KHL 2010-11 season preview

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

It was probably the summer of SKA St. Petersburg, who signed two solid NHL players in Evgeny Nabokov and Maxim Afinogenov, to long-term contracts. They also lured back home defenseman Denis Grebeshkov. Spartak replied to the Nabokov’s signing ensuring the services of Dominik Hasek. Despite his age, the Dominator is still in good shape. Other interesting signings are the return of Alexander Perezhogin to Avangard, the signing of Brock Trotter by Dinamo Riga and Ak Bars’ acquisition of Marcel Hossa, who built for himself a very solid European career after his attempt to secure an NHL spot with the Canadiens and the Rangers. On the other hand many young players moved from Russia to America, and this includes not only established prospects like Alexander Avtsin (MTL), but also some 2011 eligible like Alexander Khokhlachev.

After the problems of HC Lev from Slovakia in joining the league, the KHL will have 23 teams for the 2010-11 season. One of the highlights of the season in this aspect was the merging of HC MVD, last season’s runner-ups, and the historical team Dynamo Moscow.

Below is a team-by-team breakdown and analysis of the different prospects:


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Bobrov Division:

CSKA Moscow
Led by Sergei Nemchinov, the team used a good amount of youth during the 2009-10 campaign. But some of this youth is now gone, Nikita Filatov (CLB) returned to the Jackets, once again complaining about his situation, and Maxim Goncharov (PHX) signed an entry-level deal with the Coyotes.

But even if two very good junior players left, others are going to play a good role during this season. Mikhail Pashnin (NYR) recently stated that he wants to play in the NHL, but that he will most likely honor his deal with the Red Army, which runs out on April 2012. Nemchinov also secured the services of goalie Sergei Gaiduchenko (FLA), who will back up Stephen Valiquette after a very good season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, in which he wasn’t happy about his ice time. Ilya Zubov (OTT) looked determinate so far in rebounding back, and Nemchinov has already announced that he’ll start the season as first line center, playing with KHL superstar Jan Marek. Other youngsters in CSKA’s lineup include Sergei Andronov (STL) and 2011 eligible, former Sudbury Wolves Stefan Stepanov.

Dynamo Moscow
After merging with HC MVD and founding the OHK Dynamo (United Hockey Club) organization, the team grabbed most of his roster from HC MVD themselves and let many players go – many of them being juniors. Alexander Avtsin (MTL) is the most notable one. He had a very good 2009-10 season and was inked by the Habs this summer. Pavel Valentenko (NYR) will spend the next season in America too, while center Anton Krysanov (PHX) moved to Krikunov’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Also Igor Makarov (CHI) finally landed an NHL contract and will fight for a spot with the Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks. Nikita Dvurechensky will start the season in the KHL. He’s a very interesting player who has a good click with Avtsin himself, but that didn’t raise any interest during the latest two drafts in spite of his good size and set of skills. He will play a good role at the WJC.

Dinamo Riga
Riga’s lineup won’t be that interesting for the North American audience interested in prospects as the only legit one they have in the lineup is former Canadiens’ Brock Trotter. The Brandon, MB, native signed a 2-yr deal.

SKA St. Petersburg
With several big free agent splashes made this summer, SKA is a stacked team going into 2010-11. Their lineup will feature a lot of former NHL players, but the vast majority of them are veterans. They are the front runners for the 2010-11 Gagarin Cup, but it won’t be easy for them, especially considering all their failures in recent years.

Spartak Moscow

As a team with good tradition in growing good young players (Kovalchuk, Frolov and others), Spartak has a rather young lineup, even if there aren’t many legit prospects. 22-year-old Ilya Kablukov (VAN) has most likely lost the NHL train and in any case he doesn’t have enough offensive upside to really contend for a spot with the Canucks. The team led by Czech Coach Milos Riha signed a one-year deal with Denis Bodrov (PHI). The young blueliner said that he wanted to return to Russia to help his wife with their newborn child and that will consider joining the Flyers during the next season. Alexander Khokhlachev might have had a spot within the team this season, but he preferred crossing the Ocean to play with the Windsor Spitfires.
Tarasov Division:

Atlant Mytischi
In spite of having a good lineup, Atlant doesn’t really have such a young roster. Their most notable player for the North American audience is forward Chris Bourque, who grabbed the Jack Butterfield Trophy as AHL Playoffs MVP. The son of the legendary Ray Bourque signed a two-year deal. The team’s starting goalie will be Konstantin Barulin (STL). During the midseason they lost defenseman Andrei Zubarev (ATL), who signed an entry-level deal with Atlanta.

Dynamo Minsk
The Belarusian team is trying to establish themselves more like Dynamo Riga from Latvia and Barys Astana from Kazakhstan and made an effort in giving Belarusian players a bigger role. Tri-City American Sergei Drozd is part of the team, but he might get back to the WHL. The team coached by Marek Sikora has a number of young players in the roster, but none of them is NHL material.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Also Lokomotiv is a known producer of good players and they feature in their lineup one of the most underrated Russian prospects, center Daniil Sobchenko, who will most likely have a top-6 role during the next WJC. Even if undrafted, Sobchenko is an excellent playmaker and a versatile forward and is that kind of player who likes to make a good last pass to a finisher. Lokomotiv, who signed a number of players during the summer, included Slovakian Pavol Demitra, will feature also Vitaly Anikeenko (OTT).

Severstal Cherepovets
After five pro seasons with the team, offensive blueliner Yuri Alexandrov (BOS) decided to give the NHL a try with the Bruins and thus left the team. But Bruins’ fans might still have to check the box score for Severstal games as in June GM Chiarelli decided to draft yet another blueliner from the team, Maxim Chudinov. The 20-year-old averaged more than 18 minutes a night last year and he will have good ice time this season too. Recently Chudinov signed a new two-year agreement, thus meaning that most likely the Bruins’ will have to wait till 2012 to have a chance to sign him. But by then he will be the same age as Alexandrov now, so this is not necessarily a bad news from a North American point of view.

Maxim Trunev (MTL) is expected to a good season this year after the last one, which wasn’t too successful, scoring only five points. During the preseason Trunev played rather well, scoring four points, but the regular season will be a whole another thing.

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
After a disappointing 2009-10 campaign, Torpedo decided to strengthen the team mostly by signing veterans. They won’t have any legit prospect in the roster for the upcoming 2010-11 campaign, with the exception of 19-years-old Semen Valuisky, who didn’t show anything worth of mention in the latest couple of season after a good start of his career.
Vityaz Chekhov

KHL’s toughest team has a mediocre lineup filled up of North American minor leaguers (with the exception of Chris Simon), Russian veterans and some youngsters who missed their chances elsewhere. Dmitry Megalinsky (OTT) is an interesting player, but any year that passes lowers his chances to report to North America.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Kharlamov Division:

Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Just like the latest season, Avtomobilist won’t have much NHL material in their lineup. Anatoly Nikontsev, who grabbed the Alexei Cherepanov award as KHL rookie of the year, is a good winger with some potential, but doesn’t have that extra thing you need to play pro in North America.

Ak Bars Kazan
The reigning KHL champions had a minimal transfer market this summer, landing only two new players, Marcel Hossa and Evgeny Skachkov (STL). They also traded young Andrei Pervyshin to Avangard Omsk for the right to defenseman Nikita Nikitin (STL), who crossed the pond this summer. Kirill Petrov (NYI) was almost certain to find himself in a New York Islanders uniform by this winter, but during the preseason head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said that the team needs him. He played during the preseason, but now he was once again demoted to the MHL team.

Other players to follow include Alexei Emelin (MTL), whose contract will run out next April, winger Nikolay Lemtyugov (STL) and dman Vyacheslav Buravchikov (BUF).

Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Even if Metallurg’s junior team won the first MHL season, the Ural team is struggling in adding valuable young players to their lineup. They are still delivering in producing goaltenders, as confirmed by Ilya Proskuryakov, Alexander Pechursky (PIT) and Igor Bobkov (ANA), but these last two had to fly overseas to find some good ice time.

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
The team led by famous Russian coach Vladimir Krikunov was last year’s surprise, but they won’t feature interesting prospects in their lineup, especially after Nail Yakupov’s departure to North America.

Traktor Chelyabinsk
Traktor is one of the historically better schools in Russia and they keep on producing good talent, the latest one being Evgeny Kuznetsov (WAS). The forward signed a new deal with Traktor right before the draft and thus he’s going to spend another few years back at home, developing in a friendly environment in which he will have plenty of quality ice time. Andrei Popov (PHI) will be another interesting player to watch after the good 2009-10 season.

Other than Kuznetsov, Traktor will most likely ice for some games 2011 eligible Maxim Shalunov, forward, and blue liner Nikita Nesterov. Both already delivered with the Russian junior national team this summer, included the Ivan Hlinka tournament, in which Russia disappointed many.

Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk
The KHL newcomers did assemble a decent roster for the upcoming 2010-11 season, but they don’t have any legit prospect in their lineup.

Chernyshev Division:

Avangard Omsk
After losing Nikita Nikitin to the St. Louis Blues (and then to Ak Bars Kazan) there isn’t much left for the Omsk based team in terms of prospects. The most interesting player will be goalie Karri Ramo (MTL), who has just been traded to the Montreal Canadiens. His contract will run out in April 2011 and most likely during the next summer the Finn netminder will be tried out by the Habs. The team also signed Brendan Bell and Martin Skoula.

Amur Khabarovsk
The most remote KHL team struggles in producing good players, even if in the latest seasons some players from Amur were called into the different national junior teams. Goalkeeper Dmitri Shikin has some chances to get a spot for the WJC, but he doesn’t look NHL material for now.

Barys Astana
The Kazakhstani team is starred by Canadians Jeff Glass and Kevin Dallman, but doesn’t have any solid prospect in their organization, apart from some youngsters which are now too old to get serious NHL interest.

Metallurg Novokuznetsk
The team from Siberia is one of the top producers of young talent over the last few seasons. Their 2010-11 lineup will feature Dmitry Orlov (WAS) and Maxim Kitsyn (LA), who is now out for a month with an elbow injury. Both players will most likely have big roles this year, especially Orlov. Kitsyn has to rebound back after a quiet 2009-10 season, with only one goal. The team will also feature 2011 eligible Zakhar Arzamastsev. The late-92 born prospect is a tall blueliner with good defensive and offensive instincts and has played first-line hockey for most of Metallurg’s preseason. He will hardly have such a role during the season, but he might get some quality ice time.

Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Being the usual staked team, Salavat Yulaev Ufa doesn’t have much room left for youngsters. Defenseman Igor Grigoriev will be tried out by Bykov and Zakharkin, but it will be tough for him to find a spot on the blue line. Alexander Radulov’s contract will run out next April.

Sibir Novosibirsk
One of the top goals for the 2010 summer was getting another year of play from Vladimir Tarasenko (STL) and the mission has been accomplished. The talented forward will most likely leave the team next summer, but at least they secured his services for yet another season. Tarasenko will play in the team’s top lines and will have plenty of ice time. The team will also feature two interesting blue liners. Nikita Zaitsev was for long time tied with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers, but then finished undrafted. Maxim Ignatovich is a sizable defensive defenseman who might get a spot within the WJC team in December.