Lada Tolyatti in 2016-17
Tolyatti (or Togliatti), the auto-manufacturing hub on the Volga River, holds an honoured spot in Russian hockey history: in 1994, Lada became the first non-Moscow team to win a championship, going back to the creation of the Soviet league in 1946. Since their second title in 1996, however, times have been lean. Lada recently dropped to the VHL for a few seasons, while a KHL-suitable arena was built, and have failed to make the post-season since returning in 2014. Read on, for the 2016-17 possibilities!
Lada Tolyatti in 2015-16: 17 W — 5 OT/SO W — 8 OT/SO L — 30 L
7th in Kharlamov Div., 13th in East Conf., 26th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Artis Ābols.
In: G Ilya Yezhov (SKA St. Petersburg); D Taylor Aronson (Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]); D Alexander Klochkov (No Team); D Gleb Koryagin (Dynamo Moscow); D Dmitry Sinitsyn (Dynamo Moscow); D Kristaps Sotnieks (Dinamo Riga); D Valery Vasilyev (HK Ryazan [VHL]); F Sergei Demagin (Severstal Cherepovets); F Nikita Filatov (Dynamo Moscow); F Mikael Johansson (Färjestad BK [SWE]);
Out: G Ivan Kasutin (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); D Mark Flood (EC Salzburg [AUT]); D Yuri Pautov (HK Sochi); D Kirill Putilov (Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk [VHL]); D Stanislav Romanov (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); D Dmitry Vorobyov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); F Denis Guryanov (Dallas Stars [NHL]); F Igor Magogin (Severstal Cherepovets); F Andrei Nikitenko (Retired); F Martin Zaťovič (Kometa Brno [CZE])
First, the bad news: Lada said “good-bye” to a promising home-grown prospect this summer. Denis Guryanov was Dallas’s pick, 12th overall, in the 2015 NHL draft, and much is expected of him. In the short run, however, he is replaceable; the 18-year-old scored only 4-1-5 in limited ice-time over 47 games for Lada last season, and was not a key contributor.
Guryanov’s departure aside, a youth movement is underway at Lada, particularly as regards the defense. Of the team’s four over-30 rearguards from last season, only 35-year-old Vladimir Malenkikh remains. As replacements, Lada acquired Aronson (24), Sinitsyn (22), Koryagin (21, but turning 22 soon), and Sotnieks (29). All four should be useful, with Aronson and Sinitsyn both worthy of particular interest. The departed Vorobyov was the closest Lada had to a scoring defenceman last season (60 gp, 10-10-20), but there’s a good chance that the newcomers, plus young holdover Efim Gurkin, can replace that. Steps forward are required, but most of this crew is of an age when those can easily happen.
Up front, Lada need help without a doubt; no forward last season managed 0.5 pts/gm, and only three scored ten goals. However, all three — Alexander Bumagin (13 goals), Anton Shenfeld (12), and Vasily Streltsov (10) — are still in the fold, and Shenfeld in particular may be ready for a breakthrough. The 22-year-old scored 12-13-25 in 57 games to lead the team in points, and further improvement to that line is very possible. However, newcomer Filatov will get the most attention. The 6th-overall NHL draft pick in 2008, Filatov never settled in North America, and even back in Russia has failed to live up to expectations; Lada will be his seventh KHL team since 2011. In 2015-16, he scored only 0-4-4 in 26 games for Admiral and Dynamo, and ended up in the VHL. Nonetheless, copious talent is there, and Filatov is still only 26. If Lada unlock him, he could prove to be one of the summer’s best signings (Filatov recently gave a frank interview about his career — it’s worth a read).
In goal, Lada are tolerably well-off, as returning Latvian veteran Edgars Masaļskis stopped shots at a .925 rate over 38 games last season. He is 38 years old, but if he falters, newly-arrived Yezhov (.926 sv% in 16 games for SKA last year) likely represents a modest improvement over the departed Kasutin (.917 in 25 for Lada).
A young defence, no matter how promising, is an adventure for a team, and despite interesting possibilities Lada’s forwards are lacking in power. The team is no worse than last year’s but may not be substantially better either, and a visit to the playoffs is thus unlikely.
Next up: Amur Khabarovsk