The sixth KHL season is underway and, as usual, the past summer was very busy on all fronts. There were quite a few bold moves, with of course the biggest of them all being the sensational return to Russia of Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 4-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg.
There has been several players returning to Russia, including the likes of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Nik Antropov, Anton Babchuk, and Sergei Kostitsyn.
It should be a very interesting year for prospects, too; with the number of non-Russian players in the KHL having dropped compared to the last few seasons, it should mean that more spots will most likely be awarded to young players.
Moreover, the KHL added another two teams to its lineup: Medvescak Zagreb and Admiral Vladivostok. But on this front probably the biggest piece of news has been the “acquisition” of top Finnish club Helsinki Jokerit, who will play in the KHL beginning in the 2014-15 season.
Here you will find a list of the most interesting prospects to follow in the KHL for the 2013-14 season.
Buchnevich will compete in his second season in the KHL after skating in 24 regular season games and six playoff clashes last year. He managed to get his first KHL goal last season, but he will certainly look to improve on his statistics as he gets more ice time in 2013-14. Buchnevich will surely have more ice time this year, but he will also have to miss a lot of games as he will most likely be a part of the U20 national team which will compete at the 2014 World Junior Championship to be held in Malmo, Sweden. Buchnevich’s deal with Severstal will run out in 2015.
Dano was one of the surprises of the 2013 NHL Draft after being chosen during the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rumors during the summer indicated that Dano might jump to the CHL, but in the end Dano decided to stay in Bratislava and play a further year in the KHL. This is probably the best move for the Slovak forward since he might not be ready for the NHL yet, and playing major junior hockey after a pro season could be considered a step back. Dano didn’t shine in the preseason, scoring just one point in eight games of the European Trophy, but he’ll progress if he receives more ice time. He is also expected to be a leader for Team Slovakia at the 2014 WJC in Sweden.
Galimov will be a very important part of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a team which is getting better year after year after the terrible 2011 air crash. Galimov already played first-line hockey last season and most likely will do so again this year. The 21-year-old winger will look to improve his stats and get a spot with Team Russia for the 2014 World Championship in Minsk, Belarus. Galimov’s deal with Lokomotiv will expire in 2015.
As Kuznetsov himself said, this will be his last season in Russia before signing with the Washington Capitals. Recently, he even declared to be ready to join the Capitals right after the KHL season is over, after allegedly discussing the matter with Alex Ovechkin at the Olympics meeting held in Sochi a couple of weeks ago. Kuznetsov had a good 2012-13 season and he will certainly want to gift a last great season to his fans in Chelyabinsk. Moreover, this year the Olympics will be on Russian soil and he will certainly give his best to land a spot on the Russian squad. This year, Kuznetsov will be an alternate captain, so it will be interesting to see how he'll handle more responsibility.
Slepyshev made an interesting move last year when he was traded from Metallurg Novokuznetsk, one of the worst KHL teams, to Salavat Yulaev Ufa, one of the contenders. Slepyshev played very well in the regular season with Ufa, scoring 4 goals in 11 games, but then was left scoreless in the playoffs while also receiving less ice time. The left winger still needs some seasoning before thinking about a move overseas, but he has the obvious talent and skating that makes him an intriguing prospect. His contract in the KHL will run out next spring.
Once again, Vasilevskiy probably won’t be more than the third goalie in the Salavat Yulaev Ufa organization. The team's coaching staff is allegedly concerned about Vasilevskiy's international duties as he’ll play in the Subway Super Series and the WJC in Sweden, thus missing a lot of games in a KHL schedule that is concentrated due to the Winter Olympic Games. Last year, Vasilevskiy was solid in the few games he played for the main team and he'll most likely get some ice time during the season, but how much is yet to be seen.
Bogdan Yakimov, C, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers
Yakimov is one of the few high-caliber prospects who has had no KHL experience to this point. But this problem will certainly be addressed this year as he’ll most likely spend the whole season with the pro team, instead of being moved from the farm team to the junior team and back. He will also likely receive a big role within the WJC team. Yakimov already declared that he’ll honor the last year of his contract with Neftekhimik and then will try to land a spot in the Oilers’ line-up. The big center has been pretty vocal in saying that playing in the AHL won’t be a problem for him.
Daniil Zharkov, LW, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers
After playing three seasons in North America, Daniil Zharkov decided to head back to Russia, a decision that was quite unexpected considering that he was doing well in the OHL and seemed to be quite decided on playing in America. The dynamic winger signed a two-year deal with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, soi it will be interesting to see how well he’ll fare in pro hockey.
Other players to follow:
Among the undrafted:
Nikita Zaitsev, D, CSKA Moscow
Viktor Antipin, D, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Zakhar Arzamastsev, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Ilya Sorokin, G, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
Kirill Vorobyov, D, CSKA Moscow
Andrei Mironov, D, Dynamo Moscow
Nikita Tryamkin, D, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso