Salavat Yulaev Ufa in 2016-17
Salavat Yulaev’s 2015-16 campaign looked much like SKA’s: they were early-season contenders, suffered a dreadful start, fired their coach, and recovered enough to make the Conference Finals. There was far less Drama in Ufa than in St. Petersburg, but this is still a team with something to prove in 2016-17. Read on…
Salavat Yulaev Ufa in 2015-16: 29 W — 5 OT/SO W — 4 OT/SO L — 22 L
3rd in Tarasov Div., 4th in East Conf., 9th in KHL. Lost in Conf. Finals.
Head Coach: Igor Zakharkin
In: G Andrei Gavrilov (HK Sochi); G Andrei Litvinov (Buran Voronezh [VHL]); D Konstantin Korneyev (Ak Bars Kazan); D Denis Kulyash (Avangard Omsk Oblast); D Dmitry Vorobyov (Lada Tolyatti); F Yegor Alyoshin (Toros Neftekamsk [VHL]); F Yevgeny Bodrov (Spartak Moscow); F Kirill Kaprizov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); F Alexei Kudreman (THK Tver [VHL])
Out: G Rafael Khakimov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); G Vladimir Sokhatsky (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); D Roman Derlyuk (HK Sochi); D Filipp Metlyuk (Amur Khabarovsk); D Ivan Vishnevsky (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); F Kirill Kabanov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Denis Khlystov (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Dmity Makarov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Nikolai Prokhorkin (SKA St. Petersburg); F Oleg Saprykin (Unknown)
Salavat Yulaev’s goaltending was an area of concern last season, and it still is. Niklas Svedberg, acquired from the Boston Bruins organization, struggled badly at the start of 2015-16, and although he improved, and at times played very well, his season-ending sv% was a mediocre .916. Neither Khakimov nor Sokhatsky helped particularly (the former did not play, and the latter had a dreadful .876 sv% in 11 games), but their replacements Gavrilov and Litvinov also lack any history of strong play in the KHL. So Svedberg will get most of the work, and will need to avoid another rough start.
The defence group, however, is a different matter; here Salavat Yulaev appear to have made some very nice moves. Korneyev, Kulyash, and Vorobyov are all experienced without being on their last hockey legs, and Kulyash in particular brings a little bit of scoring pop (he has 41 points in 97 games the last two seasons with Avangard). The three should provide ample replacement for the outgoing rearguards, of whom Vishnevsky (56 gp, 4-10-14) was probably the best.
And Salavat Yulaev’s returning blueline crew has retained its two key performers. Alexander Loginov, an early-season acquisition from Avtomobilist, scored 10-23-33 in 47 games, and tied for second in the KHL in goals by defencemen. Finnish veteran Sami Lepistö, meanwhile, went 11-19-30 in 60 games. In short, Salavat Yulaev’s defence should be at least as good as last year’s edition, and may be quite a bit better.
Up front, the key moves are the departure of Prokhorkin and his presumable replacement with Kaprizov. Prokhorkin (55 gp, 19-17-36) had an up-and-down season, but did lead Salavat Yulaev in goals. As for Kaprizov, he is one of the exciting youngsters of Russian hockey. Still just 19, he tied for the points lead for Metallurg Novokuznetsk with a line of 11-16-27 in 53 games.
Now, Kaprizov may not get as many of the prime minutes in Ufa as he did in Novokuznetsk, but at the same time he will not face the pressure of trying to carry a team all by himself. Both of those things are because Salavat Yulaev scored the second-most goals in the KHL last season, with 179 (second only to Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s 180), and apart from Prokhorkin all the key forwards are back. Of particular note is Linus Omark; acquired from Jokerit last summer and re-united with his old Oklahoma City Barons line-mate Teemu Hartikainen, the 29-year-old Sweden finished fifth in the KHL scoring race with a line of 60 gp, 18-39-57 (Hartikainen, for his part, scored 10-29-39 in 54 games, which is also very good). The two look set to continue that fruitful partnership, and we should not overlook the likes of Igor Grigorenko (55 gp, 18-26-44) and Andreas Engqvist (51 gp, 18-16-34) either.
An immensely powerful forward group, backed up by a capable and balanced defence, should make Salavat Yulaev contenders in the East — and indeed they are. However, the questions marks over the goaltending will persist at least into the early part of the season. In short, there is a fine, entertaining, hockey team in Bashkortostan this season, but it is one with a potentially fatal area of weakness.
Next up: Metallurg Magnitogorsk.