Big names move from CSKA, a Stanley Cup winner comes to Yaroslavl and Vityaz has high hopes of Valery Belov
Last season: beaten in the Gagarin Cup final
After two seasons of impressive hockey under Dmitry Kvartalnov, CSKA is facing a season of transition. Alexander Radulov, Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Lyubimov are off to North America; Geoff Platt moves on to Sweden and there’s a sense that an era is coming to an end. But the incoming players have potential. Bud Holloway of the St. John’s IceCaps had an impressive pre-season while ex SKA and Sibir man Joonas Enlund has proven scoring talent despite a frustrating campaign last time around. The big challenge might be replacing Zaitsev’s ever-growing composure on the blue line – Sibir’s Konstantin Alexeyev brings experience while 21-year-old Yury Sergienko returns to the Army Men after impressing at Torpedo last time out.
Last season: lost to SKA in playoff round 2
Last season was a frustrating one for Dynamo. Head coach Harolds Vitolins paid the price from some indifferent regular season form and his replacement, Sergei Oreshkin, managed to steady the ship but struggled to make much impact on the playoffs. Over the summer, Oreshkin has resisted the temptation to meddle too much with the line-up. Instead he’s brought in experience – former Ak Bars D-man Yakov Rylov will renew acquaintance with Ilya Nikulin, while Czech international forward Lukas Kaspar arrives from Slovan after enjoying a good World Championship campaign in Dynamo’s VTB Arena. Maxim Pestushko, a reliable 30-point forward, is the most notable departure; he concluded his second spell in Blue-and-White before moving to Avangard.
Last season: lost to Dynamo in playoff round 1
Sochi proved to be a tough opponent in regular season last time around, taking fourth place in the West. But it couldn’t carry that form into the playoffs, where it was swept by Dynamo. Vyacheslav Butsayev has been active in the summer market, bringing in defensive experience in the form of Roman Derlyuk and Ilya Gorokhov to cover for the loss of Janne Jalasvaara and young Ak Bars prospect Ziyat Paigin. A more intriguing arrival comes from Sweden, where Oscar Fantenberg won domestic and Champions League honors with Frolunda before stepping up to the KHL. However, the offense looks a bit lightweight following the departure of the Kazionov brothers to Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Last season: lost to SKA in playoff round 1
At times last season Loko looked like real contenders for silverware – but the playoffs ended with a whimper as the Railwaymen’s offense was derailed by SKA. Alexander Kudashov has brought an experienced assistant in the form of Dmitry Yushkevich and has also moved to reinforce his team’s firepower. Brandon Kozun will be expected to reprise the form he showed at Jokerit last time out, while Maxime Talbot comes from Boston with a big reputation after his Stanley Cup-winning exploits for Pittsburgh. They will need to offer some serious production in support of the fast-improving Daniil Apalkov, who was last season’s leading scorer.
Last season: failed to reach the playoffs
Severstal lost head coach Yushkevich to Loko and opted to look to the VHL for a replacement. Alexander Gulyavtsev, previously of Molot-Prikamiye, has a good reputation for getting teams with modest resources to over-perform – which is exactly what Severstal needs. The capture of goalie Jakub Kovar from Avtomobilist could be a key move while Kyle Wilson looks a ready replacement for the departing Ondrej Nemec in defense. However, Severstal struggled badly last season and Gulyavtsev may well find that it takes more than one campaign to lift the Cherepovets team back into the playoff places.
Last season: lost to CSKA in playoff round 2
The big pre-season headline for Torpedo was not one the team would have wanted to see: a fight between head coach Peteris Skudra and his opposite number Evgeny Pipikhin of Neftekhimik. That kind of pugnacious spirit seeped through the Torpedo roster last season, helping the team to upset Jokerit in the first round of the playoffs and become the only Western Conference team to manage a post-season victory over CSKA. Since then assistant coach Alexander Zavyalov has moved to Ak Bars, but the big summer signing of John Norman from Skelleftea AIK is an exciting prospect. The 25-year-old Swede was part of his country’s World Championship roster after three strong seasons at Skelleftea, where he won one championship and collected two runner-up medals. With 42 points last season, he was the club’s second leading scorer. Another new face, Maxim Kityn, is more familiar. The 24-year-old was a World Junior Champion in 2011 but has struggled to establish himself in a senior team since then. After some impressive scoring in the East Coast Hockey League for Manchester Monarchs he took up the option to return to Torpedo for a second stint rather than continue to play second-tier hockey in the USA.
Last season: failed to reach the playoffs
Still the only Western Conference team never to feature in a KHL playoff campaign, Vityaz is looking to Valery Belov to end that unwanted record. Belov, a former Vityaz player, cut his coaching teeth at the club back in the early years of this century before linking up with Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at Ak Bars. After achieving great success as assistant in Kazan he had a short stint as head coach while Bill worked with Team Russia. Now he’s in charge at his former club and his arrival has raised hopes that the long-running hoodoo can be broken at last. Many are looking out for young defenseman German Rubtsov, a first-round draft pick for the Philadelphia Flyers, to show his credentials – although Belov is warning against expecting too much too soon. Veteran forward Alexander Stepanov, who played under Belov at Ak Bars, is also back on the ice after a year’s absence: at the age of 37 he’ll be looking to prove his fitness at the start of the season. Two signings from Sibir, forward Alexei Kopeikin and D-man Sergei Gimayev, look like handy acquisitions as well.