Dinamo Riga in 2016-17
We skipped over Dinamo Riga’s expected spot in the preview order due to some uncertainty about the roster, and while not all of that has been cleared up, we can now make at least a few observations about the KHL’s Latvian delegation.
Dinamo Riga missed the playoffs in 2015-16 for the second straight year, then had difficulties this summer getting their sponsorship sorted out. The result has been a late start on the transfer activity, a lot of guys on try-out contracts, and General Manager Normunds Sējējs being forced to step in as head coach. Not auspicious at all, but read on for at least a few bright spots!
Dinamo Riga in 2015-16: 19 W — 8 OT/SO W — 8 OT/SO L — 27 L
7th in Bobrov Div., 12th in West Conf., 22nd in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Normunds Sējējs.
In: G Jānis Kalniņš (Fehérvári Titánok [HUN]); G Antons Naumovs (Atlanta Jr. Knights [USPHL]); D Ralfs Freibergs (Toledo Walleye [ECHL]); D Patrick Mullen [AHL]); D Georgijs Pujacs (Banská Bystrica [SVK]); D Jēkabs Rēdlihs (Energie Karlovy Vary [CZE]); F Colton Gillies (Banská Bystrica [SVK]); F Justin Shugg (Charlotte Checkers [AHL])
Out: G Joacim Eriksson (Växjö Lakers [SWE]); D Stephen Seigo (Lukko [FIN]); D Kristaps Sotnieks (Lada Tolyatti); F Armands Bērziņš (Amiens [FRA]); F Andris Džeriņš (Mountfield HK [CZE])
Note: All the incoming players except Gillies are still listed as being on try-out deals. However, I expect most if not all of them to hang around, assuming agreements can be reached.
Dinamo’s goaltending is on decently solid footing. Czech netminder Jakub Sedláček is the presumed starter, and he performed well for the Riga team (.928 sv% in 31 games) last season. His back-up at this point is likely Kalniņš; the 24-year-old Latvian has been excellent in the Hungarian-Romanian MOL Liga the last three seasons, but it is a big step from there to the KHL, so look for Sedláček to get most of the work this winter.
There have been big changes in the Riga defence this off-season, mostly in the direction of “older.” Gone are significant 2015-16 contributors Seigo (26 years old) and Sotnieks (29), while Tomáš Kundrátek (26) left mid-season; Sotnieks in particular will be missed. The incoming Freibergs is relatively youthful (25), and a good play-making blueliner as well, but accompanying him are Mullen (30), Jēkabs Rēdlihs (34), and former Dinamo captain Pujacs (35). Experience is a useful thing, and the KHL is more forgiving to the over-30 set than many leagues, but we do have to wonder how the old legs will hold up over an entire season.
Dinamo did retain Guntis Galviņš, the club’s top-scoring rearguard in 2015-16 (59 gp, 3-17-20), along with a couple of useful veterans in Aleksandrs Jerofejevs and Krišjānis Rēdlihs (brother of Jēkabs). Again though, age becomes a question; Jerofejevs is 32, Rēdlihs 35 (Galviņš is 30, while Ēriks Ševčenko, who may also be key, is 25).
At forward, Dinamo have held onto some decent players. Tim Sestito was a pleasant surprise in 2015-16; known in North America primarily as an enforcer, he came to Riga and scored a team-high 19 goals. Dinamo’s points leader, Miks Indrašis (58gp, 14-19-33), has matured from a promising prospect into a solid everyday player. Still at the prospect stage is 2014 Memorial Cup MVP Edgars Kulda. The former Edmonton Oil King scored 4-3-7 in 39 games of limited ice-time during his rookie KHL campaign last season, and should get some more opportunities in 2016-17. Toss in Dinamo veterans like Lauris Dārziņš and Miķelis Rēdlihs (yes, brother of Jēkabs and Krišjānis), and you have a solid if unspectacular returning forward corps.
Added to that mix is Gillies, a former NHL first-round draft pick who has not come close to living up to that pedigree (not his fault particularly, as the pick — 16th overall to Minnesota in 2007 — looked like a reach when it was made). He’s big (6’4″, 209 lbs.), but his 2015-16 line of 28 gp, 6-5-11 in the Slovak Extraliga is uninspiring. We shall see. Shugg, meanwhile, has scored 101 goals in 262 AHL games, which is not a bad rate at all.
In the end, however, it is hard to see how Dinamo can find the 14 points that separated them from the playoffs last season. There are things to like about this lineup for sure, and if Sedláček goes supernova then all bets are off, but it looks right now like the Riga side missing out on the post-season again.
Next up: Barys Astana.