The eighth KHL season has begun as this year, the league’s first game – the Opening Cup game between SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow – took place on August 24th. The reason for the early start is that the 2016 IIHF World Championship will be held in Russia, and therefore the league will need to finish a bit earlier than usual to accommodate the international competition.
This summer, the KHL had an unusually high number of high profile Russian players move from the top European league to the NHL, as top players like Steve Moses, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Plotnikov, veterans like Evgeni Medvedev, and younger players like Anton Slepyshev and Vladislav Kamenev all headed to North America for the 2015-16 season. But those defections mean that there are now more spots for other players to come and enjoy more ice time, which is particularly important for the youngsters.
With that in mind, below is a list of prospects to watch in the KHL for the 2015-16 season.
Pavel Buchnevich, RW, Severstal Cherepovets
Rights owned by the New York Rangers
One of the biggest surprises of the off-season was certainly Pavel Buchnevich deciding to spend a further year in the KHL rather than report to the New York Rangers, a desire he had declared many times last season. After a very good season in the KHL with Severstal Cherepovets, who failed to make the playoffs, Buchnevich played the postseason for their junior affiliate, posting an impressive 20 points in 11 games despite his team Almaz (Diamond) not making it past the second round. Another year in the KHL will help Buchnevich in further polishing his game, even if right now he looks nearly ready for the NHL.
Vladislav Gavrikov, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
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After a strong 2015 World Junior Championship as Team Russia’s captain, Vladislav Gavrikov has finally been drafted into the NHL,with the Columbus Blue Jackets calling his name back in June. It was a very good season for Gavrikov, who was named that WJC’s Best Defenseman, as he played most of the season at the pro level, splitting time between Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and their affiliate team in the VHL, HK Ryazan. Gavrikov is certainly physically ready for pro hockey so it will be interesting to see if receives regular ice time playing for a good team like Lokomotiv, which boasts many veteran players on their roster. Gavrikov’s deal in the KHL will run out in April of 2017.
Denis Guryanov, RW, Lada Togliatti
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After surprising many by being drafted 12th overall at the 2015 NHL Draft, Denis Guryanov is going to have an important 2015-16 season as his first impact with the KHL wasn’t disappointing, but not great, either. He will also be on the radar for the 2016 WJC roster, even if head coach Valeri Bragin usually picks older players, so he will have to show his worth on that front, as well. The right wing skated with the national team in the summer camp and exhibition games so he is definitely a candidate for the WJC team, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out. Earlier this year, Guryanov was also arguably Team Russia’s top player at the U18 World Championship, along with goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Nikita Gusev, W, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk
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One of the good number of Russians drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in recent years, Nikita Gusev had a breakout season in 2014-15, scoring 21 goals and 37 points in a regular season that included his selection to play at the KHL All-Star Game. The diminutive forward showcased excellent puck control and great goal-scoring abilities over the course of the season, but has a lot to work on before heading to North America. Gusev is entering the final year of his KHL deal, but it is very hard to predict what his decision will be next spring regarding his destination for the 2016-17 season.
Alexander Kadeikin, C, SKA St. Petersburg
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Until his season-ending injury, Alexander Kadeikin had a good season, especially after being traded to KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg from Atlant Mytischi. He scored a respectable eight points in 20 games with SKA last season, but hasn’t played much in the 2015 calendar year. This summer, Kadeikin decided to stay in the KHL where it won’t be easy for him to gain a full time roster spot. But his new head coach, former NHL enforcer Andrei Nazarov, will most likely appreciate his size and is in the right position to teach the young center something new.
Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
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Kirill Kaprizov failed to offensively lead Team Russia as expected at the U18 World Championship last spring, but his talent was simply too much for an NHL team to pass up. He had a good first KHL season, scoring four goals as an 18 year old, a good result for such a young player. In his second season, the winger has to improve and mature, in particular regarding defensive coverage, physical play and positioning. Kaprizov recently signed a new three-year deal with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, which means that he intends to play there through April of 2018.
Andrei Mironov, D, Dynamo Moscow
Rights owned by the Colorado Avalanche
In spite of his young age, Andrei Mironov is a relatively experienced player who has skated in a number of international tournaments with Team Russia at the junior and pro levels, not to mention winning two Gagarin Cups with Dynamo Moscow. The 2015 fourth rounder is under contract in Moscow for a couple more years where it is expected that he will further polish his game to better adapt to the more demanding North American rinks. Considering his style and size, it shouldn’t be too hard for Mironov to adapt to the NHL, although some adaptation will be necessary since Mironov has rarely played outside of Russia.
Ziyat Paigin, D, Ak Bars Kazan
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One of the surprises of the 2014-15 season, Ziyat Paigin had a very good season last year both at the club and national team levels. Paigin should use the 2015-16 campaign to further progress, increase his ice time and maybe try to make Team Russia’s roster during one of the Euro Hockey Tour tournaments. His size and mobility can pretty much guarantee him a long pro career, but at this point it’s hard to predict on which side of the ocean this will happen. Paigin’s contract in the KHL will run out in April of 2017.
Rushan Rafikov, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
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Rushan Rafikov played most of the 2014-15 season at a professional level, skating with HK Ryazan in the VHL after being demoted by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He was also an alternate captain for Team Russia at the 2015 WJC, where he had a very good tournament, helping his country land a silver medal. At this point of his development, Rafikov is ready to play full time in the KHL and will most likely share ice time and duties with fellow NHL prospect Vladislav Gavrikov, with whom he has played with often in previous seasons. But, despite Rafikov’s readiness, Lokomotiv has a competitive roster, so it won’t be easy for he and other young players to gain ice time.
Saku Salminen, LW, Jokerit Helsinki
Rights owned by the Tampa Bay Lightning
After being signed by Jokerit last year and getting loaned back to the Finnish Liiga, Saku Salminen this season is expected to play at the KHL level after playing his first full pro season with HPK, where he scored three goals and eight points in 36 regular season games. In 2015-16, Salminen will have to continue his progress and fight for quality ice time at a more competitive level. He’s still a long shot to make an NHL roster at this point.
Ilya Samsonov, G, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
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Probably the top goalie of the 2015 NHL Draft, Ilya Samsonov will start the season as a backup with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, one of the KHL’s top teams which is coached by former NHL Stanley Cup champion Mike Keenan. Samsonov will certainly receive a good amount of starts this season as he has been praised for his good play on several occasions during the preseason. He will also be one of the goalies under consideration for the starting position at the 2016 WJC despite his younger age. Samsonov undoubtedly has the potential to become a number one goalie in the NHL, but he needs some seasoning and more experience.
Ilya Shestyorkin, G, SKA St. Petersburg
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Ilya Shestyorkin has another two years on his contract in the KHL. It is hard to predict what kind of ice time he will have this season as SKA has a fairly stacked lineup at all positions, including in goal, with Shestyorkin at the moment not more than the third goalie on the depth chart. He did play some games at KHL level last season, posting very good numbers. During the summer, there had been some talk of his return to Spartak Moscow, but the move didn’t go through.
Ilya Sorokin, G, CSKA Moscow
Rights owned by the New York Islanders
One of the most promising young goalies in Russia, Ilya Sorokin moved midway through last season from Metallurg Novokuznetsk to CSKA Moscow, which influenced his ice time in a negative way. Sorokin was the starting netminder in Novokuznetsk, but only the third string goalie at CSKA, instead playing mostly in the MHL. It’s hard to image that this year will be different as CSKA retained KHL veteran Stanislav Galimov and signed former NHL goalie Viktor Fasth. Sorokin’s deal in the KHL will run out in April of 2017.
Nikita Tryamkin, D, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Rights owned by the Vancouver Canucks
Nikita Tryamkin had a solid but not spectacular 2014-15 season with Avtomobilist. The huge defenseman didn’t progress as much as expected, and in the playoffs was one of the least used defenders on his team. But, now that he is one year older and is more experienced, Tryamkin will likely have a bigger role in Avtomobilist’s defensive lineup. He will need to work on his positioning and the offensive side of his game to become more interesting to the Canucks. Tryamkin’s deal with Avtomobilist will run out in April of 2016.
Undrafted prospects worthy of attention
Dmitri Ambrozheichik, W, Dinamo Minsk
Frank Gymer, C, Jokerit Helsinki
Anatoli Golyshev, W, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Dmitri Yudin, D, SKA St. Petersburg
Nikita Zaitsev, D, CSKA Moscow
Other NHL prospects
Emil Galimov (SJS), W, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Yaroslav Kosov (FLA), W, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG), C, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Dmitri Sinitsyn (DAL), D, Dynamo Moscow
Valeri Vasilyev (PHI), D, Avangard Omsk (assigned to Saryarka Karaganda)
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso