Club-by-club preview – Tarasov Division

3 September 2014, 20:11


Head coach: Dmitry Kvartalnov (replaces John Torchetti)
Last season: lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Stephan Da Costa becomes the KHLs first ever Frenchman. He’s already something of a talisman for hockey in his homeland, regularly leading his country’s scoring in World Championship play and helping Les Bleus to the quarter-finals in Minsk last time. After failing to establish himself in the NHL despite some good stats in the AHL, a move to Europe’s biggest competition could be the spark he needs to cement his star status.
Point to prove: Evgeny Artyukhin’s arrival from Atlant could add the fight and resilience that CSKA needs after proving too much of a soft touch last season. Or it could herald a disastrous string of penalties that disrupts the team’s progress. It all depends on whether he can control his aggression and channel it to help his team.
Prospects: CSKA unveiled 16 new players over the course of the recent Mayor of Moscow Cup, giving an indication of how much work Kvartalnov must do to get his roster to gel. Getting the best out of Alexander Radulov will also be crucial if the Army Men are to improve on last season’s showing.


Dynamo Moscow
Head coach: Harijs Vitolins (replaces Oleg Znarok)
Last season: regular season champion, lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Kaspars Daugavins knows Vitolins well from their time together at Team Latvia and this fiery and flamboyant forward returns to the KHL after playing in Switzerland. In Minsk last May he was at the heart of many of Latvia’s best moments, and could establish himself as a fan favorite to match the departed Leo Komarov.
Point to prove: Nikolai Zherdev suffered a horrendous season last time around, and his spiky approach to reporters at this summer’s warm-up tournament in Nizhny Novgorod suggest the experienced forward is still pretty defensive about his recent struggles. But with Oleg Znarok holding the door to an international recall open for him, Dynamo could be the platform to revitalize the former Columbus Blue Jacket after he attracted headlines for all the wrong reasons last season.
Prospects: The departure of inspiration coach Oleg Znarok could herald the end of an era at Dynamo, but promoting Harijs Vitolins from within ensures continuity. It’s a similar story on the ice, with relatively few changes to the roster over the summer. Victory in the Mayor of Moscow Cup suggests that the new boss has the confidence of his team, and Dynamo can expect to be a big contender in the West once again.


HC Sochi
Head coach: Vyacheslav Butsayev
Last season: did not compete
Point to prove: Mikhail Anisin proved his talent as a star in Dynamo’s 2012 Gagarin Cup triumph, but since then he’s struggled to settle at any club and allowed off-ice distractions to hamper his progress. If he can knuckle down in Sochi and produce the form that made him a rising star in Moscow, he could get his career back on track at last.
Prospects: Sochi’s progress so far is a mystery. Big names – Pavel Bure, Sergei Zinoviev, Vitaly Proshkin – have been briefly involved then abruptly left, and the current roster has a hastily-assembled look to it. Butsayev’s coaching know-how will be tested here if he is to get a squad of outsiders and hopefuls to forge a team greater than its rag-tag components. Admiral managed it last season, but it’s a tough ask to see the same trick successfully pulled off in Sochi.


Head coach: Sean Simpson (replaces Dave King)
Last season: lost in Western Conference final
One to watch: Sergei Plotnikov established himself as an international star last season, playing a big role for Russia in a triumphant World Championship. Now the 24-year-old from Komsomolsk is set to be a marked man, but he has the skills to flourish once again this season.
Point to prove: Janis Sprukts had a tough time with injuries last season, limiting him to just 14 regular season appearances and a disappointing four points from 18 play-off games. With a full pre-season behind him, the powerful Latvian forward will be out to show Yaroslavl’s fans what he can do.
Prospects: Loko over-performed in last season’s play-offs, confirming that the talent was always there despite some indifferent performances in the regular season. Simpson’s appointment is an intriguing one: his success with the Swiss national team speaks for itself, but he has little experience of Russian hockey. The squad is strong enough to finish in the top four in the Conference and a couple of judicious additions from Lev suggest that Loko can be a contender in the play-offs as well.


Head coach: Nikolai Solovyov (replaces Igor Petrov)
Last season: failed to make the play-offs
One to watch: Marek Kvapil won two Gagarin Cups with Dynamo Moscow, and has plenty of experience of playing at the top of the game. In Cherepovets, meanwhile, he’s likely to get more game time and feature as the team’s go-to player for goals, a change from his more supporting role in Dynamo’s roster. A good season for Severstal could well depend on a good return from Kvapil.
Point to prove: Swedish defenseman Adam Almqvist made his NHL debut for Detroit last season but has opted to move to Russia to develop his career. The 23-year-old has a two-year deal with Severstal and comes off the back of a strong AHL campaign. Game time and good results here could lift the youngster to the next level in his career.
Prospects: As usual, Severstal is likely to be in that group of teams scrapping to make it into the play-offs.


Head coach: Peteris Skudra
Last season: lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Torpedo already has an extensive collection of Finnish talent, and the addition of Petteri Nokelainen promises to add another notch to Skudra’s offense. The forward’s career highlight was grabbing the World Championship-winning goal in the 2011 final against Sweden, and he also has 245 NHL appearances on his resume. He could well compete with compatriot Sakari Salminen in the club’s scoring charts.
Point to prove: Georgy Gelashvili and Ivan Kasutin ended up sharing goaltending duties at the end of last season and both will be keen to stake a claim for the #1 spot this time around. Kasutin was first choice for much of the play-offs, and might be the pick first up, but Gelashvili’s qualities mean there can be no complacency in the cage.
Prospects: Back in the West, Torpedo should once again be strong enough to get into the play-offs. Progress beyond that will depend on how much Skudra can draw from last season’s experience, his first taste of life as head coach at this level.


Head coach: Oleg Orekhovsky (replaced Yury Leonov in January)
Last season: failed to make the play-offs
One to watch: The experienced Maxim Afinogenov is likely to be the leader for Vityaz this season. He topped the scoring in Podolsk last year and seems rejuvenated by his move away from St. Petersburg.
Point to prove: Denis Grebeshkov seemed to have the hockey world at his feet when he returned to Russia in 2010 as a double World Champion. But after playing in the Vancouver Olympics he fell from grace, and after a year at Edmonton’s farm club in the he’s now eager for game time in Podolsk. Can he rehabilitate himself?
Prospects: Vityaz would love to break its KHL play-off duck, and Orekhovsky’s team certainly promises to be a tough one to beat. In the recent Mayor of Moscow Cup it won all of its games, but needed a shoot-out each time, suggesting encouraging resilience but perhaps a lack of game-winning class. The changing make-up of the Western Conference probably counts against this young team – the arrival of Jokerit and the return of Torpedo strengthens this section compared with last time, and that might be enough to rule Vityaz out of the top eight.