wings who had recently suffered a number of injuries at the goaltender position, but when he was put on re-entry waivers as per NHL regulations, he was claimed by the New York Islanders. Unhappy with the twist of fate, Nabokov chose not to report to the Islanders.
On the international stage, aside from representing Russia at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, Nabokov also led Russia to a gold medal at the 2008 World Championships.