Players of Interest Update: The First Half
I’ve been neglecting our Players of Interest series here for a couple of weeks (not, I hasten to assure you, because I lost interest in them, but simply due to time constraints), so you may consider this a “catch-up” post after which we will return to the usual weekly schedule. In fact, the KHL season is just past the midway point right now, so this seems like a good opportunity to take a step back and check out how each of our players did during the first half. Read on!
- G Igor Shestyorkin (SKA St. Petersburg)
- Season (KHL): 25 gp, .945 sv%, 1.45 GAA, 8 SO.
- Season (International): 1 gp, .926 sv%, 2.00 GAA, 0 SO.
What a season, especially when we remember that his first start ended after 10 minutes and four goals against on nine shots! Since then, he has been nothing short of magnificent. The World Cup of Hockey, and a subsequent injury, have kept SKA’s nominal starter Mikko Koskinen away for much of the season, and the 20-year-old Shestyorkin has not let the opportunity pass him by. The young man from Spartak’s youth system has the most shutouts in the KHL, and third-best save percentage in the league (he also now holds SKA’s club record for longest shutout streak, at 272:08). And to top it off he made his senior Russian national team debut a few weeks ago, and won that one too.
Of course, playing for powerhouse SKA doesn’t hurt him, but the numbers say that this not a case of a team carrying a young goalie while he learns the ropes; Shestyorkin is the real deal, and contributing in full. His team has rewarded him, too, as in September SKA extended his contract through the 2019-20 season. Given his performance this season, the New York Rangers, who hold his NHL rights, may be interested sooner rather than later in what kind of out-clause that contract might have, if any. Shestyorkin’s emergence at the professional level (and indeed at the international level), is starting to look like one of the big stories of the KHL in 2016-17.
- D Kirill Koltsov (Traktor Chelyabinsk)
- Season (KHL): 33 gp, 8-6-14, +3, 6 PiM, 79 SoG, 19:03 ToI/Gm.
It is hard to know what to make of Koltsov’s season; those numbers would be quite acceptable to most defencemen in the league, but for the Chelyabinsk native they are distinctly average. He began the season putting up goals at a very nice rate, and is still tied for the team lead in that category, not to mention third among the KHL’s blueliners. However, it has also been 11 games since his last goal, and while his shooting percentage of 10.1% is not a career high (that would be 2014-15’s 14.3%), it is at the upper range for him and thus likely to regress downwards.
Still and all, we cannot call this a failed campaign for the 33-year-old scoring defenceman. For one thing, Traktor are taking a good run at returning to the playoffs after missing out in 2015-16; the Chelyabinsk side currently sits fifth in the East, albeit only five points clear of ninth. Further, and as we have already noted, Koltsov’s scoring numbers are a disappointment only when considered in the context of his own past output. For a KHL defenceman in general, he is making an entirely acceptable contribution to the attack. And while plus-minus is a troublesome stat, Koltsov’s +3 has him tied for sixth on Traktor (second among the team’s defencemen), so he is clearly not giving it all back by cheating for offense. Finally, his team clearly trusts him, as Koltsov is playing more per game than in any season since 2012-13.
- D Adam Polášek (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast)
- Season (KHL): 35 gp, 2-19-21, +1, 22 PiM, 60 SoG, 21:13 ToI/Gm.
- Season (International): 3 gp, 1-1-2.
As Polášek embarked on his first KHL season back in August, it appeared that Sibir had found themselves a useful two-way defenseman who could chip in at the scoring end of things — and indeed, that is what he has turned out to be. Polášek’s playmaking chops have him tied for second in the KHL in assists by defencemen, and tied for ninth in that category overall. On his own team, he is third in points, and first — by 16 — among Sibir’s defencemen. While his career numbers in other leagues suggest that he should be scoring a few more goals than he has, in his defence we can say that he has “enjoyed” some absolutely lousy shooting luck. And as we can see, the Czech hockey authorities deemed him worthy of a call-up to the recent Karjala Cup tournament, where he did well.
Injuries to excellent starting goalie Alexander Salák and lethal scorer Maxim Shalunov (now returned to action) have taken an axe to Sibir’s 2016-17 season, although all is not yet lost. The team currently sits right on the edge of the East Conference playoffs — technically in ninth but tied with eighth in points — and has some work to do. Shalunov’s return is of course a welcome development, but we should not overlook Polášek’s contributions. It will be key for his team’s fortunes that he continue to provide the solid play that he has contributed so far.
- F Anatoly Golyshev (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg)
- Season (KHL): 30 gp, 4-6-10, -4, 8 PiM, 79 SoG, 17:23 ToI/Gm.
- Season (VHL): 4 gp, 1-0-1, Even, 0 PiM, 10 SoG, 17:05 ToI/Gm.
- Season (International): 3 gp, 2-0-2.
My word, what has happened to Anatoly Golyshev? A break-out star last season when he scored 25 KHL goals at the age of 20 and was subsequently drafted by the New York Islanders, Golyshev has seen his scoring numbers drive off a cliff, and has even suffered the ignominy of a brief demotion to the second-tier VHL. The Russian Hockey Federation, at least, kept the faith when it came time to make choices for the Karjala Cup, and Golyshev thanked them with two goals in a 5-1 victory over Finland. That, however, has been about it for bright spots, and even a change of coaches at Avtomobilist has not been able to get him back on track (6 gp, 1-0-1, -3, is his line since Vladimir Krikunov took over in Yekaterinburg).
Our search for a culprit brings us to the issue of shooting percentage. Golyshev shot 18.7% last season — spectacular, yes, but far above what he had done before and entirely unsustainable. This season, he is at 5.1%, and that number in turn is well below his normal pace of 11-12% (11.6% in the KHL, 11.9% in junior). So it would appear that there are reasons for hope, and that what we have is a decent scorer suffering a run of bad shooting luck. Golyshev is taking shots at about the same rate that he has in past years, so his numbers should start to improve at some point. The sooner that happens, the better, for both him and his team; Avtomobilist are currently looking up at the playoff spots from the dismal vantage point of 11th place in the East, although they are but four points behind eighth.
- F Linus Omark (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
- 33 gp, 8-27-35, -2, 20 PiM, 93 SoG, 18:32 ToI/Gm.
Linus Omark in 2016-17 has been the same Linus Omark we have seen all along during his KHL tenure: a fantastic playmaking forward who ranks among the elite point-scorers of the league. The pride of Övertorneå, Sweden, is currently seventh in points in the KHL, fourth in assists, and first in both categories among those who do not play for either SKA St. Petersburg or Metallurg Magnitogorsk. His partnership with Teemu Hartikainen, first forged on the plains of Oklahoma with the AHL Barons, continues to flourish in Bashkortostan, as Omark’s Finnish line-mate is tied for fourth in the KHL in goals with 17. The cherry on the sundae? This past week saw Omark, for the first time in his career, appointed captain of his team.
There have been a few minor bumps in the road along the way, of course; Omark battled a niggling injury in October, or his scoring numbers might be even higher, and he missed Salavat Yulaev’s most recent contest due to a fever. And then there was the fact that the Ufa team got off to yet another disastrous start, and spent some time outside the playoff picture. That’s all done now, however; Salavat Yulaev have hauled themselves up to the safe haven of fourth in the East. If Omark’s health, and the team’s goaltending, can hold up over the season’s second half, there is no reason not to count this team among the Conference’s playoff contenders.
- F Sakari Salminen (Jokerit Helsinki)
- Season (KHL): 30 gp, 4-13-17, +1, 10 PiM, 55 SoG, 16:14 ToI/Gm.
- Season (International): 3 gp, 1-0-1.
What we have here is a portrait of a season heading the wrong way. Salminen scored 2-11-13 in his first 15 games, which was excellent, but he’s gone just 2-2-4 in the subsequent 15, and has recently started to see his ice-time cut back (the last time Salminen played more than 14 minutes in a game was October 28th). That’s… not a good omen at all. Some sort of nagging injury may be in play here, as Salminen has missed a couple of games this month, so that is something to keep an eye on moving forward. It is not all bad news — Salminen remains tied for second on Jokerit in points, thanks to his hot start — but this is not a good time for a player who has put up some good KHL numbers in the past. At least he did get to represent Finland at home at the Karjala Cup, and contributed a goal to the cause.
This is also not been a particularly good season for Jokerit. The Finnish club has spent the last two campaigns as the best of the KHL’s non-Russian contingent, but that crown is in serious jeopardy in 2016-17. Jokerit currently sit ninth in the West, one point out of the playoff spots, and that is a somewhat shocking development (see this article by SportsRants’ Arto Palovaara for some more thoughts — some of them courtesy of yours truly — on Jokerit’s season). While Salminen’s recent long slump cannot bear all of the blame, it has not helped the situation, and the sooner he gets back to form the better (he could also, and this has been a season-long complant, shoot the puck a little bit more). To close on a bright note, however, there remains plenty of time for both team and player to turn this season back around.