Amur Khabarovsk in 2017-18
Our update series now takes us to the KHL’s easternmost outpost, where in 2016-17 Amur Khabarovsk continued their modest resurgence of the last couple of seasons. The playoffs were missed for the fifth straight year, with lack of goalscoring the culprit, but in the end Amur were within hailing distance of that long-sought post-season berth — just seven points away. Will 2017-18 see Amur take the next step? Read on…
Amur Khabarovsk in 2016-17: 20 W — 5 OT/SO W — 6 OT/SO L — 29 L
7th in Chernyshev Div., 12th in East Conf., 22nd in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Andrei Martemyanov.
In: F Semyon Babintsev (HC Litvinov [CZE]); D Georgy Berdyukov (Vityaz Moscow Oblast); D Alexander Fedotov* (Ariada Volzhsk [VHL]); F Alexander Frolov (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); F Oleg Gubin* (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); D Michal Jordán (Ak Bars Kazan); G Yevgeny Kiselyov* (Remparts de Québec (QMJHL]); F Dmitry Klopov (Rubin Tyumen [VHL]); D Denis Kuzmin (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Marek Kvapil (Kometa Brno [CZE]); D Nikolai Polunin* (Bars Kazan [VHL]); F Bogdan Potekhin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Artyom Sevankayev (Traktor Chelyabinsk); D Dmitry Shvidenko* (HK Sarov [VHL]); F Vsevolod Tolmachenko* (Dynamo St. Petersburg [VHL]); F Filipp Toluzakov (Dinamo Riga); D Pavel Turbin (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); G Igor Tyalo* (HK Cheboksary [PVHL]); F Igor Velichkin (Kunlun Red Star Beijing); F Alexei Zakarlyukin (Chelmet Chelyabinsk [MHL])
*=Player on try-out.
Out: D Ilya Gorokhov (Retired); F Kirill Kapustin (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Maxim Kondratyev (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); D Pavel Medvedev (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); F Vitaly Popov (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Daniil Romanstsev (Unknown); D Alexander Yelesin (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); D Stanislav Zabornikov (Sokol Krasnoyarsk [VHL])
Alexander Frolov? THE Alexander Frolov? Yes, the former two-time 30-goal man for the Los Angeles Kings is undoubtedly Amur’s big-name signing of the summer, but we should not get too carried away. Frolov’s NHL days were some time ago now, and at 35 he is a shadow of the scorer he used to be. While his line for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod last season (34 gp, 7-11-18) suggests that he can still contribute something, we should not expect stardom from him.
And that is a pity, because Amur could really use a scoring hero about now. The team managed just 110 goals last season, second-fewest in the KHL, with just two players managing to hit double-digits. Those two — Tomáš Zohorna (59 gp, 13-19-34, Amur’s leader in goals, assists, and points) and Vladislav Ushenin (58 gp, 12-10-22) — will both be back, but the team may miss the contributions of Teemu Ramstedt (49 gp, 7-18-25), who is a free agent and does not appear likely to return.
Furthermore, among the incoming forwards there is no sign of the guy who can singlehandedly fix the problem. There are some useful acquisitions, however: Frolov we have mentioned, and Kvapil is a known name as well. The 32-year-old Slovak won two Gagarin Cups as a two-way forward with Dynamo Moscow back in the day, and indeed was top scorer on the cup-winning team of 2011-12. Last year, in the Czech league, he did decently well (49 gp, 15-25-40), so he can certainly help out. And perhaps Gubin, in on a try-out, will rebound. Although 2016-17 was a campaign he will want to forget (53 gp, 2-6-8 for two teams), he did bag 14 goals for Sibir the previous year. So there are possibilities, but this remains for the time being a weak forward group.
Side note: A possible future solution may be junior team player Dmitry Shaburov, who tied for seventh in the MHL this past season in both goals and points (56 gp, 27-34-61 was his stat line). He will be 21 in August, so some KHL appearances this season are not out of the question, although I would not expect him to contribute to a great extent right away. Eighteen-year-old Matvei Zaseda, who got into three games for Amur last year, also had a decent year in junior (37 gp, 15-16-31) and is worth keeping track of whichever level he plays at.
Amur’s offensive struggles in 2016-17 were particularly lamentable because they sabotaged a very good season on the goal-prevention side of things. Amur conceded only 130 times, fewest of any non-playoff team, and tied for eighth-best in the entire KHL. Much of that success can be laid at the feet of tiny Finnish goalie Juha Metsola, who will return for his third season in Khabarovsk. Metsola, all 5’10” and 150 lbs. of him, posted a .933 sv% in 54 appearances, eighth-best among KHL ‘tenders. Needless to say, he is the most important player that Amur have, and it will be key for him to repeat that performance. The backup job likely belongs to Ilya Andryukhov (5 gp, .935 sv% last year, and a superb 21 gp, .942 Amur’s VHL farm team Sokol Krasnoyarsk). However, Yevgeny Alikin (.931 sv% in 21 games with Sokol) is also in the equation.
As regards the blueline group in front of Metsola, Amur will need to find a replacement for Kondratyev, who led the defencemen in points with a line of 7-12-19 while playing all 60 games. However, Jan Kolář (60 gp, 9-6-15, tops among Amur d-men in goals) was probably the best all-round rearguard on the team, and he will be back. As well, the team may have a solid up-and-coming defensive defenceman in 21-year-old Nikita Kamalov; he doesn’t score much (32 gp, 3-3-6 last year) but his 2016-17 KHL campaign was a steady one. Another defensive specialist, Vitaly Atyushov, provided similar reliability from the other end of the age spectrum (he’s 38).
As far as the new arrivals on ‘D’ are concerned, it is Jordán and Berdyukov whose names jump out. The latter, a 25-year-old who came up through SKA’s youth system, is still a work in progress, but has shown signs that he can help out in the playmaking department. Given Amur’s troubles with scoring, he will need to. And Jordán, 27 years old and a member of the 2016 Czech World Cup team, has 80 games of NHL experience with Carolina on his CV. He, too, can chip in with a point here and there.
I would love to be able to write Amur Khabarovsk into the playoffs for 2017-18, and seven points is not so far away. But the team is still too reliant on Metsola and the defence, and has done too little (so far) to reinforce the scoring, for me to have a lot of confidence in making that prediction. The post-season is possible, but a lot is going to have to go right and the margin for error is very slim.
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 Amur be one of them? It is a distinct possibility (longtime poor performance on the ice, financial problems, and so on), but Amur do have some weapons in this fight. While the Platinum Arena is not large (7100 seats), fans filled it to 96.5% capacity last season — the third-best mark in the league. And on the ice the team has been moving in the right direction since a pair of dead-last finishes earlier this decade. So there are reasons both for worry and for optimism, but in any case 2017-18 would be a very good season for a first playoff appearance since 2012.
Next up: Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.