The KHL’s seventh season is underway and it will most likely be yet another interesting season to watch for several reasons, spanning from the always-fertile production of the Russian hockey schools to the acquisition of top Finnish team Jokerit Helsinki.
In the offseason, three teams left the KHL: Spartak Moscow, HC Lev, and Donbass Donetsk. The first two folded due to financial reasons, although Spartak will keep on playing in the MHL, with the junior team having just won the 2014 Junior Club World Cup tournament which featured the likes of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Sioux City Musketeers. Donbass Donetsk had to take a sabbatical year due to the uncertain situation in the Ukraine.
The KHL also added three new teams, however. Other than the aforementioned Jokerit Helsinki, the 2014-15 KHL season will feature a brand-new team, HK Sochi, and the return of Lada Togliatti, historically one of the best hockey schools in Russia, having produced players like Alexey Emelin, Alexei Kovalev, Ilya Bryzgalov, Viktor Kozlov, and others.
Below is a list of the most interesting prospects to follow in the KHL for the 2014-15 season.
After a solid 2013-14 campaign that included a great U20 World Junior Championship tournament, Pavel Buchnevich will be back to Cherepovets for what will most likely be his last season in the KHL before heading to North America. After scoring seven goals and 18 points, Buchnevich will be expected to be a leader not only for the junior national team, but for his KHL team, too. He will most likely play on the top line for Team Russia at the 2015 WJC and will get top-six minutes in Cherepovets. If the season doesn’t go well for Severstal, then Buchnevich may be traded at the deadline as was the case with Vladimir Tarasenko a few years ago, when he was moved from Sibir Novosibirsk to SKA St. Petersburg right before joining the St. Louis Blues. There is a very good chance to see Buchnevich reporting to the Rangers in the summer of 2015.
In drafting Alexander Kadeykin, the Red Wings may have found yet another late-round gem as last year he was one of the top young players in the league and his team’s top scorer. Kadeykin features good hands, good hockey sense and an NHL body, but has to learn to use these attributes to his advantage and play more physically, especially for a player of his size (6-4, 214). Kadeykin’s deal with Atlant will run out in April of 2015.
Vladislav Kamenev scored his first KHL goal last season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and this year is projected to be a senior team player. In the preseason, he was deployed as second-line center; if things go well, he will likely retain this role heading into the season. It would be a great chance for him to improve, not only because he will have the chance to be trained all year by former NHL head coach Mike Keenan, but also because Metallurg Magnitogorsk is an excellent team with a lot of very good players, and the reigning KHL champion. This season will be very important for Kamenev’s development because it will be his first full pro season. He is also expected to be an important part of the WJC team for the upcoming tournament in Toronto and Montreal.
The 2013-14 was a spectacular season for Nikolai Prokhorkin, who was the top scorer for his team and played first-line hockey the entire season. Prokhorkin has obviously progressed a great deal since his first stint in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs and in the KHL looked like a solid, all-around player with a good nose for the net. In the offseason, he signed a new, lucrative one-year deal with CSKA Moscow that will allow him to cross the Atlantic for the 2015-16 season. One downside in terms of Prokhorkin’s future with the Kings is that he doesn’t seem too interested in playing in the AHL, which may hinder his chances to actually find a spot within the Kings’ lineup.
Santeri Saari, D, Jokerit Helsinki
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues
Santeri Saari is an interesting defensive prospect with a very high upside, especially considering his defensive play. With Jokerit moving to the KHL, Saari will face better competition and will be tested against better and bigger players. It will be interesting to see how much ice time he will get in such a high-level league. His contract with Jokerit will run out in April of 2015.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, Anton Slepyshev didn’t show the expected progress during the 2013-14 season as he scored only eight points in 36 regular season games. He captained Team Russia at the 2014 WJC where he played well, but not great, with only two goals and seven points in seven games. Slepyshev’s contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa will run out in April of 2015, after which he may look for a change of scenery should he have another disappointing season. At this point, he’s a long shot to make the NHL, but he has good puck skills, a very hard shot and good movement around the net, so he may be on the Oilers’ radar for some AHL seasoning next summer.
Igor Shestyorkin, G, SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted by the New York Rangers
Igor Shestyorkin is a very interesting goalie prospect who had a solid debut in the KHL last season, posting good stats for Spartak Moscow, one of the worst teams in the league. This summer, his rights were transferred to KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg, a move that may well be a double-edged sword. On one hand, he’ll have a chance to experience competing for a stacked team and get many quality shots during practices, but the downside is that he’ll certainly have less ice time in the KHL and may be demoted down to the VHL or MHL. That said, a lack of seasoning will likely hurt Shestyorkin’s development.
Ilya Sorokin will most likely have another busy season, splitting his time between the KHL and the junior national team. Sorokin is a very agile goalie with some good pro experience who still needs some seasoning before considering heading to North America. As Novokuznetsk is one of the worst teams in the KHL, Sorokin will most likely face a lot of shots this season. It will be interesting to see how Sorokin will fare at the WJC, especially considering that in recent years at all junior levels there was a lot of Andrey Vasilevskiy and not much room for other goalies.
Huge defenseman Nikita Tryamkin had a very good 2013-14 season both at the club and national team level, and he’s looking to play even stronger for Avtomobilist in the 14-15 season. He had a very good preseason and he will most likely get top-four minutes in Ekaterinburg as they will try and reach the playoffs again. He’s a very intriguing prospect, but he needs to improve the positioning and physical aspect of his game before he’ll get a real shot with the Canucks. The 14-15 season is going to be a crucial one for the development of Tryamkin, whose KHL deal will run out in April of 2016.
Other KHL players to follow
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso