Dinamo Minsk in 2016-17
Disappointment in 2015-16 for Dinamo Minsk, who followed up a strong 2014-15 campaign by falling back out of the playoffs. Some housecleaning was the result, as big names have both come and gone in the Belarusan capital. Read on…
Dinamo Minsk in 2015-16: 20 W — 7 OT/SO W — 9 OT/SO L — 24 L
4th in Bobrov Div., 9th in West Conf., 18th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Craig Woodcroft.
In: G Ben Scrivens (Montreal Canadiens [NHL]); D Kirill Gotovets (Rockford IceHogs [AHL]); D Kristian Khenkel (Yunost Minsk [BLR]); D Dmitry Korobov (Spartak Moscow); F Artyom Demkov (Shakhter Soligorsk [BLR]); F Rob Klinkhammer (Bakersfield Condors [AHL]); F Yevgeni Kovyrshin (Severstal Cherepovets); F Sergei Kostitsyn (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); F David Ullström (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F Artyom Volkov (HK Gomel [BLR])
Out: G Jeff Glass (Unknown); D Andrei Filichkin (HK Gomel [BLR]); D Oleg Goroshko (Yunost Minsk [BLR]); D Ryan Gunderson (Brynäs IF [SWE]); F Jonathan Cheechoo (Slovan Bratislava); F Dmitry Meleshko (Yunost Minsk [BLR]); F Paul Szczechura (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Ivan Usenko (Yunost Minsk [BLR]); F Ryan Vesce (Unknown)
Dinamo ran three goalies last year, with none of Jeff Glass (31 games), Kevin Lalande (18), and Dmitry Michalkov (17) managing better than a .910 sv% (KHL average was about .920). Not good enough, in other words, so the team has turned to Scrivens. He’s a fascinating acquisition; the 29-year-old Canadian is coming off two career-threateningly poor seasons, but he was very good in 2013-14 for Los Angeles and Edmonton, and earned a berth on Canada’s World Championship team that year (he was excellent there, too). Obviously, Dinamo are betting heavily on a return to that form. Lalande and Michalkov remain in the fold, and will battle for the backup position.
On defence, Dinamo had two major contributors in 2015-16: Americans Nick Bailen (40 gp, 6-25-31) and Gunderson (60 gp, 5-22-27). The latter is gone, and the team is likely looking to the combination of Gotovets and Korobov to replace him. Of those two, Korobov, who did some nice things for Spartak last season (50 gp, 3-10-13, +4), is likely the better blueliner; Gotovets carries a reputation as a scoring defenceman, but has not lived up to that in pro hockey so far. Khenkel, at 20 years old, is an interesting prospect for both Dinamo and the Belarusan national program, but is still a work in progress. Bailen remains in the fold, as does under-rated Belarusan defensive defenseman Ilya Shinkevich, but this is not a particularly deep group.
Up front for Dinamo in 2015-16, Matt Ellison (54 gp, 26-29-55) was sixth in the KHL in points and third in goals; he’s a genuine star, and the Minsk club has smartly held on to him. However, gone are the club’s second- and third-highest point scorers, Jonathan Cheechoo (54 gp, 16-22-38) and Ryan Vesce (40 gp, 18-15-33). That’s a lot of points exiting the system, but there is some comfort to be found in a couple of the new arrivals. Ullström proved he could score at the KHL level last season, going 16-12-28 in 37 games for Sibir — a very good result given that he lost much of the season to injury. Klinkhammer meanwhile, scored 14-10-24 in 27 AHL games, and that’s just fine too.
Update: Just a few hours after I posted this, Dinamo announced the signing of Sergei Kostitsyn from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. He’s a player with decent NHL experience in his past, but he’s coming off a tepid 51 gp, 10-10-20 season with Torpedo. Kostitsyn will help, certainly, but probably not as much as Ullström.
Among the returning forwards, we have already mentioned Ellison, whom Dinamo will need to repeat his excellent 2015-16 campaign. The club is reportedly waiting to see what happens with 2015-16 captain Alexei Kalyuzhny, and are willing to re-sign him if he can’t find work elsewhere. Kalyuzhny scored 10-21-31 in 53 games, which is useful, but he is also 39 years old, and another such season is no sure thing. One to watch is 22-year-old Artur Gavrus (19 gp, 3-7-10 last season); he could be in line for bigger responsibilities this season, as rookie head coach Woodcroft has said that he would like a younger team (Dinamo had the highest average age in the KHL last year, at nearly 29).
So much depends on the new arrivals for Dinamo, particularly Scrivens (and Woodcroft, embarking on his first big-league head coaching job). However, this team unquestionably has the top-level talent to make the playoffs, and should make a strong push to avoid last season’s early ending.
Next up: Dinamo Riga.