HK Sochi in 2016-17
While their 2015-16 season ended with a disappointing sweep at the hands of Dynamo Moscow in the first round of the playoffs, that should not detract from the fact that HK Sochi — known primarily for repeated brushes with financial disaster — finished fourth overall in the KHL during the regular season. The third-year team from the Black Sea coast rode a powerful attack, and a stunning break-out season from an unheralded young defenceman, to a spot among the league’s elite. Can they do it again? Read on…
HK Sochi in 2015-16: 30 W — 4 OT/SO W — 10 OT/SO L — 16 L
3rd in Tarasov Div., 4th in West Conf., 4th in KHL. Lost in Conf. QF.
Head Coach: Vyacheslav Butsayev.
In: G Sergei Bolshakov (Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk [MHL]); G Oleg Nazarov (Dizel Penza [VHL]); D Roman Derlyuk (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Oscar Fantenberg (Frölunda [SWE]); D Ilya Gorokhov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Rinat Ibragimov (Amur Khabarovsk); D Vadim Khomitsky (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); D Mikhail Mamkin (Ugra Khanty-Manisysk); D Ruslan Pedan (Bemidji State University [NCAA]); F Semyon Babinstsev (Nomad Astana [KAZ]); F Alexander Delnov (Dizel Penza [VHL]); F Alexander Merskin (Spartak Moscow); F Eric O’Dell (Rochester Americans [AHL]); F Pavel Padakin (Lehigh Valley Phantoms [AHL]); F Mark Rozanov (Newmarket Hurricanes [OJHL]); Artyom Tomilin (HK Ryazan [VHL]); F Denis Tolpeko (Amur Khabarovsk); F Ivan Zakharchuk (Molot-Prikamye Perm [VHL])
Out: G Artyom Artemyev (Unknown); G Andrei Gavrilov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); D Sergei Bernatsky (Unknown); D Ivan Glazkov (Admiral Vladivostok); D Janne Jalasvaara (Kunlun Red Star Beijing); D Vladimir Malevich (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); D Ziyat Paigin (Ak Bars Kazan); D Alexei Semyonov (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); D Clay Wilson (Severstal Cherepovets); F Mikhail Anisin (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); F Denis Kazionov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Dmitry Kazionov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Roman Lyuduchin (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); F Pyotr Schastlivy (Dinamo Riga); F Max Wärn (Kunlun Red Star Beijing); F Mikhail Yakubov (Unknown)
Where to start, with HK Sochi’s off-season? That’s a lot of turnover, particularly on the defensive side. In fact, of the 13 rearguards who suited up for Sochi last season, exactly two are back for 2016-17: Renat Mamashev (53 gp, 5-16-21) and Sergei Kuznetsov (0-8-8). For Mamashev, last season was his best since he led KHL defencemen in scoring back in 2012-13 at Neftekhimik, and another like it would suit Sochi fine. Among the now-former Sochi blueliners, Paigin is obviously the huge loss after his amazing out-of-nowhere season; in just 37 games after coming over from Ak Bars Kazan’s farm team, he scored 9-18-27 to lead Sochi’s defence in goals and points, and also made both the All-Star game and the Russian national team. But Sochi’s lack of money allowed Ak Bars to sweep in this summer and capture him back again; to say he will missed in the Olympic city is an understatement.
The replacement defencemen do include some interesting names. Gorokhov is entering his 23rd season at the top level of Russian hockey, although that means we must wonder how much he has left in the tank (he’s 39). And Ibragimov was a rock for Amur down the stretch last season; he is probably the best addition to Sochi’s blueline. Among the other newcomers, we see a lot of depth support but not much in the way of top-pairing players. This defence should be ok, if no better, at stopping opposing attacks, but Mamashev aside, there is not much help here when it comes to scoring.
There is better news up front, where, despite all the turnover, Sochi have managed to hang on to their top six scoring forwards from last season. That’s a good thing, as that group includes two 20-goal men in André Pettersson (45 gp, 22-22-44) and Andrei Kostitsyn (45 gp, 20-19-39). I would also mention Yevgeny Skachkov, who led the team in plus-minus (+16) while putting up a nice line of 14-16-30 in 51 games. HK Sochi scored the fourth-most goals in the KHL last season (175), and will essentially bring back their top two lines intact, which does not hurt their chances of posting similar numbers this season.
To that top six, Sochi have added an interesting all-newcomer third line featuring Padakin, Delnov, and O’Dell, all three of whom have put up good scoring numbers in recent seasons albeit at levels below the KHL. O’Dell, who was a point-per-game player in the OHL and has a career AHL line of 247 gp, 97-99-196, is probably the best of that trio, but don’t lose track of the other two either. If that line can find some chemistry, it will be a potent addition to an already impressive offensive.
And in goal, Sochi look well set with starter Konstantin Barulin back for another go. The veteran’s .926 sv% in 53 games last season was good if not great, but he has consistently been above average in his career, and as he is only 31 (he’ll turn 32 in early September), there is no reason to think that will stop in the near future. The two departing goalies saw only spot duty last season, and the same should be expected for the two new arrivals. For now, the back-up duties belong to Dmitry Shikin, who struggled at the KHL level last season (.902 sv% in 11 games) but was excellent during a short stint in the VHL (8 gp, .956 sv%).
To sum it all up, Sochi are unlikely to repeat last season’s fourth place finish; that defensive group, now minus Paigin, is probably not strong enough to allow it, even if having Barulin in goal will help. However, Butsayev has shown himself an excellent coach in the last couple of season, and as the team’s General Manager he has built a formidable forward corps that will put up a lot of goals for him — an impressive feat given the team’s ongoing money woes. And they have started well in the new campaign, with two wins in two games (five points already, including a hat-trick, for Pettersson). A return to the playoffs is not only possible, but very probable.
Next up: Jokerit Helsinki.