Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2016-17
On the upper reaches of the mighty Volga River we find Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, whose name for many fans evokes memories of the dreadful accident of September 7th, 2011. The 2015-16 edition of the rebuilt team cruised through the regular season, in part on the strength of some eye-popping goaltending, but had the bad luck to meet a semi-resurgent SKA St. Petersburg in the first round of the playoffs. Can Lokomotiv go a bit further this time around? Read on…
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2015-16: 37 W — 6 OT/SO W — 2 OT/SO L — 15 L
2nd in Tarasov Div., 2nd in West Conf.*, 2nd in KHL. Lost in Conf. QF.
*Seeded third due to Jokerit winning the Bobrov Div.
Head Coach: Alexei Kudashov.
In: G Alexander Sudnitsin (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); D Nikita Cherepanov (Amur Khabarovsk); D Roman Manukhov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Denis Osipov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Alexander Kadeikin (SKA St. Petersburg); F Brandon Kozun (Jokerit Helsinki); F Max Talbot (Boston Bruins [NHL])
Out: G Vitaly Kolesnik (Barys Astana); D Ilya Gorokhov (HK Sochi); D Mikhail Grigoryev (Unknown); F Kirill Kapustin (Amur Khabarovsk); F Sergei Konkov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Dmitry Maltsev (Avangard Omsk Oblast); F Jiří Novotný (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Daniil Romantsev (Amur Khabarovsk); F Anton Sigaryov (Admiral Vladivostok)
Lokomotiv were very, very, good at preventing goals last season; their 94 allowed was second-fewest in the league. And no wonder: Alexei Murygin, Lokomotiv’s starting goalie, posted the KHL’s best sv% (.954 in 34 games – he had some injury issues) during a 2015-16 campaign in which he broke league records for most shutouts (13) and longest shutout streak (266 minutes and change). Regression, of course, may be an issue for Murygin this season, but Lokomotiv are arguably stronger at the back-up position than they were, as Sudnitsin (.933 sv% in 44 games and a huge part of Neftekhimik’s surprising success story) replaces Kolesnik (26 gp, .920 sv%). Lurking in the wings is prospect goalie Anton Krasotkin, who at 18 years old got into three games last season and posted a save percentage of .942. Suffice to say, the netminding is not a worry for Lokomotiv.
Neither is the defence, which was also superb in 2015-16. The loss of Gorokhov will cause a pang for the fans, as he first played for the team (then known as Torpedo Yaroslavl) back in 1993-94. Obviously, however, he’s no longer young (Gorokhov is now 38), and one might reasonably ask how much more he can contribute. Remaining in the fold are key individuals such as new captain Staffan Kronwall (60 gp, 3-22-25, +17) and defensive rock Mikhail Pashnin (39 gp, 3-5-8, +22). We should also note Patrik Hersley, a scoring defenceman who had a disappointing year after coming over from Sibir last summer (he went 56 gp, 4-8-12, down from 33 points in 56 games the year before). While Hersley has yet to get going this season (3 gp, 0-0-0, -2), the potential for big numbers is certainly there.
The new arrivals on defence should help, too. Manukhov posted a line of 4-19-23 in 58 games last season, all the more impressive as he did it for woeful Metallurg Novokuznetsk (he also went +6, on a team that was outscored by 63 goals on the season). Osipov is a solid veteran defenceman, coming off a Gagarin Cup-winning season with not-woeful Metallurg Magnitogorsk. And Cherepanov scored 2-5-7 in 49 games in his rookie KHL season; he’s only 20, and a promising young rearguard.
Now, Lokomotiv’s offense scored 155 goals in the 2015-16 regular season, good for 12th-most in the KHL. That’s not horrible, but it needs improving if Lokomotiv are to challenge the big guns in the league. So, in comes Kozun, off a season of 58 gp, 15-34-49 for Jokerit (he was 13th in the KHL scoring race). Lokomotiv have also added a solid NHL veteran in Talbot, who has never been a huge scorer at the top level but did go 26 gp, 10-11-21 for Boston’s farm club in Providence last season. Kadeikin, meanwhile, is a huge (6’5″, 227 lbs) 22-year-old who found himself buried down the depth chart at SKA (48 gp, 5-6-11); he was a fearsome scorer in junior hockey, and watch out if and when he finds the range in the KHL.
And as everywhere else on the roster, Lokomotiv have kept their key forwards from last season. Daniil Apalkov, for example, has turned into a real KHL star, scoring 16-27-43 in 59 games in 2015-16. Yegor Averin’s 21 goals in 49 games led Lokomotiv last season, and Denis Mosalyov chipped in 18 goals of his own. All three return, as do dangerous forwards like Petri Kontiola and reliable two-way types such as Andrei Loktionov and Emil Galimov , and they will form the core of an offense that should move up the league scoring charts.
The most significant departing forward is, like Gorokhov, to be missed more for sentimental reasons than for his contributions in 2015-16 — a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless. Konkov was such a huge part of Lokomotiv’s remarkable run to the Conference Finals in 2013-14, with eight goals in 18 games during those playoffs, but he scored only 6-5-11 in 55 games last year.
Lokomotiv are off to a decent-ish start to 2016-17, with two wins, one of them via shootout, and a loss in their first three games. But make no mistake, this was a very good team last season and should be even better this time around. While, as noted, regression to the mean may hinder the goaltending at some point (although Murygin already has a shutout on his 2016-17 resume), this team should be looking at a long playoff run next spring.
Next up: CSKA Moscow.