Hardly the 2020-2021 season can be called a successful one for Neftekhimik — they missed the playoffs by a 17-point gap. However, before the start of the regular season, many expected the Wolves to be one of the top-8 Eastern Conference teams after signing a few highlight players in the offseason. But it didn’t work out. Neftekhimik allowed the most goals in its Conference (214), had the fewest tallies (133) and exhibited bad special teams (14.8% PP and 72.1% PK).
That said, the team led by Vyacheslav Butsayev managed to post some Ws against top teams: twice did they defeat Metallurg (4:3 and 1:0), once each of Lokomotiv (3:2), Ak Bars (3:2 OT), and Jokerit (3:2 OT). The team lacked consistency: anything else can be said when a team can defeat Yaroslavl one day and lose 1:5 to Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (a direct concurrent for a playoff spot) the next one.
50 games, 38 (17+21) points
Spartak goalie Julius Hudacek’s little brother was the first international signing for Neftekhimik in the 2020 offseason. The Wolves’ scouts found him in the Czech Republic, in Liberec, and it was an excellent signing for the franchise as he quickly became the team’s top scorer. Hudacek played his best hockey in November when he posted 7 (4+3) points in just four games against Kunlun, Dinamo Riga, Barys, and Ak Bars. The Slovak forward is gifted with speed to burn and a laser-like wrist shot.
49 games, 29 (14+15) points
Poryadin was Neftekimik’s top Russian asset last year. In October, the 24-years-old forward had a six-game streak with 8 (4+4) points, including potting the game-winner in OT against Ak Bars. Maybe it was that game where the Kazan scouts were impressed the most, but Poryadin didn’t join Ak Bars despite all the rumors. Moreover, Poryadin led Neftekhimik for game-winning goals with three, tied with Marat Khairullin.
54 games, 27 (15+12) points
In the 2020-2021 season, Khairullin was Neftekhimik’s second sniper after Hudacek. Moreover, he also led the team with a plus-5 rating, further cementing his role within the lineup. Khairullin is progressing season after season, and — as said — he’s a player who can give his contribution when things get tough. And he’s skilled enough to do it in an eye-catching way, as in the game against Metallurg.
In the regular season, Neftekhimik posted wins with larger gaps, but nothing is better than defeating Ak Bars for its fans. The Tatarstan derby is always filled with emotions and is usually decided in the third period or beyond. The Oct 10 game in Nizhnekamsk was no exception: the home team was down 1:2 at the midgame mark, but Khairullin sent the game to OT. After just 28 seconds from the opening faceoff, Poryadin accelerated on the left flank and let the puck fly from the left circle to beat Adam Reideborn glove-side for the home fans’ joy.
It was Vyacheslav Butsayev’s third season behind the bench. Nizhnekamsk ended up as the Eastern Conference’s tenth seed in his debut season, while he managed to conquer a playoff spot qualification for Neftekhimik at the second attempt. The start of the season was challenging, as Butsayev and his staff couldn’t actively coach the team during the games and missed a few matches. Commenting on the just-finished season, Butsayev said that he saw the real Neftekhimik only once the winter started.
“In December, once we concluded a few transfers, we managed to balance all the units, and all the injured players returned; we saw the team that we all enjoyed last season. Unfortunately, we couldn’t accomplish our goal, but I have to thank all the guys for playing hard until the end. I have no complaints towards any of my players. We’re now discussing a new contract. I want to stay, but let’s see what happens,” said Butsayev after the season.
However, the boards decided not to renew the ties with him, thus Neftekhimik will start its new campaign under Oleg Leontyev.
Other than changing its hockey operations staff, Neftekhimik already completed a few exciting moves. First of all, the team re-inked Hudacek, who ended the 2020-2021 season with Lausanne HC of the Swiss top-flight league. Secondly, another return is Dan Sexton, who played the latest few seasons in Yekaterinburg. And third, the Tatarstan franchise inked the Finn goalie Frans Tuohimaa and the Czech D-men Lukas Knok and Ronald Knot. The earlier won the bronze medal in last year’s Liiga, while Knok represented the Czech Republic at the recent IIHF World Championship. Moreover, Neftekhimik is actively working towards retaining its current talent, starting from Alexander Bryntsev and Poryadin, for whom Nizhnekamsk struggled against other KHL teams.