Last time around, Vityaz qualified for the postseason for the second time in its history in the KHL. They were the eighth seed in the Western Conference but could qualify even higher if it wasn't for a bad streak near the season's end. However, it should be noted that not only Vityaz got to the playoffs, but they also built a good team with excellent potential for the future. Vityaz has at its disposal high-level foreigners, exciting prospects, and they could even give Alexander Semin a second youth as he scored 41 (19+22) points last year.
In the latest few seasons, Vityaz was synonym with Valery Belov. He worked three years with the team, the golden term for any coach, and most likely it was time for a change. Mikhail Kravets is the chosen one to bring Vityaz to new heights. From one hand, his appointment was a bit odd, considering that he never coached a KHL team before, if we don't count a bunch of games with SKA as a temporary head coach. On the other hand, Kravets is an expert coach who is about to turn 56 and whose desire to coaching a top-level team is finally a reality. Recently, KHL.ru analyst Leonid Vaisfeld said to have listened to only excellent feedback from Kravets' previous workplaces.
Goalies: Ilya Ezhov (Neftekhimik), Anton Todykov (Dynamo SP, VHL), Timur Shiyanov (Lausanne, Switzerland).
Defensemen: Jakub Jerabek (San Antonio, AHL), Ville Lajunen (Kunlun Red Star).
Forwards: Evgeny Artyukhin, Svyatoslav Grebeshchnikov (SKA, trade), Pekka Jormakka (Jokerit), Danila Kvartalnov (SKA, trade), Pavel Koltygin (Drummondville, QMJHL), Ivan Larichev (SKA, trade), Joonas Nattinen (Neftekhimik).
Defensemen: Vojtech Mozik (Farjestad, Sweden), Stanislav Romanov.
Forwards: Mark Verba (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Gorokhov (Yermak, VHL), Denis Kokarev (Spartak), Alexander Nikuli, Bogdan Potekhin, Borna Rendulic (Mannheim, Germany), Michal Repik (Sparta Prague, Czech Republic), Gennady Stolyarov (Spartak).
Another clear indication of the fact that Vityaz is trying to climb the standings is its roster. Some ten players left the team, with three of them – Vojtech Mozik, Borna Rendulic, and Denis Kokarev – having a significant spot in the lineup. Kokarev was a real leader for the team and responsible for the communication between the coach and the players. Now, this role will be fulfilled by Evgeny Artyukhin.
However, the most exciting part of the roster are the international players. All of them promise to be of very high quality. The team signed the offensive blueliner Ville Lajunen off Kunlun Red Star, who will most likely play a leading position in Vityaz's powerplay. To help him, the fans will welcome the return of Jakub Jerabek. Joonas Nattinen had a strong season last year with Neftekhimik, and another Finn, Pekka Jormakka, posted significant numbers for Jokerit.
If judging by the names – after all it's hard to judge by other things in August – Vityaz got much more quality than what the team lost. Mikhail Kravets will now have to work hard to turn the promises into points.
One of the best moves of the Vityaz's boards was to retain in the team its top scorer, Miro Aaltonen. The Finnish forward scored 19 goals and 42 points, trailing his record by only two points.
The forward doesn't boast the biggest frame (179 cm and 78 kgs), but he's got speed to burn and soft hands that allow him to create scoring opportunities for his partners or to finish them with his great shot.
The Vityaz's academy product had his KHL debut in the 2014-15 season when he was only 19. And he improves his production with each season: in the 2017-18 campaign, he ended up with 21 (8+13) points, which became 25 (13+12) last time around. He was the third scorer of the team among Russian players. Artyom Shvets-Rogovoi is 24 now, and he became a key contributor for Vityaz. It is expected that he will further improve next year.
Vityaz worked very well on the market in this offseason, and they should further cement their position in the Western Conference. Considering its roster, Vityaz shouldn't be a mere candidate for the playoffs, but a team who can fight for a top-four ranking.
Following Vityaz will be exciting in the preseason already. The Mayor Cup in Moscow at the end of August should be a good measuring stick for the team's expectations.