We have finally reached the end of May, that month when the market for free agents opens its doors, and the time for clubs to scour the lower leagues in search of the best of the rookie players. Some of the transactions reverberate louder than others - young Kirill Kaprizov’s move from Ufa to CSKA, or Anton Burdasov and Dmitry Kugryshev's job swap, for example – so on this page we present for you a short list of some of the other deals sealed during the month – those which may have passed under the media radar.
Not many saw this move coming two seasons ago when the giant defenseman waved goodbye to Avtomobilist and moved to the NHL, where he drew plaudits for his pace, positioning, backchecking, movement, vision, shooting, and puck control, not to mention the physical side of his game – Nikita’s 6'7" frame weighs 256lbs. Successfully persuading him return to his home town was undoubtedly a coup for the Yekaterinburg club.
He is still only 22, but has a wealth of experience and Vladimir Krikunov must be delighted at having him shore up his defense. Tryamkin has the stamina for spending 18-20 minutes of ice time per match, is equally impressive in powerplay or when short-handed, and needs little invitation to join in offensive raids. A big reason for optimism in Yekaterinburg.
194 goals – that is how many Metallurg Novokuznetsk shipped during the 2016-17 regular season, and it was the gloomiest figure in any goals-allowed column in the League, yet despite guarding the net in 28 of those games, this young goaltender can hold his head high. He ably dealt with 93.2% of shots on his goal, and after his move to Neftekhimik, that figure improved to 94.3% (and with such porous defenses in front of him, there were often more than 40 per game). When the Nizhnekamsk men faced Salavat Yulaev, the 22-year-old netminder set a new KHL record by saving 61 shots (the previous record, 60, was held my Maxim Sokolov).
Is bringing in Kareyev a wise move for new coach Erkka Westerlund? In fact, he was the obvious and logical choice – Salavat Yulaev’s season was a huge disappointment, largely due to problems with the last line of defense, and the youngster is by far the most impressive goalie on the market. He has good agility, great statistics, a wealth of experience, and given his age, he has the potential to mature and secure for himself the main goaltender spot at Ufa for many years to come.
Bailen was not away from the KHL for too long. He left Dinamo Minsk to spend the rest of last season in the Swedish Hockey League, but now he has turned back and gone even further East. It seems to be an open secret that Traktor sought him out because they see him as the right man to inject a ruthless streak into the Chelyabinsk powerplay unit.
Bailen is the classic offensive defenseman, and there is no shortage of forwards who would envy his haul of 77 points from 113 KHL matches. His main strength is his passing ability, whether turning defense into attack or turning up the pressure in powerplay, and while he does not have the most imposing physique, this does not stop him getting into high traffic and threatening the opposition goal from close range.
The management at Salavat Yulaev were very busy during the spring, first securing the services of one of the most sought-after coaches, then hiring one of the most impressive of the current crop of young goaltenders, and now they have sharpened the team’s offensive edge with the arrival of another highly-rated youngster, Czech Republic international forward Dominik Kubalik.
The 21-year-old has spent most of his career playing for his home town club, HK Plzen, but from 2012 to 2014 he spent two seasons in the OHL, first with the Sudbury Wolves and then the Kitchener Rangers, before returning to the Czech lands to put his overseas experience into practice. In 51 games last season, Kubalik recorded 48 points, and 29 of these were goals – just the kind of player needed to help the Ufa faithful focus on the future and forget the disappointments of the 2016-17 campaign.
Ramo is one of the finest of all the Finns to have minded the net in the KHL, and he enjoyed the best form of his career with Avangard. In four seasons with the Omsk men, he recorded a Goals Against Average of 1.99 and a Save Percentage of 92.4, and helped steer them all the way to the Gagarin Cup final.
His second spell in the NHL was plagued by misfortune, injuries and criticism, and this two-year deal with Jokerit brings him back home to Finland and back to the KHL, where he – and indeed, the Helsinki men, given last season’s 8th place in the Conference – feel they have something to prove.
Ramo’s former home, Avangard, now seems to favor Scandinavian imports, and the signing of this pair means there are now four Swedes on the Omsk roster, which should make it easier for the two newcomers to adapt to their surroundings.
Johan Sundstrom is an imposing 24-year-old center who has spent most of his career at Frolunda HC, but back in the 2013-14 season he managed 11 NHL appearances for the New York Islanders (recording one assist) before dropping to the AHL and then returning home.
Dennis Everberg, 25, was part of the Swedish national team which captured World Championship gold last month, and he spent two seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16) in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche (70 games, 3 goals, 9 assists).
The Omsk men had a disappointing 2016-17, and this pair should add some bite to the Avangard vangard.
When Varnakov moved from Torpedo to Ak Bars three seasons ago, he was regarded as one of the most accomplished forwards in the League, but since the move he has seemed to stagnate a little – as has the Kazan team in general – and with the recent emergence of Vladimir Tkachyov and Fyodor Malykhin, it was clear that the 32-year-old was falling out of favor.
The move to Moscow, then, is a chance to get his career back on track, while for the Blue-and-Whites it is an important step in solving the offensive problems that plagued them throughout the 2016-17 campaign.