Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: May 10th, 2016
Yesterday we got you all caught up on the World Championship scene as it currently stands with regards to Team Russia, so this edition of the news notes will primarily involve Other Things. And so read on, for quite a lot of KHL player movement, a big party in Sochi, and other items (and, yes, a World Championship note or two has snuck in there somehow)!
As we discussed yesterday, the Russian national team does not play again at the World Championship for a couple of days, but in the meantime some reinforcements are on the way. New York Islanders forward Nikolai Kulemin, whose team was eliminated from the NHL playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been called to the national side, and may be available in time to face Denmark on Thursday. And on Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Penguins knocked the Washington Capitals from the Stanley Cup hunt, so one would think that Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeny Kuznetsov will be getting the call as well quite soon. If both agree to play at the Worlds, that will quite an infusion of fire-power for Coach Oleg Znarok’s lineup as the group stage moves into its latter half.
Some further happy news also arrived for the Russian World Championship team on Tuesday, with the tidings that defenceman Alexei Yemelin will not be further disciplined by the IIHF after picking up a game misconduct for a nasty foul on Miks Indrašis of Latvia during Monday’s game.
Update: It now appears that Kulemin will not play at the World Championship, due to an injury.
Further Update: No surprise here — Alexander Ovechkin, Yevgeny Kuznetsov, and defenceman Dmitry Orlov have indeed been summoned to the World Championship team from the Washington Capitals. Reports also suggest that the FHR will wait for the conclusion of the St. Louis-Dallas series, and then call up either forward Valery Nichushkin (Stars) or forward Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues). That will leave one open spot for a goalie (presumably Igor Shestyorkin), should injury strike either Sergei Bobrovsky or Ilya Sorokin.
The World Championship is not the only hockey going on in Russia at the moment; Sochi is currently hosting the fifth All-Russian Festival of the Night Hockey League, the nation’s top amateur circuit. The Festival, which began on May 2nd and wraps up on May 14th, involves nearly 150 teams of a variety of ages playing about 400 games. Next week, we will mention all the various winners here, but it is worth noting that Grad-1 Moscow, who not long ago became the national amateur champions in women’s hockey, also won the women’s division at the Festival. Grad-1 went 5-0 in the competition, while Groza St. Petersburg took the silver medal with a record of 4-1. Forvard Kazan, at 2-2 plus a tie, came in third.
On Tuesday, as part of the Festival, was held the annual Gala Match between a team of Soviet and Russian stars of yore and the Night Hockey League Selects. The Stars team, featuring the likes of Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexander Mogilny, Valery Kamensky, and Vladimir Myshkin, won the 2016 edition 9-4 thanks to a hat-trick from Pavel Bure (Russian President Vladimir Putin, who traditionally dons the skates for the Stars team at this event, scored a goal and added two assists).
It was a quietish sort of week on the KHL transfer front (possibly due to the World Championship), but there were some moves of note. Among them were some astute bargain acquisitions by once-mighty Traktor Chelyabinsk, who have only a single first-round playoff exit to show for the last three seasons. To rectify that state of affairs, Traktor have signed defenceman Kirill Koltsov from Torpedo, forward Igor Mirnov from Ak Bars Kazan, forward Paul Szczechura from Dinamo Minsk, and forward Jiří Novotný from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. All four have seen their 30th birthday go by, but they each have decent scoring seasons on their resume, in addition to the obvious benefits of their experience. Koltsov, in particular, is intriguing; as recently as 2014-15 he was the top-scoring defenceman in the KHL, and if he can come close to recreating that form, Traktor may find themselves back in the thick of things in the East Conference.
Jonathan Cheechoo is on the move from Dinamo Minsk, signing a one-year deal with Slovan Bratislava. The 35-year-old forward from Moose Factory, Ontario, a former 50-goal scorer in the NHL, will enter his fourth KHL season in 2016-17, and has previously played for Dinamo and for Medveščak Zagreb. His best season in the KHL was 2014-15, when he scored 24-24-48 in 49 games for the Minsk side. In 2015-16, his numbers dropped off a little bit, but he still put up a respectable line of 16-22-38 in 54 games. For Slovan, Cheechoo will be asked to replace the scoring supplied last season by Lukáš Kašpar (58 gp, 16-31-47), who will pull on the blue and white of Dynamo Moscow in 2016-17.
Slovan Bratislava earlier re-signed Canadian goalie Barry Brust, to a two-year deal. Brust, 32 years old and a team-mate of Cheechoo at Medveščak in 2013-14, had a save percentage of .920 for Slovan in 2015-16 (about league average). If he can do that again, or better it, the Slovak team will have a decent chance to repeat their playoff qualification of this past season. Of course, they do need to find someone to fill the “scoring from defence” hole left by the departure of Cam Barker (55 gp, 9-31-40), and Kašpar wasn’t the only top forward to depart the club this spring…
Staying in Bratislava for a moment, now-former Slovan forward Rok Tičar had a busy day of it on Tuesday. Slovan dealt the 27-year-old Slovenian to Ak Bars Kazan for cash, but Tičar’s stay in Tatarstan was not to be a long one. In fact, it lasted less than a day, as he was then flipped over to Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in exchange for forward Alexander Pankov. Tičar scored 14-17-31 in 57 games for Slovan this past season, second on the team in points and goals behind the afore-mentioned Kašpar. As for Pankov, he scored 10-6-16 in 49 games for Avtomobilist in 2015-16.
Losing Cheechoo is a blow for Dinamo Minsk, without doubt, but it was not all doom and gloom for the Belarusan team. Dinamo have re-signed forward Matt Ellison to a two-year deal after he led the squad in goals, assists, and points in 2015-16. Ellison had a superb year, scoring 26-29-55 in 54 games, and was for a time in a realistic hunt for the KHL scoring title before Sergei Mozyakin wrested it away from the field (Ellison ended up sixth in the league in points, and third in goals). He also scored Dinamo’s first-ever home hat-trick, against Avangard Omsk on October 3rd of 2015 — and then just two days later, against Barys Astana, he scored the club’s second-ever home hat-trick. Obviously, his re-signing makes it a happy day for Dinamo fans.
One of the big names let go this off-season was Czech goalie Jakub Kovář, released from his contract at Avtomobilist after losing his place to young Igor Ustinsky during the first round of the playoffs (Ustinsky has since signed a two-year extension in Yekaterinburg). Kovář, a fine goalie who had a down year (.914 sv% in 42 games), was not out of work for long; he has now signed a one-year deal with Severstal Cherepovets. It is something of a coup for the little northern team; Severstal have not seen the KHL playoffs since 2012-13, and last season went through four goalies, none of whom posted a league-average save percentage. The road back to respectability is a long one for the Cherepovets side, but signing Kovář is a good first step.
And a good second step for Severstal may well turn to be the signing of American defenceman Clay Wilson, now inked to a contract of unspecified length after two seasons at HK Sochi. Prior to his time on the Black Sea coast, Wilson, now 33 years old, had spent two campaigns in the colours of Donbass Donetsk. He has a well-earned reputation as a playmaker, with a career KHL line of 20-73-93 in 228 KHL games.
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk were busy this week strengthening their squad, and among the Tatar side’s acquisitions are both the KHL’s Makarov brothers, forwards Dmitry and Konstantin (no relation to the famous Sergei Makarov of Soviet days). Dmitry, the elder of the two at 32, comes over from Salavat Yulaev Ufa, where he scored 12-14-26 in 48 games in 2015-16. Konstantin, 30 years old, led Admiral Vladivostok in goals and points last season, sporting a line of 18-17-35 in 55 games. It is a homecoming of sorts for the two brothers; the last time they played together was also with Neftekhimik, in 2009-10.
Neftekhimik also re-signed a couple of members of their foreign contingent, in American forward Dan Sexton and Finnish goalie Ville Kolppanen. Kolppanen, Neftekhimik’s starter in 2014-15, made it only a few games into the 2015-16 campaign before suffering a season-ending injury; however, he had a .940 sv% when that happened, and the hopes are that he will pick up where he unwillingly left off. Sexton, meanwhile, will be entering his fourth season in Nizhnekamsk, where has scored a very nice 73 points in 92 games. Both deals are for one year.
Finally, defenceman Anton Volchenkov, a veteran of nearly 800 NHL games with Ottawa, New Jersey, and Nashville, is apparently resuming his playing career after taking the 2015-16 season off. The 34-year-old, a stay-at-home rearguard of the old sort (he scored 23-127-150 in 782 NHL games including playoffs, has signed a one-year contract with Admiral Vladivostok. Volchenkov brings, obviously, a lot of experience to the far-eastern team (in addition to his long NHL tenure, he won a World Championship with Russia in 2009 and played at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics), but he was also in his day a feared body-checker, as the YouTube clips in the above link will testify.
That is just a sample of the more interesting moves made this week; as the summer goes on, we’ll look at each KHL club individually to try to come to grips with what sort of off-season they’re having.
Of course, there are off-season moves going on in other leagues as well. Agidel Ufa, of the Women’s Hockey League, scooped up a couple of players from SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, signing defender Viktoriya Nesterova and forward Alesya Gimazetdinova. Both players are under 20 years old; Gimazetdinova scored 3-2-5 in 24 games for Sverdlovsk Oblast, while Nesterova failed to find the scoresheet in 22 games (SK Sverdlovsk Oblast went 0-24 in 2015-16, so we should probably not read too much into those stats).
Agidel also re-signed veteran forward Inna Dyubanok for two seasons. Dyubanok, who has played for Russia at five World Championships and two Olympics, scored 8-9-17 in only 11 games in 2015-16; she will be an important contributor as Agidel look to win their first ever national title next season (hat-tip to Denis Osipchuk for the link above)
We have talked a little bit about 16-year-old Andrei Svechnikov in these pages, most recently in connection with the World U18 Championship, where he played for Russia as an under-ages and scored twice in five games. Long story short: he’s one of the most exciting prospects in Russian hockey, and indeed in hockey, period full stop. It now appears that young Svechnikov will be in North America for the 2016-17 season, having signed a tender with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the junior-age USHL. Although he just turned 16 at the end of March, he is already 6’2″, and he scored 18 goals and 26 points in seven (!!!) games for the Ak Bars Kazan U16 squad this past season (not to mention the 17 points in six games that he put up for Russia’s Under-16 national team). Suffice to say, he’s one to watch.
So what brings Andrei Svechnikov to Muskegon? The answer may lie with his older brother, Yevgeny. The elder Svechnikov, 19 years old, is a highly-anticipated prospect of the Detroit Red Wings, and will likely begin his professional career this fall with the Wings’ AHL affiliate. That team, of course, is the Grand Rapids Griffins, located just a 40-minute drive up Interstate 96 from Muskegon.
Incidentally, the rules governing age of professional eligibility for young players coming out of the Canadian Junior ranks, where Yevgeny Svechnikov played last season for the QMJHL’s Cape Breton team, are unbelievably arcane. Many thanks, therefore, are due to Patricia Teter and Eric Rodgers for their help in determining that yes, the older Svechnikov brother is in fact AHL-eligible this fall.
That will do for this week’s notes. There will be another World Championship update this weekend, probably on Sunday, and the news notes will be back next Monday or Tuesday. Thanks for reading!