Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in 2016-17
Right on the border between Europe and Asia, just east of the Ural Mountains, we find Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, a club that is back to respectability after nearly going broke in 2012. Last place in 2012-13 has been followed by three straight playoff appearances, so Avtomobilist will be looking to continue that streak, and maybe even venture into the terra incognita of the second round. Read on…
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in 2015-16: 21 W — 9 OT/SO W — 11 OT/SO L — 19 L
3rd in Kharlamov Div., 7th in East Conf., 14th in KHL. Lost in Conf. QFs.
Head Coach: Andrei Razin
In: G Vladimir Sokhatsky (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Niclas Andersén (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins [AHL]); D Ivan Gulyayev (Izhstal Izhevsk [VHL]); D Stanislav Kalashnikov (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); F Jan Buchtele (Sparta Prague [CZE]); F Yevgeny Chesalin (HK Ryazan [VHL]); F Denis Mingaleyev (Toros Neftekamsk [VHL]); F Dmitry Monya (Dynamo Pardubice [CZE]); F Alexander Romanov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); F Timur Shingareyev (Yuzhny Ural Orsk [VHL]); F Rok Tičar (Slovan Bratislava)
Out: G Jakub Kovář (Severstal Cherepovets); D Ilya Antonovsky (Unknown); D Kirill Kinyazev (Amur Khabarovsk); D Nikita Tryamkin (Vancouver Canucks [NHL]); F Yegor Dubrovsky (Unknown); F Eero Elo (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F Alexander Panov (Ak Bars Kazan); F Kirill Polozov (Neftyanik Almetyevsk [VHL]); F Ondřej Roman (Vítkovice Steel [CZE]); F Igor Velichkin (Kunlun Red Star Beijing); F Sergei Yemelin (Toros Neftekamsk [VHL])
Czech goalie Kovář’s departure is likely a sad one for Avtomobilist fans; he was a huge part of the team’s recent revival, although he did have a down year in 2015-16 (.914 sv% in 42 games, with the KHL average about .920). With Kovář gone, Avtomobilist’s goaltending situation has some question marks. Young Igor Ustinsky, 22 years old, is the presumed starter, after posting a .920 sv% in 25 games last season. That’s just fine, if not great, but Ustinsky is only 28 total games into his KHL career. If he falters, his team will turn to the newly-arrived Sokhatsky, who had a terrible time in Ufa last season: .876 sv% in 11 regular games, and an even worse .829 in three playoff contests. Avtomobilist will need Ustinsky to take the next step with no looking back at all, unless there are further goalie additions to come.
From the defence corps, Tryamkin is the big name heading out; the 21-year-old behemoth (6’8″, 240 lbs.) made his NHL debut this spring shortly after Avtomobilist’s season ended. He is a promising prospect, but the harsh reality is that for now he is only promising, and what he brought to the Yekaterinburg team in 2015-16 (53 gp, 4-7-11, -3) can and should be replaced by the newly-acquired Andersen. The 29-year-old Swede is a defensive specialist who can chip in a point or two as well, and should prove very useful.
Among the returning blueliners, veteran Dmitry Megalinsky (45 gp, 5-11-16) is the best of the group as the season begins. However, youngsters Nikolai Timashov (55 gp, 4-12-16) and Alexei Vasilevsky (51 gp, 3-12-15) did well in their first full KHL seasons in 2015-16, and with luck can maintain that momentum into their sophomore campaigns. As a group, Avtomobilists defencemen need to score more (22 goals from the back, total, last season), but is a reasonably solid group otherwise.
Up front, Avtomobilist have a genuine budding star in 21-year-old Anatoly Golyshev. Despite his youth, he led the Yekaterinburg team with a line of 56 gp, 25-19-44, and those 25 goals were fourth-most in the entire league. Veteran Czech forward Petr Koukal also had a nice season (59, 11-26-37) and will be back in 2016-17. The big departure from the forward group is Elo; the 26-year-old Finn had a slow start, but finished with 18 goals– second-most on the team — and will most definitely be missed.
The incoming forwards look to be a very good depth group; no stars here, but all of Buchtele, Cheselin, Mingaleyev, Monya, and Tičar have decent scoring seasons in their recent pasts, even if some of those came in leagues below the KHL. This is not a crew that will blow the doors off the opposition, but they should be able to provide decent support for Golyshev.
Avtomobilist should have enough on defence and up front to get themselves to the playoffs for a third straight year, even with stiff challenges coming from the likes of Barys Astana and Traktor Chelyabinsk. However, much will depend on the goaltending. If Ustinsky struggles — and that’s a possibility — it will be a long winter in Yekaterinburg, especially if the departed Kovář enjoys a bounce-back season for Severstal. If, however, Ustinsky takes off — and that too could easily happen — Avtomobilist will have a chance even to move up the table towards the elite of the East Conference.
Next up: Admiral Vladivostok.