Avangard Omsk Oblast in 2016-17
An odd summer in Omsk; not only has there been an ongoing saga with one of their best players (more on this below), but the team has already switched coaches, bringing in Fyodor Kanareikin to replace Yevgeny Kornoukhov just ten days ago. Even with all that, however, I have them as champions of the East Conference this season; the “how” and the “why” are below, so read on…
Avangard Omsk Oblast in 2015-16: 27 W — 6 OT/SO W — 13 OT/SO L — 14 L
1st in Chernyshev Div., 1st in East Conf., 5th in KHL. Lost in Conf. SF.
Head Coach: Fyodor Kanareikin.
In: G Oleg Shilin (THK Tver [VHL]); D Erik Gustafsson (Kloten Flyers [SUI]); D Andrei Kuteikin (SKA St. Petersburg); D Yegor Martynov (Traktor Chelyabinsk); D Yevgeny Medvedev (Philadelphia Flyers [NHL]); F Alexander Kucheryavenko (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); F Dmitry Maltsev (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); F Maxim Pestushko (Dynamo Moscow); F Derek Roy (Bern [SUI]); F Mikhail Yunkov (CSKA Moscow)
Out: D Nikolai Glukhov (Traktor Chelyabinsk); D Sergei Gusev (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); D Michal Kempný (Chicago Blackhawks [NHL]); D Denis Kulyash (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Ivan Lekomtsev (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); D Andrei Pervyshin (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Alexander Chernikov (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Martin Erat (Kometa Brno [CZE]); F Maxim Kazakov (Admiral Vladivostok); F Anton Kuryanov (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); F Yuri Petrov (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Alexander Popov (CSKA Moscow); F Vladimír Sobotka (St. Louis Blues [NHL] — but see below)
First of all, the situation with Sobotka is far from settled. I have him as leaving (he is no longer listed on the club’s roster), but no final decision has been made yet, and there has been talk in recent days that Avangard’s coaching change may persuade him to stay. Personally, I think he’s gone, but we shall see.
If the 29-year-old Czech does depart, he will leave a big hole in the forward corps; Sobotka’s 2015-16 line of 44 gp, 18-16-34 had him leading the team in goals and in points-per-game. Erat, too, showed some playmaking ability last season (40 gp, 5-19-24) and will be missed, as will mid-season departure Sergei Shirokov (42 gp, 12-11-23). Popov’s exit, meanwhile, is a sad one for the fans — he had been at Avangard since 1998-99 — but the cold hard reality is that he will be 36 in a few days, and last year’s line of 37 gp, 5-11-16 suggests that time may have caught up to him.
To the good news: the incoming Pestushko and Roy are both proven point-producers, even if they are both past their 30th birthdays. And there are some solid talents returning from last year’s Avangard team too. In particular, veteran two-way forward Alexander Perezhogin (56 gp, 15-21-36), who led Avangard in points and plus-minus (+21) is still around, as is the useful Denis Parshin (57 gp, 10-21-31). Furthermore, Avangard should enjoy a full season of Anton Burdasov and Pyotr Khokhryakov, the two players obtained from SKA for Shirokov last winter. The former had a full-season line of 56 gp, 15-25-40, and while the latter’s 6-4-10 in 45 games looks bad at first glance, all of those goals and eight of the points came in 16 games for Avangard post-trade. Both players, in other words, should help. This is not a mighty offensive group, but it’s a deep one, and should be easily good enough.
Avangard’s defence, on the other hand, is indeed a formidable force, despite the departures of significant contributors Kempný, Kulyash, and Lekomtsev (Kempný is probably the biggest loss of the three, having led the defence group in points and plus-minus at 59 gp, 5-16-21, +18). Their replacements are impressive, in particular the under-rated Kuteikin, who may have been SKA’s best defenceman last season. Sweden’s Gustafsson is a wonderful passer who put up points well in the AHL and had a couple of visits to the NHL with Philadelphia; at 27, he’s probably entering his peak years, too. And Medvedev was one of Ak Bars’ better play-making rearguards before trying his luck in the NHL last season, and while his line there of 45 gp, 4-9-13 does not look like much, it is actually not bad at all for a 33-year-old rookie. Finally, key among the returning defencemen in Omsk is Yuri Alexandrov, who led last season’s blueline group with six goals (60 gp, 6-8-14).
Finally, the goaltending tandem is one of the better ones in the KHL, featuring the Czech Republic’s Dominik Furch (49 gp, .933 sv% last season – seventh-best in the KHL) in the starting role. Behind him is homegrown prospect Denis Kostin, who put up a .929 sv% in 17 games last season at the age of only 20. Should either of those falter, Shilin, another Omsk product who began last season with Avangard, should be able to step in; he was splendid in a short VHL stint last season, posting a .962 sv% in 12 games.
Avangard lack a superstar scorer, but that’s about all they’re missing. Sobotka or no Sobotka, they have a forward group full of very solid point-producers, and their defence and goaltending rank with any in the league. Toss in an experienced coach in Kanareikin, and although they will be pushed hard by several teams in the ultra-competitive East this season, I think the Omsk squad will the one coming out on top in the end.
Next up: HK Sochi.