Severstal Cherepovets in 2017-18
Our next destination in this series is the northern steel town of Cherepovets, where, for the first time this summer, we encounter a team that actually improved in 2016-17 over the previous season. A swing of +13 in the overall goal difference (from -43 to -30) may not sound like much, but it was enough to propel Severstal four spots up the league standings. It also, unusually for a non-playoff team, meant that young coach Alexander Gulyavtsev kept his job. So is it further progress or dismal regress in store in 2017-18? Read on…
Severstal Cherepovets in 2016-17: 18 W — 5 OT/SO W — 10 OT/SO L — 27 L
7th in Tarasov Div., 11th in West Conf., 23rd in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Alexander Gulyavtsev.
In: F Alexander Bumagin (Lada Tolyatti); F Petr Holík (HK Zlín [CZE]); G Július Hudáček (Örebro HK [SWE]); D Stanislav Kalashnikov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Konstantin Korneyev (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); G Sergei Magarilov (Yermak Angarsk [VHL]); D Maxim Rogov* (Saryarka Karagandy [VHL]); F Maxim Rybin (Lada Tolyatti); D Alexei Shestopalov* (Khimik Voskresensk [VHL]); F Matěj Stránský (Texas Stars [AHL]); D Denis Vanin* (Chelmet Chelyabinsk [VHL]); D Valery Vasilyev* (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); D Vitaly Vishnevsky* (No Team)
*=Player on try-out.
Out: F Alexander Avtsin (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Arseny Khatsei (Spartak Moscow); F Ilya Khokhlov (HK Sochi); G Jakub Kovář (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Igor Magogin (Unknown); F Vojtěch Polák (Unknown); G Roman Smiryagin (Torpedo Ust-Kamenogork [VHL]); D Clay Wilson (Unknown); D Denis Yezhov (Lada Tolyatti)
Severstal’s goaltending in 2015-16 was so bad (.900 team sv%, when the league average was .920) that the now-departed Kovář was able to improve it markedly in 2016-17 while still not being very good. The Czech goalie’s .915 sv% in 55 games was not horrible, but it was below the KHL average, and backup Smiryagin hardly helped at all with an .891 in 12 appearances.
So all change, once again, between the posts in Cherepovets. In comes Hudáček, a 28-year-old from Slovakia (h/t to @TovarishchLisa for the correction on that one), whose .913 sv% last season for Örebro was 14th-best in the Swedish Hockey League. The back-up duties will presumably belong to Magarilov, which is a bit of head-scratcher since he was part of the tandem that failed so markedly for Severstal in 2015-16; he went .892 in 25 games in that campaign, although he provided steadier service for Yermak last season, at .923 over 43 games. Both new goalies do have excellent seasons on their resumes — Hudáček was the second-best goalie in Sweden in 2014-15 at at a .930 sv%, while Magarilov won the VHL’s goaltending award in 2013-14 — but at first glance it is hard to see how matters in net have improved for Severstal in the coming season.
On defense, Severstal’s top-scoring blueliner Adam Masuhr (60 gp, 4-15-19) will return, as will under-rated Belarusan defensive specialist Nikolai Stasenko. However, the departures of Wilson and Yezhov — solid contributors both — needed to be dealt with this off-season, however, and the big name incoming is that of Korneyev. A former Russian national-teamer with five World Championship tournaments and the 2010 Olympics on his past, at 33 he is no longer the scoring defenceman he once was, but he can still pull his weight as a two-way blueliner while chipping in some points here and there.
Severstal also have five potential blueline reinforcements in on try-out contracts, and of course the name that leaps out at us here is Vishnevsky. A veteran of over 400 NHL games, playoffs included, from 1999 to 2008 (and, like Korneyev, a former Olympian), Vishnevsky retired as a Lokomotiv player in 2015. However, at 37 he has decided to give it another go, and it will be interesting to see if he can still contribute. Among the other try-out candidates, a dark horse to watch is Shestopalov. The hulking 23-year-old (6’5″, 220 lbs.) managed to keep his head above water in 17 games for a truly dreadful Khimik team last season; he was their only defenceman to finish on the positive side in plus-minus. A long-shot, to be sure, but worth noting.
In last year’s Severstal preview, I wondered whether forward Dmitry Kagarlitsky could maintain his good scoring numbers after the departure of young star Pavel Buchnevich, now in New York with the Rangers. Well, asked and answered; Kagarlitsky’s scoring line in 2016-17 was an excellent 16-32-48 in 60 games, 11 points MORE than he had managed with Buchnevich in 2015-16, and he remains Severstal’s top threat up front for the coming season. The team’s top 2016-17 goal man, Maxim Trunyov (58 gp, 17-12-29) also returns, and that’s all to the good. Lack of depth remains a problem, as Kagarlitsky had 19 more points than anybody else, but young Daniil Vovchenko, at just 21, scored 13-16-29 in 60 games last season and might reasonably be expected to improve on that in the near future.
So far in pre-season it looks like the veteran journeyman Bumagin (31 gp 8-7-15 last season for Lada) will draw in on the top line alongside Kagarlitsky and the returning Pavel Chernov (47 gp, 12-12-24). That’s not terrible, although it will not strike too much fear into opposing players. The 25-year-old Holík is an under-sized but skilled playmaker who scored 16-19-35 in 50 games in the Czech league last year, and should be able to help the middle of the Severstal order in some way. And fellow-Czech Stránský looks like a very interesting pick-up, having potted 27 goals in 76 games in the AHL last season (76 gp, 27-20-47 was his complete line). A 2011 sixth-round pick of the Dallas Stars, and now 24 years old, Stránský spent four years in the AHL and improved markedly in the last two of those. Between those two and the likes of Vovchenko and Trunyov, there appear to be the makings of a serviceable second line in Cherepovets if arrangements continue as they are now.
As an additional note, we should also keep an eye on a couple of promising youngsters from junior side Almaz Cherepovets. Twenty-year-old Nikita Loshchenko scored 27 goals in 55 games last season, seventh in the league during the regular season. Another 20-year-old, goalie Alexei Artamkin, posted the MHL’s fourth-best sv% at .931 in 32 games. Another season in the junior ranks would serve both those players well, but don’t be surprised if they get a cup of KHL coffee this coming season as well.
I have serious concerns about Severstal’s goaltending, but despite that I like what they have done with this off-season. A former star still young enough to be a real contributor, a productive AHLer who couldn’t break through to the next level, and some decent mid-level journeymen plus a raft of interesting try-outs — those are the types of bet that clubs of Severstal’s stature and resources should be making. We cannot write the Cherepovets men into the playoffs just yet, not even in pencil, but they should at least be in the fight.
The Big Question: Based on the criteria laid out in the league’s new strategic plan, three teams will be leaving the KHL after 2017-18 — will Severstal be one of them? There is real danger here, to be sure. Severstal raise all the same red flags that Ugra, whom we profiled on Sunday, do, if not quite to the same degree: small city (310,000 population), small arena, low turnout, and lack of success on the ice. The Cherepovets club may not quite be in as dire straits as the Khanty-Mansiysk side, but it survival may be a tough thing nonetheless, and this would be a very good season to make a first playoff appearance since 2013.
Next up: Amur Khabarovsk.