Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast in 2016-17
Sibir recorded their first-ever playoff series win in the Spring of 2014, but since then have made at least the second round in three straight seasons and established themselves as one of the best teams in the East (this despite several occurrences of the dreaded financial difficulties). Can they keep it up? Read on…
Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast in 2015-16: 24 W — 12 OT/SO W — 9 OT/SO L — 15 L
2nd in Chernyshev Div., 2nd* in East Conf., 7th in KHL. Lost in Conf. SF.
*Seeded 3rd due to Metallurg Magnitogorsk winning the Kharlamov Division.
Head Coach: Andrei Skabelka.
In: G Pavel Shegalo (Metallurg Zhlobin [BLR]); D Dmitry Lukin (Chelmet Chelyabinsk [VHL]); D Ilya Nekolenko (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Adam Polášek (Sparta Prague [CZE]); D Yuri Sergiyenko (CSKA Moscow); F Yevgeny Artyukhin (SKA St. Petersburg); F Artyom Artyomov (Saginaw Spirit [OHL]); F Eero Elo (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Joonas Kemppainen (Boston Bruins [NHL]); F Alexei Skabelka (Sokol Krasnoyarsk [VHL]); F Dmitry Vorobyov (Ariada Volzhsk [VHL])
Out: G Nikita Bespalov (Spartak Moscow); D Konstantin Alexeyev (CSKA Moscow); D Sergei Gimayev (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); D Andrej Meszároš (Slovan Bratislava); F Viktor Bobrov (Spartak Moscow); F Alexei Kopeikin (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); F Calle Ridderwall (Djurgården IF [SWE]); F David Ullström (Dinamo Minsk); F Tomáš Vincour (Kometa Brno [CZE])
A first look at the “Out” list above reveals some problems for Sibir. Gone from the defense are Meszároš, a mid-season acquisition who led the blueline corps with six goals in only 28 games, and Gimayev, who was second on the team at +13. The forward group has lost its two best players in terms of points/game: Ullström (37 gp, 16-12-28) and Vincour (45 gp, 10-17-27). Those are some big holes in the lineup, and they will need to be filled.
But the Novosibirsk club has shown, in recent seasons, a definite ability to find effective players whom other clubs have passed over or given up on; names like Mikko Koskinen, Patrik Hersley, and Igor Ozhiganov can be mentioned here. And Sibir may be at it again. On defence, they have recruited a very interesting player in Polášek, who has scored 19-39-58 in 99 games for Sparta over the last two seasons. Sergiyenko, too, shows much promise — I mentioned him in the Torpedo preview (at that time, he had moved to CSKA, whence Sibir acquired just in the last few days). And there are some useful defencemen returning from the 2015-16 roster, including Vitaly Menshikov (led Sibir’s d-men with 18 points in 57 games) and Maxim Ignatovich (a team-leading +14).
Up front as well, there are some intriguing names arriving. Artyomov was not a mighty scorer in the OHL, but his 2015-16 line of 67 gp, 19-36-55 suggests that there is a decent attacking talent there. Kemppainen got into 44 games for the Bruins last season, although he scored only 2-3-5, and should be able to help in some way. But the best of the newcomers is probably Elo; after a slow start at Avtomobilist last season, he recovered to score 18 goals (second-most on the team) in 56 games.
The acquisition of Artyukhin is something of an oddity. The notorious KHL enforcer has a career line of 232 gp, 29-39-68… and 785 penalty minutes. Sixteen of those goals, too, came back in 2011-12; in no other season has he managed more than four. And yet Sibir have not only signed him, they just announced that he will be the team’s captain. We shall see; I remain dubious, but I also refer you to the above comment about Sibir picking up opportunities that other teams have missed.
As for the returning forwards, Sergei Shumakov scored 20-13-33 in 59 games to lead Sibir in goals and points, and he is only 24 years old. Maxim Shalunov, a few months younger than Shumakov, also had a nice season in the goal-scoring department, with a line of 59 gp, 18-12-30. Given the ages of those two, they could easily match or even better that output this coming season.
Finally, in goal Sibir have one of the best in Alexander Salák; the 29-year-old Czech recorded a .938 sv%, third-best in the entire KHL, in 52 games last season, and was even better in the playoffs (.942 in nine games). The backup job, in which Bespalov provided a .918 sv% (about league average) in 20 games last year, will likely go to young Alexei Krasikov (newly-arrived Shegalo appears to be third choice at this point). Krasikov, just 20 years old, was the best goalie in Russian junior hockey last season, with a .942 sv% in 36 games for Sibir’s MHL team. His KHL debut may come as early as Tuesday’s season-opener against Avtomobilist; Salák, whose Achilles heel is his temper, has four games left to serve of a suspension he picked up during the 2015-16 playoffs.
There have been some potentially damaging departures, but also some intriguing new arrivals, for Sibir this off-season. On balance, this remains a solid team (the goaltending, once Salák returns, is very strong, and Skabelka’s a good coach), and barring dire developments on the financial front they should be up there arguing for a top-four spot in the East once again. And I would be remiss not to mention one last fact: Sibir were the only team last season to fill their arena to 100% capacity for every single home game.
Next up: Dynamo Moscow