Amur Khabarovsk in 2016-17
At the eastern extremity of the KHL world, in Outer Manchuria near the Russian-Chinese border, we find Amur Khabarovsk coming off a season of modest improvement. Amur broke a two-year streak of last-place finishes in 2015-16, and saw their chronic money woes eased by new sponsorship. So what now? Read on…
Amur Khabarovsk in 2015-16: 17 W — 6 OT/SO W — 6 OT/SO L — 31 L
6th in Chernyshev Div., 12th in East Conf., 25th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Miskhat Fakhrutdinov.
In: D Maxim Kondratyev (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); D Dmitry Kosmachyov (Admiral Vladivostok); D Dmitry Lyutov (SKA-Neva St. Petersburg [VHL]); D Dmitry Molodtsov (SKA-Neva St. Petersburg [VHL]); D Filipp Metlyuk (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Alexander Yelesin (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Denis Yezhov (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); F Dmitry Arsenyuk (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Kirill Knyazev (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Kristian Kuusela (Tappara [FIN]); F Teemu Ramstedt (HIFK Helsinki [FIN]); F Danil Romantsev (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); F Andrei Taratukhin (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); F Alexei Ugarov (Admiral Vladivostok)
Out: D Nikita Cherepanov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Rinat Ibragimov (HK Sochi); D Yevgeny Kurbatov (Unknown); D Maxim Veryovkin (Unknown); F Akim Aliu (Unknown); F Niclas Bergfors (Linköping HC [SWE]); F Alexei Byvaltsev (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Denis Tolpeko (HK Sochi); F Tom Wandell (Örebro HC [SWE])
Given the geographic and financial situations, it is unsurprising that big-time free agents have usually given Amur a pass. So it was a pleasant surprise when Finnish goalie Juha Metsola, amidst a fine debut season in Khabarovsk, re-signed for two more years in January. The tiny acrobatic netminder faded down the stretch (injuries and fatigue had their say), finishing with a still-respectable .927 sv% after running close to .940, but his performance helped drive Amur’s modest resurgence. And backup Alexander Pechursky, who also returns for 2016-17, was superb in his role, posting a .936 sv% over 18 games. The result? Amur conceded the fewest goals (143) of any non-playoff team.
The defence certainly helped, and Amur will miss especially the steadiness of Ibragimov. The Khabarovsk side has opted for experience this summer, with newcomers Kondratyev, Kosmachyov, Metlyuk, and Yezhov all past their 30th birthdays. Key returnees include thirty-somethings Vitaly Atyushov and Vitaly Shulakov along with Czech Jan Kolář, who is 29. There is much depth and veteran cunning on the Amur blueline, and Kondratyev, Shulakov, and Kolář in particular can chip in a point or two when necessary, but we must wonder when the legs will start to tire.
Solid as Amur were at preventing goals against in 2015-16, they were dreadful at scoring them, with a league-low 112. The team again turned to Finland for help, and seem to have found it. Kuusela scored 20-39-59 in 56 games to win the Liiga scoring title, and was named the circuit’s best player. Ramstedt was third in regular-season scoring (60 gp, 8-44-52), and tied for the post-season Liiga points title with 18 in 18 games. Although Vityaz Moscow Oblast last summer acquired Olli Palola after a similarly fine season in Finland, and the result was a disaster for both parties, Kuusela and Ramstedt appear to be just what Amur need.
The other one to watch among the new forwards is Arsenyuk. Stuck behind Mozyakin et al. in Metallurg’s mighty forward group, the 21-year-old scored 12-13-25 in only 17 games in the junior MHL last season. He’ll get more opportunity to show his stuff at Amur, and could be poised for a breakout. And there are some useful returning forwards, including the 23-year-old Ushenin twins, Vyacheslav (57 gp, 7-16-23 in 2015-16) and Vladislav (57 gp, 14-11-25). Along with Czech forward Tomáš Zohorna (55 gp, 9-15-24), they can contribute, especially if not asked to do it all. Although Bergfors will be missed, from here it looks like more goals for the Khabarovsk faithful to celebrate in 2016-17.
I would love to predict the playoffs for those fans, but that’s a steep hill to climb, and everything must go right. On the other hand, while Amur remain longshots, this is actually a decent team, and could be in the post-season conversation longer than usual.
Next up: Vityaz Moscow Oblast