A Chinese newcomer, a shock coaching change and a legendary name between the piping
Last season: lost to Sibir in playoff first round
Admiral reached last year’s playoff, fulfilling the club’s ambitions for the campaign, and Alexander Andrievsky’s men are largely unchanged over the summer. The most interesting new signing looks to be Robert Sabolic, an experienced Slovenian international forward who comes from Sparta Prague. There’s also a famous name joining the goaltending brigade – Maxim Tretiak, grandson of the legendary Vladislav, has joined from CSKA and will be looking to make his KHL debut in the coming campaign.
Last season: failed to make playoffs
Amur’s on-going struggles at the foot of the table continued last year and the Khabarovsk club is still struggling to live up to the hopes of its loyal support. This season sees Marat Fakhrutdinov, long regarded as one of the brightest coaches in the VHL, try to break into the top eight. Two Finnish imports are expected to supply the firepower: Kristian Kuusela, 33, has been in impressive form for Tappara Tampere in the last three seasons and is now embarking on his first campaign outside of his homeland. Teemu Ramstedt, 28, managed 3+5=8 points in SKA’s 2013 playoff run and returns to the KHL after a couple of productive seasons at HIFK.
Last season: lost to Salavat Yulaev in playoff second round
In the past, Avangard hasn’t always been slow to replace head coaches during the season if things weren’t going to plan – but the dismissal of Evgeny Kornoukhov and his replacement with Fyodor Kanareikin barely a week before the season began surely sets a new record. The news was all the more surprising considering that Avangard had announced it had completed its transfer activities for the summer just a few days before. The club’s rationale was that it needed an experienced Russian coach to meet its ambitious aims for the coming season. Kanareikin certainly fits that bill, and it’s great to see him back in the game after his health problems last season. And the coach himself has been straight into action, taking over the team at the Romazan Cup pre-season tournament and lifting the trophy thanks to back-to-back wins over the host, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. “The team accepted me straight away,” he told KHL.ru. “I’ve come into a really good, strong group and there are great expectations ahead us of. In fact, that was crucial for me when I took the job.” There’s been a further boost with reports that Czech international Vladimir Sobotka is heading back to Omsk having previously quarrelled with Kornoukhov and missed pre-season.
Last season: failed to make the playoffs
Controversy and Andrei Nazarov tend to go hand-in-hand, so it’s little surprise that the most notorious incident of pre-season involved Nazarov’s Barys team. Just three minutes into the game against Kunlun in the President of Kazakhstan’s Cup, Damir Ryspaev got embroiled in a fight. Or at least, he tried to. Struggling to find a willing combatant from Beijing, he skated around the rink attacking anyone and everyone, even heading to the visitor’s bench in search of a brawl. Kunlun refused to play on, Ryspaev – who has some previous with the league’s disciplinary committee – was handed an indefinite suspension. That overshadowed some decent summer trades, with goalies Henrik Karlsson (ex Jokerit) and Vitaly Kolesnik (Lokomotiv) arriving along with former Slovan D-man Cam Barker. Admiral-bound Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev, a long-standing servant of Kazakh hockey, was the notable departure.
Kunlun Red Star
Last season: did not compete
The league newcomer is bringing the KHL into uncharted territory – never before has hockey of this level been played in China. It’s a boost for both sides: Beijing gets a taste of top-level action as it prepares for the 2022 Winter Olympics, the KHL becomes the first big league to break into the vast Chinese market. On the ice, of course, progress is cautious. Head coach Vladimir Yurzinov has assembled a roster that blends KHL experience – Janne Jalasvaara, Anssi Salmela, Oleg Yashin – with a raft of promising Chinese talent headed by Rudi Ying, one of a small group of local players with North American experience. The likes of French international Damien Fleury add extra seasoning to a multinational mix that has steadily improved through pre-season and will hope to spring a few surprises once the season starts.
Last season: failed to make the playoffs
The big news in Novokuznetsk this summer was the return of local hero Sergei Zinovyev to his hometown club. The predatory forward, once part of the formidable Zinovyev-Morozov-Zaripov troika for Ak Bars and Team Russia, is back at his first club as GM. Hopes in this Siberian mining region are that he can unearth a roster capable of making the playoffs for the first time in the KHL era. But the seam of local talent continues to supply other clubs – Kirill Kaprizov is the latest prospect to move on, heading for Salavat Yulaev. Experienced goalie Mikhail Biryukov is the most prominent new arrival.
Last season: lost to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Conference Final
Igor Zakharkin’s rescue mission last fall revived Salavat’s season and finishing second in the East was no disgrace. The big arrivals this summer are on defense, with Konstantin Korneyev and Denis Kulyash bringing valuable experience to the blue line. Up front the departure of Nikolai Prokhorkin to SKA is a blow, but the arrival of promising 19-year-old Kirill Kaprizov from Novokuznetsk could be something of a straight swap – as one potential star leaves, a new one comes in to replace him.
Last season: lost to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in playoff second round
Previous summers have seen Sibir replacing a host of senior players, but this time around things have been quieter in Novosibirsk. With the team now established as a real contender in the Eastern Conference, this is more of a destination for players than a stepping stone. So Andrei Skabelka has been able to concentrate on adding to his roster. Joonas Kemppainen is the big-name capture, a powerful Finnish center looking to re-establish himself after a tough time at Boston. Evgeny Artyukhin also joins the club, suggesting that Skabelka is looking for more muscle up front. Artyom Artemov, 19, carries high hopes after a good season in Ontario with Saginaw Spirit. On defense, former Sparta Prague man Adam Polasek performed well in his homeland last season and makes his first move to Russia.