Vityaz Moscow Oblast in 2016-17
The problem with Vityaz is that, while the team’s sordid history of goons and general craziness is a thing of the past, competitiveness and playoff appearances are not yet things of the present. The past two seasons have seen the team from Podolsk, south of Moscow, get off to good starts in the autumn, before fading in the winter months to finish well back of the post-season. Third time the charm? Read on…
Vityaz Moscow Oblast in 2015-16: 17 W — 8 OT/SO W — 3 OT/SO L — 32 L
6th in Tarasov Div., 13th in West Conf., 24th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Valery Belov.
In: G Anton Todykov (Gornyak Rudny [KAZ]); D Sergei Gimayev (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); D Jakub Jeřábek (HC Plzeň [CZE]); D Yevgeny Katichev (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); D Alexei Semyonov (HK Sochi); F Miro Aaltonen (Oulun Kärpät [FIN]); F Alexei Dostoinov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); F Alexei Kopeikin (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F Alexander Stepanov (No Team)
Out: D Teemu Eronen (HIFK Helsinki [FIN]); D Vitaly Kafeyev (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); D Dmitry Kostromitin (Red Star Kunlun Beijing); D Grigory Vashchenko (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Yevgeny Viksna (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Denis Yezhov (Amur Khabarovsk); F Alexander Kucheryavenko (Avangard Omsk Oblast); F Olli Palola (Växjö Lakers [SWE])
One of the most interesting “new arrivals” at Vityaz is a player not on the list above, and whom we may not actually see in the KHL this season. Forward German Rubtsov, who came up through the Vityaz youth system, and was loaned last year to the Russian U18 team in the MHL, where he scored 12-14-26 in 28 games. He was also selected 21st overall by Philadelphia in this June’s NHL draft, so there are eyes on him. However, he is only 18 years old, and while the Vityaz brass may be tempted to toss him into the KHL fray, it would be wiser not to. The U18s will not be back in the MHL this season, so Rubtsov should get a full campaign for Vityaz’s own junior team. Patience will be a virtue, no matter how badly the KHL team struggles.
And it does look like the team will struggle, at least in terms of scoring. Their top offensive threat is former NHLer Maxim Afinogenov, who scored 15-13-28 in 56 games last season and turns 37 in early September. Roman Horák (57 gp, 15-12-27) can help with the scoring as well, but that’s about it among the returning forwards. Among the newcomers, Aaltonen was a top-30 goal-scorer in the Finland, but only just, and while Sibir’s former captain Kopeikin brings leadership and experience, he will have to rebound from a below-average 2015-16 season (58 gp, 11-8-19) if he is to help much with the “Goals For.”
Vityaz’s prize acquisition this summer is defenceman Jeřábek. The 25-year-old was an excellent playmaker in the Czech league last year (52 gp, 4-29-33), and he will need to duplicate that form; Eronen, now back in Finland, was Vityaz’s only offensive threat from the blueline last season (46 gp, 4-17-21). As for the rest of the defense, it has its useful elements, but no more. The arrivals of Gimayev and the towering Semyonov (6’6″, 245 lbs.) will help in terms of experience and defensive nous, and it will be of great benefit to Vityaz if they can get full seasons, injury-free, from Pavel Lukin (33 gp, 1-10-11 last season) and Ilya Davydov (22 gp, 0-8-8).
At least goaltending is an area of strength. Harri Säteri posted a resolute .929 sv% in 44 games last season, and returns to (hopefully) do likewise this time around. The other goaltending job is up for grabs, but Vityaz could do worse than stick with last year’s backup, Igor Saprykin (.919 sv% in 19 games).
In the end, there isn’t enough. Vityaz have some interesting players, and even some good ones, but the overall roster strength is not close to playoff calibre. Another season on the outside, I fear.
Next up: Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk.