Even at the age of 42, Pavel Datsyuk is still sprinkling stardust all over the league. Avtomobilist’s captain potted two goals and an assist in Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Traktor, placing him second in in KHL scoring with 18 (5+13) points in 15 games this season. The only man ahead of him is also one of the main beneficiaries of those 13 helpers — Datsyuk’s line-mate Alexei Makeyev is out in front with 19 (10+9), and second only to Dmitrij Jaskin for goals scored this season. Datsyuk’s combination is helping the Motormen to pole position in the Eastern Conference: as of Sunday evening, the Yekaterinburg team is top of the pack on goal difference from Avangard.
It’s not just veterans making an impact. Ahead of the 2020-21 season we saw a significant number of NHL players move across to KHL, and last week the NHL took an interest in the latest crop of KHL’s new talent. Last week’s NHL draft underlined the quality of player development in the KHL. No fewer than four players currently active in the league got the call — highlighting the strength of our Junior Hockey League as a development process and the KHL itself as a finishing school for classy prospects. Goalie Yaroslav Askarov was the first to be chosen, selected at #11 by Nashville. The 18-year-old SKA prospect has won two of his three appearances this season, topping a mighty 97.4% of shots faced for a miserly GAA of 0.74. The Maple Leafs took Ufa’s Rodion Amirov at #15. The 19-year-old forward potted his first goals in the KHL this season and has stepped up to play on the first line in recent games while the likes of Teemu Hartikainen and Markus Granlund recover from illness. Another Salavat Yulaev youngster, defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin went at #20, a slightly surprising choice for the Devils. Ranked #17 among European skaters based on his stats with Tolpar in the JHL, Shakir has taken a big step forward this season. He’s a regular in Tomi Lamsa’s team and leads the scoring from the blue line. Finally, Yegor Chinakhov was taken at #21 by the Blue Jackets. The Omsk forward made his KHL debut for Bob Hartley’s team this season and has settled in well. How well? Five goals in 12 games, and more than 21 minutes on the ice against CSKA recently. Not bad for a kid who had many trans-Atlantic observers scratching their heads when his name was called in the first round.
Last season, Dinamo Minsk played the worst season in its history. This year, the club is up there alongside SKA and CSKA. For Ryan Spooner, a leader last season tempted back for another campaign, the difference is all in the head. “For the guys on the team last year, we just had enough of all the losing,” he said in an exclusive interview with KHL.ru. “It wasn’t a fun year. Going to the rink was kind of a battle and we were all a bit down. We were going into games and you could tell the whole team knew we were going to lose.
“Among the guys who were on the team last year, we came back and we were like ‘We can’t have that happen again.’ We’ve been playing hard.”
One of the stand-out moments of this week came in Minsk when Dinamo took on Kunlun Red Star. Home goalie Danny Taylor submitted his nomination for save of the season with a breathtaking stop to rob Ethan Werek of a tying goal. Red Star, on the power play, pulled the home defense out of position and Werek was the spare man at the back door, shooting into a gaping net. The forward was already celebrating the equalizer when he shot the puck ... but Taylor had other ideas. Springing from one post to the other, he pulled off a spectacular reaction save — one of 24 in a shut-out 2-0 victory.
Last Wednesday was World Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, and organizations all over Russia got involved. A specially created typeface, the ‘font of kindness’, was created by Russian designers inspired by the writing of children living with the neurological condition. And KHL teams were quick to adopt it for their gameday output last week, with several clubs using it in the social media work or on posters in the arena. Traktor, meanwhile, went one step further and commissioned a special set of jerseys. Player names and numbers appeared in the special font, while children’s drawings inspired by hockey in Chelyabinsk were also included in the limited-edition uniform. After Wednesday’s game, a 4-2 win over Kunlun Red Star, the jerseys were auctioned off for charity, raising half a million rubles.