Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: June 29th, 2016

1985 Super Series:  CSKA Moscow v Edmonton Oilers

Sergei Makarov of Red Army is watched by the Oilers’ Charlie Huddy during a 1980s Super Series game in Edmonton. (Image Source)

All kinds of things in this one, as teams in the various Russian leagues prepare for the opening of training camps in the next few days!  Without further ado, read on as we discuss the Hockey Hall of Fame, some developments in Russian women’s hockey, various drafts, and some other bits and pieces:

Monday saw the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto announce its class of inductees for 2016, and there was a prominent Russian name on the list.  Sergei Makarov, who formed part of the famous “Green Unit” (Makarov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Alexei Kasatonov, and Vyacheslav Fetisov) at Red Army and the Soviet national team in the 1980s before embarking on a productive NHL career with Calgary and San Jose, is one of three players named to the Hall this time around.  The Chelyabinsk native joins Eric Lindros and Rogatien Vachon in the 2016 class (Pat Quinn will also be inducted in the “Builders” category).

Makarov’s Hall of Fame credentials are impeccable, it must be said.  He played a key role on the Red Army team that won 13 straight Soviet Championships, and won the scoring title in that league nine times.  At the international level, he helped his country to two Olympic gold medals and eight first-place finishes at the World Championship, and was also part of the 1981 Canada Cup-winning side.  In the Soviet Championship, he recorded 710 points in 519 games, to which he added another 407 in 458 NHL contests.  And one could go on, but suffice to say that this is a good decision by the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee.

The induction of Sergei Makarov means that three members of that incredible Red Army unit are now in the Hall; Larionov was named in 2008, following Fetisov in 2001.

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Speaking of Fetisov, there was some news involving his political career this week, as Russia approaches nation-wide parliamentary elections to be held in September.  Fetisov has been, since 2008, one of the representatives of far-eastern Primorsky Krai in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament.  However, he announced yesterday that he will be stepping down from that position to run for a seat in the State Duma (the lower house) representing the district of Domodedovo, in Moscow Oblast just outside the capital city.  As he has in the past, Fetisov will run for the United Russia party.

One of Fetisov’s major accomplishments in Primorsky Krai was bringing KHL hockey, in the form of Admiral Vladivostok.  And it appears that hockey will once again be among his campaign planks as he seeks the seat in Domodedovo.  A soon-to-be-opened hockey academy in the area will bear his name, and he also stated plans to help low-income families afford hockey equipment: “in the Greater Moscow area, hockey has become a discriminatory kind of sport with regards to families who do not have $100 for a stick,” said Fetisov (quote in the article linked above).

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In the wake of Red Star Kunlun Beijing being accepted to the KHL for 2016-17, Russia and China this week strengthened their hockey ties even further.  The two nations’ respective hockey federations have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in the area of hockey development, and will work together on such projects as exhibition games, coach and referee training, hockey schools, and the like.  The mutual development work is already underway; this week saw Admiral Vladivostok sign a three-year agreement with the Shanghai Stars hockey club, under which the two organizations will run join programs and workshops.  Admiral will furthermore add a couple of kids from the Shanghai club to their MHL junior team.

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Alexei Chistyakov gives some instruction while coaching Tornado Moscow Oblast in 2012-13. (Image Source)

There was big news in Russian women’s hockey this past week, as Alexei Chistyakov was named Head Coach of the senior national team, replacing Mikhail Chekanov in that role.  The 48-year-old Chistyakov, who had a long playing career spent mostly in  Russia’s minor leagues, has been a coach with the women’s program since 2008.  This past season, he was an assistant with the Under-18 side.  His contract is for one year, which suggests that the 2016-17 campaign will be an audition for him, before the Russian Hockey Federation decides whether he is the coach to lead the national team into the 2018 Olympics.

As for Chekanov, he will become an adviser on women’s hockey issues to FHR President Vladislav Tretyak.  Chekanov can leave the coaching position with his head held high; in his four seasons in charge, the Russian women’s team took a major step forward, winning the second and third World Championship bronze medals in the program’s history (the first was back in 2001).

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Staying with women’s hockey, the Russian Women’s Hockey League may be about to benefit from the return of a prodigal daughter.  Forward Lyudmila Belyakova, who played last season for the New York Riveters of the newly-minted NWHL, said in a recent interview that she had not been offered a contract by any of the league’s four teams, and would quite possibly be returning to her homeland next season.  The 21-year-old Belyakova, who had a respectable 11 points in 17 games for the Riveters, suggested that the language barrier was a problem in her rookie season in North America.

If Belyakova does sign in the Russian WHL, it will be a bit of a coup for whichever team gets her.  She has been a regular on the Russian national team for the past few seasons and on the Under-18 side before that, and is the owner of two World Championship bronze medals.  There is no word yet that I have heard on where Yekaterina Smolentseva, the other Russian player in the NWHL last season (she played for the Connecticut Whale), intends to play next season.

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Shchukina (l.) and Prugova after Russia’s bronze medal win at the 2016 Worlds. (Image Source)

One other Women’s Hockey League move of note: goaltender Anna Prugova has moved from Dynamo St. Petersburg to Agidel Ufa on a two-year deal.  The move comes shortly after Agidel signed Prugova’s Dynamo and Russian national team colleague Anna Shchukina; the Ufa side is clearly loading up for a real run at dethroning champions Tornado Moscow Oblast.  Prugova is only 22 years old, but has already been part of the national team set-up since the 2010 Olympics.  At Agidel, she will likely slot into the lineup either just ahead of or just behind last year’s starter, the veteran Yulia Leskina (h/t to Denis Osipchuk for this story).

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As expected, it now seems all but official that Pavel Datsyuk will be joining SKA St. Petersburg for the next two seasons.  Datsyuk, who retired from the NHL after a decade and a half with the Detroit Red Wings, is said to be signing with with SKA for 3.7 million dollars per year.  Even at 38 years old, which he will be by the time the season starts, Datsyuk should be a potent addition to the lineup in St. Petersburg, in addition to what he will bring as a veteran of the game.

Datsyuk’s NHL rights, incidentally, were dealt at Friday’s draft to the Arizona Coyotes; the deal allows the Red Wings to rid themselves of Datsyuk’s 7.5 million dollar cap hit, freeing up space to sign, potentially, the likes of Steven Stamkos.  For Arizona, Datsyuk’s cap hit allows them to get closer to the cap floor without having to pay any real dollars in the process.  So, a deal that works for everyone.

***

Big news from the junior MHL last week, as we begin to get an idea of what that league will look like next season.  According to the league’s Managing Director, Alexei Morozov, four teams from 2015-16 will not be back in the league next year.  Olimpiya Kirovo-Chepetsk, Dinamo-Raubichi Minsk, Sakhalinskie Akuly (Yuzno-Sakhalinsk) and the Russian Under-18 team are out.

The Under-18s may return in some future season; they competed well in their inaugural MHL campaign, only to have the whole thing thrown into chaos by the doping allegations that surfaced right before the Under-18 World Championship.  As for Dinamo-Raubichi, they were simply over-matched in the MHL, managing only two points from 42 games and being outscored 276-59.  Olimpiya had no KHL or VHL affiliation this past season, which is what I suspect lies behind their departure.  And Sakhalinskie Akuly were the junior team of the KHL’s Admiral Vladivostok, but that agreement has lapsed and, sadly, will not be renewed.  I would say that there is a chance that Olimpiya and Sakhalinskie Akuly will reappear in the second-tier junior league, MHL-B, which is now under the control of the Russian Hockey Federation rather than the KHL, but that remains to be seen.

It does look like there will be replacements for the departing MHL sides.  Admiral’s new junior team, to be known as “Taifun” (“Typhoon”) will be in the town of Ussuriysk, about 75 kilometres north of Vladivostok.  Legendary old Soviet-era team Krylya Sovetov Moscow is returning to top-level junior competition, with an eye to icing a KHL team in a couple of years.  And Morozov also revealed that the league has had applications from Tatarstan-based Sputnik Almetyevsk and from Kazakh club Altai Ust-Kamenogorsk, both of whom played in MHL-B last season.  We should get official confirmation or denial of the new teams in the next couple of weeks or so, and will let you know when it happens.

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The other big recent junior hockey news out of Russia is that the field has been set for the 2016 Junior Club World Cup (the annual Russian-hosted tournament will take place from August 20th to 28th, in Nizhnekamsk and Naberezhnye Chelny).  Four MHL sides are in: Reaktor Nizhnekamsk, Snezhnye Barsy Astana, Loko Yaroslavl, and HK Riga.  Two other KHL teams, Jokerit Helsinki and Slovan Bratislava, are also sending their junior teams (Jokerit and Slovan keep their youngsters in the Finnish and Slovak junior leagues, respectively).  And the field will be rounded out by the youth sides from Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic and Sweden’s Malmö Redhawks.

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A few notes regarding Russian players and the North American leagues: the NHL draft, of course, was held last Friday and Saturday, and the first round saw a pair of Russian players selected.  Defenceman Mikhail Sergachyov of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires was chosen ninth overall by the Montreal Canadiens, while the Philadelphia Flyers took forward German Rubtsov from the Russian Under-18 team that played in the MHL last season.

Both are solid picks.  Sergachyov scored 62 points in 72 games for Windsor last season, and already stands 6’2″ and 220 lbs. having just turned 18 (four days ago, in fact).  He was one of the last-minute replacements called up for the Under-18 World Championship this past season, and while he was held pointless at the tournament, the odd circumstances almost certainly played a role in that.  Ironically, one of the players who didn’t get to go to the U18 Worlds in the end was Rubtsov.  However, he had a good season for the U18 side in the MHL, scoring 12-15-27 in 31 games.  Like Sergachyov, he only turned 18 this week (June 27th), and so has lots of time ahead of him.

In all, 17 Russian players were chosen at the draft (the full list is here), along with one from Belarus.

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panarincalder

Artemy Panarin with the Calder. (Image Source)

The annual NHL awards ceremony also took place last week, and a couple of Russian players went home with trophies.  Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin, for the fourth season in a row, got his name on the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the NHL in 2015-16 (he had 50).  Meanwhile, former SKA St. Petersburg forward Artemy Panarin, now of the Chicago Blackhawks, won the Calder Trophy after being voted the NHL’s best rookie.  Panarin did indeed have a fine season, with 77 regular season points in 80 games, followed by another seven in seven playoff contests.

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The NHL wasn’t the only league drafting players in the past few days, and the junior Canadian Hockey League clubs stepped up for their two-round import draft.  Out of the 79 young players picked (full list here), 24 came from Russia, along with six from Belarus and three from Latvia.  The first player chosen was forward Klim Kostin, from Dynamo Moscow’s junior team in Balashikha, who was selected by the Kootenay Ice of the WHL.  Kostin scored 8-13-21 in 30 MHL games this past season, and also provided four assists in five games while captaining Team Russia at the U18 Worlds.

***

One Russian NHLer changed teams in the last few days, and another will likely do so very shortly.  Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov was traded by the Florida Panthers, along with a second-round draft pick to the Buffalo Sabres for fellow-rearguard Mark Pysyk plus second- and third-round picks.  Kulikov, who had been with the Panthers since 2009, scored only 1-16-17 in 74 regular-season games in 2015-16, but did post four points in six playoff contests (small sample size and all, but still…)

And the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they will buy out the contract of Russian defenceman Fyodor Tyutin.  The 32-year-old Tyutin, an NHLer since 2003, saw his scoring numbers fall off a cliff in 2015-16, as he managed only three points in 61 games after having 15 in 67 games the previous season.  Nonetheless, he is large (6’2″, 220 lbs) and experienced (more than 800 NHL games), and it is not hard to see another NHL team giving him a call when the free agency period opens on Friday.

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Alexander Radulov. (Image Source)

No clarity yet on where Alexander Radulov will be hanging his hat next season.  It has long been known that the CSKA Moscow forward, with three KHL scoring titles to his credit, was seeking a return to the NHL (he last played in North America with Nashville, in 2012).  However, no signing has yet taken place, and there is now some talk that he may be back in the KHL for 2016-17.  A rumour went around earlier this week that Radulov had, in fact, signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, with whom he won a Gagarin Cup in 2011, but that was quickly and firmly denied by the team’s management.  On Mr. Radulov, we wait.

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This post is running fairly long, and we’re about to embark on team-by-team looks at the off-season in any case, so I won’t go into deep depth on recent KHL moves at this point.  However, there were a couple of happenings at Sibir Novosibirsk this week that bear mentioning.  The Siberian team today signed notorious KHL enforcer Yevgeny Artyukhin to a two-year deal.  Artyukhin is the league’s all-time PiM leader, with almost 900 in about 280 games.  He played last year for SKA St. Petersburg.  Sibir also said good-bye this week to their Captain of the last three seasons, 21-year-old forward Alexei Kopeikin.  Kopeikin tied for the team lead in goals in 2014-15 with 17, but saw his scoring numbers drop off last season — 58 gp, 11-8-19 in the regular season, and zeroes across the board in 10 playoff games.  Despite that, he’s a useful player, and should find a spot somewhere.

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That should do for this batch of news notes.  We are likely to have the KHL schedule in our hands very soon, and with it a firm indication of which teams are in or out for next season (and whether, as is rumoured, Red Star Kunlun Beijing will have to play on the road until November).  Until then, thanks for reading!

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Posted on June 30, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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