Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2016-17
For the second time in three seasons, the Gagarin Cup took up residence this past Spring in western Siberia, on the banks of the Ural River in the steel-town of Magnitogorsk. Metallurg did not dominate the regular season, but experience, good goaltending, and the presence of the KHL’s greatest-ever player all made their mark in the playoffs, even if seven tough games were needed to deal with CSKA Moscow in the Finals. So what chance of making it three out of four? Read on…
Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2015-16: 25 W — 13 OT/SO W — 2 OT/SO L — 20 L
1st in Kharlamov Div., 3rd* in East Conf., 8th in KHL. Won Gagarin Cup.
*Seeded 2nd for winning division.
Head Coach: Ilya Vorobyov.
In: F Ilya Berestennikov (Yermak Angarsk [VHL]); F Denis Kazionov (HK Sochi); F Dmitry Kazionov (HK Sochi)
Out: D Rafael Batyrshin (Ak Bars Kazan); D Denis Osipov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Viktor Postnikov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); F Dmitry Arsenyuk (Amur Khabarovsk)
The big question for the defending champions entering the new season is: do they still have Sergei Mozyakin? They do indeed. At some point, Father Time will have something to say about the 35-year-old, and he may have been clearing his throat when Mozyakin managed only three goals and 11 points in 17 games to end the 2015-16 regular season and start the playoffs. But, halfway through Metallurg’s first-round series against Avtomobilist, the KHL’s all-time greatest player found the range again, going 8-10-18 during a 12-game points streak. And despite the doldrums of January and February, he led the KHL in goals and points during the regular season (57 gp, 32-35-67) and repeated the feat in the playoffs (23 gp, 11-14-25). As noted, he is no longer young, but his style of play — supreme guile and anticipation married to a wicked shot — is not the sort that incurs a lot of wear-and-tear, either.
And Mozyakin is hardly Metallurg’s only weapon. His traditional line-mates, Danis Zaripov (60 gp, 22-32-54) and Jan Kovář (58 gp, 20-32-52) were firing on all cylinders last season as well. Coach Vorobyov, who took over from Mike Keenan when Metallurg stumbled a bit to open the season, showed willingness to mix up his top line on occasion, giving time alongside Mozyakin to dangerous secondary scoring threats like Wojtek Wolski (54 gp, 18-27-45) and Alexander Syomin (or Semin), who scored 5-9-14 in 20 games after arriving from the NHL and added another 15 points in 23 playoff contests. All of those players return to the Metallurg lineup for 2016-17, and we have not even mentioned Oskar Osala (60 gp, 12-15-27) and Tomáš Filippi (60 GP, 10-20-30 and a team-leading +24)… it is no wonder that the Magnitogorsk team led the KHL with 180 goals in 2015-16.
As for the new forwards, the Kazionov brothers will add some checking depth to the group, while Berestennikov is something of project. Arsenyuk, the only forward to leave the team, is a promising young scorer at the junior level who found himself buried on the depth chart at Metallurg. His move to Amur is a good one, both for him and his new team.
The defence group was led by Canadian Chris Lee, who was fourth in the league in points by a blueliner with a line of 60 gp, 9-28-37 (and he matched Filippi’s +24). Lee returns for 2016-17, but the departing Batyrshin and Osipov are significant, as both did well on the defensive side of things and neither has been replaced (Postnikov, for his part, played only three games). However, the useful Viktor Antipin (56 gp, 6-9-15, +9) remains, as do some interesting young rearguards like Alexei Bereglazov (58 gp, 3-5-8, -1, but he’s still only 22 years old). Outside of Lee, Metallurg’s defence is not a particularly strong point, but it hardly needs to be given the firepower up front.
And Metallurg are well-set in goal, where Vasily Koshechkin, all 6’7″ and 240 lbs. of him, returns as starter ahead of 19-year-old star prospect Ilya Samsonov. The two posted near-identical .925 save percentages last season, Koshechkin in 50 games and Samsonov in 19. That number is “good but not great,” but Koshechkin then went on a tear in the playoffs; his .948 sv% in 19 games was second-best in the league. Like the defence, Metallurg’s goaltending is not the best in the league, but it should easily be good enough barring injury.
Any black clouds? Well, Metallurg’s 13-2 record in extra-time games, including 10-0 in shootouts, is unlikely to be repeated, so they may have a harder time winning the division. And Mozyakin, Zaripov, and Lee are all closer to 40 years old than 30. Age will catch up to them at some point, but this summer’s pre-season performances indicate that it has not done so yet. Until it does, Metallurg remain among the best in the East, and have a decent enough chance of defending their Gagarin Cup title.
Next up: Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast