Club-by-club preview – Bobrov Division

3 September 2014, 20:14

Head coach: Alexei Kudashov
Last season: failed to make the play-offs
One to watch: Ondrej Nemec’s thunderbolts from the blue line became one of the features of Lev’s run to the final last season. Atlant would love to see him repeat that trick and add real bite to their power play this time around.
Point to prove: Atte Engren was a solid stand-in for Lev last season on that run to the Gagarin Cup final. Now the Finnish goalie is in line to claim a starting spot for himself and has a great opportunity to turn his potential into proven form.
Prospects: It’s been a busy summer in Mytishchi with Kudashov rebuilding his roster in the hope of making the play-offs this time around. Atlant should be more competitive than last season, but in a Conference that looks stronger than ever it’s hard to see them going deep into the play-offs.

DinMinsk.jpgDinamo Minsk
Head coach: Lubomir Pokovic
Last season: failed to make the play-offs
One to watch: Jonathan Cheechoo was Medvescak’s star forward last season, posting 19+19 in regular season as the Zagreb debutant impressed on its first KHL showing. Changing times in Croatia have seen him and several team-mates move to Minsk, where a repeat of last season’s form could take Dinamo back to the play-offs.
Point to prove: Charles Linglet was on the verge of an international call-up after taking Belarusian citizenship in February 2012, but various problems saw him drop out of the Dinamo Minsk team the following season. After a successful campaign with Medvescak last time out, he’s back in Belarus and ready to remind his adopted country of what he can do.
Prospects: Terrific home support in Belarus hasn’t led to terrific results in recent seasons, and the decision to recruit heavily from Medvescak represents a calculated gamble. However, the loss of goalie Kevin Lalande and reliable forwards Zbynek Irgl and Andrei Stas could prove difficult to overcome.

DinRiga.jpgDinamo Riga
Head coach: Artis Abols
Last season: lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Edgars Maskalskis is a veteran goaltender who has proved his worth for team Latvia on countless occasions. Last season he was short on club action – by the end of February he’d played more Olympic hockey than league games – but his return to Riga should see him back in regular goal-defying action.
Point to prove: Pyotr Schastlivy has had a great career, including captaining team Russia in the 2007 World Championship in Moscow, but last season was one to forget. No goals in 22 games for Torpedo and finishing the season with Sarov in the VHL placed questions against the experienced forward’s name. A move to Riga gives the 35-year-old a chance to show that he’s still a serious proposition at this level.
Prospects: Dinamo has lost a few talismanic names – most notably the great Sandis Ozolins – but still has a roster capable of reaching the play-offs and causing problems for the big names there.  It’s unlikely any of the top clubs would relish a post-season trip to Latvia in Round One.

Head coach: Erkka Westerlund
Last season: competed in the Finnish league, lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Juhamatti Aaltonen won plenty of admirers during two prolific seasons at Metallurg Magnitogorsk and now the KHL has come to Finland he’s making a welcome return to the league. An Olympic bronze medalist in Sochi, he’s got the skills and experience to enhance a strong Jokerit roster.
Point to prove: Johan Harju became a boo-boy for Dynamo fans after he struggled to impress there in 2009-10. This season, paired with fellow Swede Linus Omark once again, he can show the KHL what he’s really all about.
Prospects: Most KHL newcomers set the play-offs as their main goal; Jokerit’s roster looks capable of more. Westerlund’s coaching nous should see the Helsinki team play a big role in the West this season and the organization’s foundations are solid enough to make it a real contender to be the first non-Russian KHL champion.

Head coach: Chuck Weber
Last season: lost in first round of the play-offs
One to watch: Mike Hedden had a storming season for the Texas Stars last time out, posting 92 points in 72 games to help his team win the Calder Cup. The Canadian, aged 30, is rated as a good two-way player and hopes are high that he can cement a position in one of the top lines this season.
Point to prove: Branislav Mezei joins up with the roster on the eve of the season following an injury to Shawn Belle, and the Slovak defenseman has 18 games to secure himself a season-long deal in Zagreb. Mezei, previously seen with Barys, Lev and Avtomobilist among others, brings valuable experience to the back line.
Prospects: Last season was a dream come true for Medvescak, holding its own against the top teams and forcing its way into the play-offs. But much of the team that made it happen has gone and incoming coach Chuck Weber has to start over.

Head coach: Vyacheslav Bykov
Last season: lost in second round of the play-offs
One to watch: Artemy Panarin is still a rising star, but matching Ilya Kovalchuk’s scoring last season speaks volumes about his talent. The exciting forward could establish himself on the international scene this time around if he continues his current rate of progress.
Point to prove: Anton Belov returns to Russia after a season at Edmonton that didn’t quite go to plan. The problems at the Oilers were too great for Belov – or any other individual – to overcome, but back home he has a strong reputation as one of the best defensemen seen in the KHL. He’ll be determined to maintain that standing with his new club.
Prospects: Vyacheslav Bykov’s arrival in St. Petersburg represents SKA’s latest attempt to meld a talented roster into a trophy-winning team. Bykov certainly has the credentials to do this, and the relative stability seen beside the Neva this summer also bodes well. Expectations are high and nothing less than a deep run in the play-offs will satisfy the club.

Head coach: Rostislav Cada
Last season: failed to make the play-offs
One to watch: Ziga Jeglic was the unexpected star of Slovenia’s Olympic debut. The 26-year-old forward helped his country to the QF, scoring twice against Russia on the way, and went on to celebrate a German championship win with Ingolstadt. KHL hockey is a step up for Jeglic, but he has the talent to succeed at this level.
Point to prove: Playing in defense for Avangard last season is something many players would rather forget, and even though Ivan Baranka was one of the more effective blue-liners in Omsk the experienced Slovak will be hoping for a more successful campaign back in his home country.
Prospects: Last season was a huge disappointment for Slovan, prompting a reshuffle. The incoming players look promising – aside from Jeglic and Baranka, Ladislav Nagy looks a useful addition – and the Bratislava team could push for a play-off spot.