Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in 2017-18
Nothing really rhymed for the Yekaterinburg side in 2016-17: six fewer goals scored and seven more allowed may not sound like much, but it added up to missed playoffs, albeit by only four points. And the team’s blossoming young superstar saw his scoring numbers fall off a cliff. The net results were a mid-season coaching change from one of the KHL’s youngest coaches in Andrei Razin to one of its most experienced in Vladimir Krikunov, followed by a massive influx of new players this off-season. Will it work, and what ever happened to Anatoly Golyshev? Read on…
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in 2016-17: 19 W — 6 OT/SO W — 10 OT/SO L — 25 L
5th in Kharlamov Div., 11th in East Conf., 21st in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Vladimir Krikunov
In: F Taylor Beck (Hartford Wolf Pack [AHL]); D Denis Bodrov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); F Andrei Chvanchikov (HK Ryazan [VHL]); F Vladimir Ionin (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Roman Kobelev (Dynamo Balashikha [VHL]); D Dmitry Korchemkin (Ariada Volzhsk [VHL]); G Jakub Kovář (Severstal Cherepovets); F Ilya Krikunov (HK Sochi); F Alexander Kucheryavenko (Avangard Omsk Oblast); F Vladimir Kuznetsov (Acadie-Bathurst Titan [QMJHL); D Kirill Lyamin (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Yegor Milovzorov (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); D Georgy Misharin (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F/D Danis Muratov* (Gornyak Uchaly [NMHL]); F Francis Paré (Genève-Servette [SUI]); F Konstantin Parkhomenko (Kuznetskie Medvedi Novokuznetsk [MHL]); F Dmitry Pestunov (Traktor Chelyabinsk); F Kirill Pilipenko (Dynamo Balashikha [VHL]); F Vitaly Popov (Amur Khabarovsk); D Alexander Sevostyanov (MVD Balashikha [MHL]); F Vyacheslav Sharipov (Gornyak Uchaly [NMHL]); D Nikita Tryamkin (Vancouver Canucks [NHL]); D Stanislav Yegorshev (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod)
Out: D Niclas Andersén (EHC Kloten [SUI]); F Stanislav Chistov (Spartak Moscow); F Oleg Gubin (Amur Khabarovsk); D Tommi Kivistö (Jokerit Helsinki); F Petr Koukal (Hradec Králové [CZE]); G Ivan Lisutin (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod); F Dmitry Monya (Unknown); F Alexander Romanov (Unknown); D Nikita Shchitov (HK Sochi); D Pavel Turbin (Amur Khabarovsk); D Valery Vasilyev (Severstal Cherepovets); D Alexei Vlaskin (CSKA Moscow); F Konstantin Volkov (Unknown)
Goaltending was not a strong point for Avtomobilist last season, although it was not quite disastrous either. Vladimir Sokhatsky provided league-average netminding in 35 games (.922 sv%), while Igor Ustinsky did not: .905 in 27 matches (the departed Lisutin was a mid-season pick-up who went .927 in six games for Avtomobilist). Kovář, who returns to Avtomobilist after a year away, was excellent for the team back in 2013-14 (48 gp, .931 sv%), but has not regained those heights since, and his last two seasons in particular have been below-average. Sokhatsky and Ustinsky are still with the team, and the latter, despite his 2016-17 struggles, has shown in the past that he can play at the KHL level. Basically, Avtomobilist’s starting job is up for grabs, and it remains to be seen which of the three will take it.
On defence, the big news was clearly the return of the prodigal Tryamkin. The 6’7″, 265 lb. 22-year-old left Avtomobilist after the 2015-16 season to try his luck with Vancouver in the NHL. But after playing 66 games last season for the Canucks (2-7-9 was his scoring line), he returns to his hometown team — dissatisfaction with his usage and ice time in Vancouver seem to be the reasons. Tryamkin’s numbers throughout his young career suggest a defensive defenceman, but a very good one at that, and he is of course still at an age where further improvement is to be expected. In short, his return is a tremendous boost to this team.
And Tryamkin has some very interesting reinforcements coming along with him. Bodrov, Lyamin, Misharin, and Yegorshev all fall into the “veteran defensive rearguard” category, and all are pretty good at it. Yegorshev in particular is a very nice pick-up; he led a decently strong Torpedo team in plus-minus last season (+22) and had the second-most ice time per game as well. None of those four, nor Tryamkin, is likely to score much, but they should be able to help their goalies out.
In fact, the scoring from defence is likely to come from returning players, and in particular Slovakia’s Michal Čajkovský. The 25-year-old was acquired from Sparta Prague mid-way through 2016-17, and proceeded to score 5-10-15 in 20 games for Avtomobilist — good numbers for a forward, let alone a blueliner. It will be very interesting to see what he can do in a full KHL season. Avtomobilist’s blueline points leader, Alexei Vasilevsky (48 gp, 6-13-19), and top goal-scoring defenceman Nikolai Timashov (57 gp, 7-11-18) are also back in the fold for 2017-18. Among the departing d-men, Andersén is likely to be the most missed (37 gp, 3-10-13), but the others are highly replaceable.
Up front, Artyom Gareyev led Avtomobilist last season in goals and points (53 gp, 18-10-28), while Slovenian Rok Tičar’s 15 goals were a nice contribution as well; both men will be back for the coming season (Alexander Torchenyuk was the team’s top assist man, with 16, and returns as well). As with the defence, none of the departing forwards looks a particularly huge loss to the team (to be harsh); Koukal was probably the best of them at 12-12-24 in 56 games.
There are some very interesting new forwards coming in, however — so many that post length constrains me to be very brief here, and pass entirely over names worthy of mention. However, the KHL veteran Paré and the highly under-rated Milovzorov are extremely useful additions to the roster, while Krikunov (no relation to the coach, as far as I know) is a good two-way forward who scored 12-23-35 in 54 games and went +11 on a not-very-strong HK Sochi team last year. Beck was a point-per-game man in the AHL last season, scoring 19-47-66 in 66 games for Bakersfield and Hartford, which earned him brief NHL visits with the Oilers and Rangers; he too represents an astute acquisition by Avtomobilist. Young Kuznetsov scored 30 goals and 68 points in 68 QMJHL games — solid but not eye-popping numbers in that league, and he could see some time with Avtomobilist’s junior team. But the real catch among the incoming forwards may turn out to be Parkhomenko. Just 5’8″ and 146 lbs., the 21-year-old broke out last year for a line of 31-39-70 in 52 games with Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s junior team, putting him third in the MHL in goals and fourth in points.
What Avtomobilist will really be hoping for with regard to their forward group, however, is a return to form on the part of Anatoly Golyshev. He burst onto the scene in 2015-16 a just 20 years, scoring 25 goals to finish fourth in the KHL in that category, got himself drafted by the New York Islanders, and seemed on the road to great things. And then came 2016-17; the goals dropped to seven, the points from 44 in 56 games to 17 in 49, and the young man even got himself briefly demoted to the VHL farm team. Shooting percentage played a part, as Golyshev’s dropped from 18.7% in his big year to 5.7% last time. His career numbers (both in pro and junior) suggest that about 12% is his norm, so while we may not see 25 goals from him again, he should rebound at least somewhat.
A lot of new players join some important returnees at Avtomobilist for this coming season, and we must wonder how the team will fit them all in. On the other hand, roster depth is a good thing to have, and the Yekaterinburg side would seem to have it in spades — this has been a good summer’s worth of work for Avtomobilist. I have concerns about the goaltending, but if it holds up this team should make the playoffs, and if things break right they could even go a round or two. It should be fun to watch what they can manage under Krikunov’s experienced eye.
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 Avtomobilist be one of them? They SHOULD be ok. While Avtomobilist’s current home at the KRK Uralets is old (1970) and small (5500 seats), a new building is in the planning stages. And Yekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth-largest city (population 1.5 million). While the on-ice results were dire last year, the team has experienced the playoffs recently (and should again, see above). They are not home and dry yet, particularly if the financial problems of a few years ago re-surface, but I don’t think Avtomobilist are in any great danger at the moment.
Next up: Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.