Medveščak Zagreb in 2016-17
Medveščak perennially have one of the league’s smallest budgets, but they always seem to be respectable on the ice, and even made the playoffs in 2013-14, their first KHL season. The Croatian side has not done that since, however, and will look to break a two-year post-season drought in 2016-17. Read on…
Medveščak Zagreb in 2015-16: 19 W — 6 OT/SO W — 9 OT/SO L — 26 L
5th in Bobrov Div., 10th in West Conf., 20th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Gordie Dwyer
In: G Niko Hovinen (Lahti Pelicans [FIN]); G Danny Taylor (Sparta Prague [CZE]); D Goran Bezina (Genève-Servette [SUI]); D Jakub Krejčík (Örebro HK [SWE]); D Jan Smolec (Mladost Zagreb [CRO]); D Derek Smith (Springfield Falcons [AHL]); F Colby Genoway (Fribourg-Gottéron [SUI]); F Alexandre Giroux (Ambrì-Piotta [SUI]); F Brandon McMillan (ERC Ingolstadt [GER]); F Tomáš Mertl (Mountfield HK [CZE]); F Francis Paré (TPS Turku [FIN]); F Jiří Smejkal (Kamloops Blazers [WHL])
Out: G Gašper Krošelj (Unknown); D Adam Deutsch (Almtuna IS [SWE-2]); D Simon Gysbers (Schwenninger Wild Wings [GER]); F Patrick Bjorkstrand (Los Angeles Kings [NHL]); F Stefano Giliati (Unknown); F Jesse Saarinen (Unknown); F Radek Smoleňák (Slovan Bratislava)
Taylor is the presumptive starting goalie; he was Medveščak’s first choice early last season, posting a .924 sv% — about league average — in 38 games before departing for Prague (Krošelj got most of the remaining work, but did not play well). Hovinen struggled in Finland last year (.881 sv% in 22 games), so Medveščak have brought in KHL-experienced Sergei Gaiduchenko on a try-out. The 27-year-old Ukrainian missed last season through injury, but should at least push Hovinen for the backup spot.
There has been considerable turnover on Medveščak’s defense. In addition to Gysber’s off-season exit, key contributors Tuukka Mäntylä and Milan Jurčina left during last season. The team did retain Shaone Morrisonn, who scored only seven points in 51 games but was Medveščak’s defensive conscience; he went +9 despite a team goal differential of -28. The experienced Mark Katic returns as well, and should help.
Of the potential replacements, Smith appears the most promising; he has been a good scoring defenseman in the AHL (28 gp, 2-17-19 in 2015-16), and has played nearly 100 NHL games too. Bezina and Krejčík have also shown scoring talent in various leagues, although neither has played at the KHL level, and Bezina is 36 years old. Smolec is a promising prospect for both Medveščak and Croatia, but at only 19 should be developed with some care. Finally, in camp on a try-out after a good season in the ECHL is Canadian rearguard Yann Sauvé; he could easily make the team.
The forward group, too, saw significant departures both last season and this spring. Smoleňák, Medveščak’s 2015-16 leader in goals and points (59 gp, 16-18-34) will be missed, as will mid-season departure Marek Kvapil, who was third in points. However, the return of Mertl, who left Medveščak late last season, is good news; the Czech forward was second on the team with 32 points. Former NHL first-rounder Gilbert Brulé, second in goals for Medveščak (13, tied with Bjorkstrand), has been re-signed, and will be important. And one to watch is 22-year-old Russian Ilya Arkalov, who managed 1-5-6 in 20 games despite playing only six minutes per contest.
Among the new forwards, the signing of Paré stands out. A veteran depth forward, he brings more experience than scoring to the table, but the fact that he has played 140 KHL games will stand Medveščak in good stead. The 35-year-old Giroux, meanwhile, was a spectacular AHL scorer earlier in his career, and potted 16 goals in 47 games for Dinamo Riga in 2012-13.
Given the turnover, and the varied sources from which Medveščak have recruited players, it’s hard to read this lineup. However, while I don’t think the Croatian team has taken a step forward, neither do I see a major fall-off. Medveščak should be about where they were last year, scrapping for the final playoff spots in the West.
Next up: Traktor Chelyabinsk or Dinamo Riga.