To mark the end of the first calendar month of the 10th Championship, khl.ru presents a brand new feature: each month, we will ask renowned experts from the world of hockey to choose a Team of the Month – the best goalie, the two most formidable defensemen and the three most dangerous forwards in the League over the given period.
August was a short month in KHL terms, of course, but there was still more than enough time for many players to make a significant impact in the opening games of the season, so here are our five finest skaters and best goalie for the month of August:
Ilya Ezhov (Neftekhimik)
4 games; 5 goals allowed, 95.2 save percentage, 1.25 goals against average
For the last line of defense, we sought the opinion of KHL-TV expert and former goaltender Alexander Fomichyov, a WHL champion in 1998-99 with the Calgary Hitmen who has also stood between the pipes for Torpedo, Sibir, Avangard, CSKA and Amur:
A few goalies have made impressive starts to the tenth season - Alexander Salak of Sibir, for example – but I have selected Ezhov ovr the others because he has performed with such confidence despite playing in a new team, Neftekhimik, and a change of team is always a huge challenge for a goalie. His exploits in goal have been a major factor in the Nizhnekamsk team's impressive start of three wins out of three. It is too early to try and predict how Ezhov's season will pan out, and he still has a serious rival for the number one spot in the form of Andrei Makarov, but the team now faces a very tough trip on the road, so we will see how things develop. I gave Salak a mention because he faced a different but nonetheless daunting challenge, that of returning from injury to guard the Sibir net. Without him, the team had endured a poor preseason, but now the Championship is underway he has helped Sibir claim three victories in four outings, and his contribution has been publicly praised by his fellow players.
Andrei Markov (Ak Bars)
4 games; 6 (1+5) points, +1, average ice time 21:05
Darren Dietz (Barys)
4 games, 5 (3+2) points, +3, average ice time 23:09
To select the finest rearguard for the month, we turned to a former Lokomotiv, Ak Bars, Avangard, Lada, CSKA, Traktor, Severstal, and Neftekhimik defenseman, and a two-time champion of Russia: Alexander Guskov, now a resident KHL expert:
I have chosen Andrei Markov of Ak Bars and Darren Dietz of Barys.
Markov returned from a long and successful spell in North America, and at the age of 38 had to re-acclimatize to the different kind of hockey played in his homeland, but he has made an immediate impact and done exactly what was demanded of him: creating and converting chances. Andrei has amassed a wealth of experience, he reads the game very well, and he is in great physical shape. Consequently, he already has a goal and five assists in the first four matches of the Championship.
As for Darren Dietz, the Canadian is like a new Kevin Dallman, only younger, leaner, and even more mobile. He scored an excellent goal in the game against Torpedo, when he left several beaten opponents in his wake as he bore down on goal. While we praise Markov for matching our existing, albeit very high, expectations, the superb performances from Diets have been a revelation, as he was a completely new face and an unknown quantity in the Kazakh team, and indeed, across the whole League. Plus, of course, Barys still has the original Dallman, and he is a constant threat. It is ominous that the Astana Men have shrugged off a poor preseason and made a good start to this campaign.
Eeli Tolvanen (Jokerit)
4 games; 6 (3+6) points, +2, average ice time 15:19
Denis Parshin (Torpedo)
4 games; 5 (2+3) points, -1, average ice time 17:58
Sergei Shirokov (SKA)
4 games; 6 (4+2) points, +4, average ice time 13:34
We asked former Nashville Predators defenseman Alexander Boykov, a Gagarin Cup winner in 2012 with Dynamo Moscow and now an expert on KHL-TV, so select the offensive troika for August.
I think young Eeli Tolvanen of Jokerit merits a mention. He has enjoyed a superb start to the season for an 18-year-old: six points in four games, including a hat-trick on his debut. He is a bright lad, with finely-honed technique, and has the potential to become a star of the Kontinental Hockey League. He has a good understanding of the game, he can sense a scoring chance, and he has a strong wrist shot in his armor. The fact that he was a first-round pick in the NHL draft shows how his potential is widely recognized. Tolvanen has smoothly slotted into this Jokerit team, which seems to be a well-organized unit, and while he still needs time to get used to the role of leader, there is no doubt he has made a blistering start.
I would also choose Denis Parshin. This year he moved from Salavat Yulaev to a new team, Torpedo, but he hit the ground running and started the season with two goals and three assists, taking points in three games out of four. This has spurred on the team, and now Torpedo has some points in the account and Parshin is averaging around 18 minutes of ice time. He is a very crafty, nimble player with great technique. He can create chances from nowhere, single-handedly, by taking out an opponent in a one-on-one, and now, after a less-than-successful spell in his career, he is keen to remind us all of what he can do. Obviously, Parshin can become a leader at Torpedo – that is why they brought him in. And his experience of producing top-quality performances at various clubs over the years should remove any doubts over how productive and vital he can be.
And, of course, Sergei Shirokov. He is a highly experienced guy, and his role at SKA, where he is already in his third season, has always been a vital one. Shirokov is very consistent, and he excelled during last season's playoffs when SKA was on its way to winning the Gagarin Cup, both because of the points he scored and from his contribution to the Army Men's victory, He started this season in similarly impressive form: four games, six points, four goals, and he has scored in every match so far. In a couple of games Shirokov had limited ice time – around 11 minutes - but against Vityaz he was given 19 minutes and had a very good game. His strengths are his experience, his work on the power play, and his commitment. He is a versatile player, one who is not only good in offense but who also knows how to play when he doesn't have the puck. Nor does he shy away from the rough stuff. Sergei is a leader, and when SKA needs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it is he who frequently appears on the ice at the decisive moments.