Admiral Vladivostok in 2017-18
After mourning the loss of a beloved club figure last summer, Admiral Vladivostok got down to business, and — for the third time in their four-year existence — qualified for the KHL playoffs. The far-easterners have yet to make it out of the first round, mind you; can a burgeoning youth movement change that? Read on…
Admiral Vladivostok in 2016-17: 24 W — 3 OT/SO W — 8 OT/SO L — 25 L
4th in Chernyshyov Div., 7th in East Conf., 16th in KHL. Lost in Conf. QFs.
Head Coach: Alexander Andriyevsky
In: F Vladimir Butuzov (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F Maxim Kitsyn* (HK Sarov [VHL]); F Roman Krikunenko (HK Ryazan [VHL]); F Tigran Manukyan (Saryarka Karaganda [VHL]); F Pavel Makhanovsky (Saryarka Karaganda [VHL]); D Ivan Mischenko (Saryarka Karaganda [VHL]); F Konstantin Romanov* (Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk [VHL]); F Georgy Sergeyenko (Zvezda Chekhov [VHL]); F Kirill Voronin (Medveščak Zagreb)
*=Player on try-out.
Out: F Denis Alexeyev (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); F Sergei Barbashev (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); F Mikhail Fisenko (Avangard Omsk Oblast); D Andrei Konev (Unknown — Suspended); F Andrei Sigaryov (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast);
Youth has most definitely been served with regards to Admiral’s forward acquisitions this off-season. Apart from the 32-year-old veteran Romanov, who will likely slide into a depth role if he is signed, the oldest new arrival is fellow-trialist Kitsyn, at 25. Krikunenko, at 19, is the youngest, and he may be the most intriguing as well. Small (5’10” and 168 lbs.) and very skilled, he scored 7-15-22 in 41 VHL games last season, which is an entirely respectable output for someone of his age in that league. The rest of the young forwards have shown well at times in their earlier careers as well, so there is potential here, although none of them can be labelled “sure-fire superstar” just yet. As far as the departing forwards go, Admiral may come to rue the exit of 19-year-old Alexeyev, who scored a spectacular 6-12-18 in just 23 VHL games and potted three goals in 10 KHL contests as well (he also made the Russian World Juniors team). However, there is a lot to like about the young talent coming in up front.
Those youthful forwards will be joining one of the more exciting young players in Russian hockey today, in Vladimir Tkachyov. Still just 21 now , he impressed observers at the Edmonton Oilers’ 2014 training camp as an undrafted invitee — to the point that the Oilers tried to sign him, only to discover that Tkachyov was still draft-eligible. 2016-17 was his first full KHL season, and it was a good one (49 gp, 14-25-39 and a two-time KHL Rookie of the Month). The same as the afore-mentioned Krikunenko and 15 pounds lighter, he very much falls into the small and quick category, and it will be fun to see what he does next.
Good as Tkachyov was, Admiral’s leading scorer was 28-year-old Slovenian Robert Sabolič, who proved himself an astute 2016 summer acquisition by scoring 19-25-44 in 58 games. Dmitry Sayustov (12), Dmitry Lugin (10), former Tampa Bay prospect James Wright (13), and Maxim Kazakov (10) also cracked the double-digit goals barrier; the last of those also added five goals in six playoff games, which suggests that we keep an eye on him this coming season. All of the ten-goal men will be back save Lugin, who departed for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 40 games into last season.
Not much change on defence for Admiral, either. While last year’s rearguards combined for just 13 goals, they did get a nice season of supporting offense from former Nashville Predators first-rounder Jonathan Blum (36 gp, 2-19-21), despite significant time lost to injury. Artyom Zemchyonok scored four goals to lead the defencemen in that category. The defensive side of things, meanwhile, was led by long-time Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils blueliner Anton Volchenkov, with Ivan Gavrilenko and Samvel Mnatsyan also helping with that chore. Again, all five of the guys mentioned here return to Admiral for the 2017-18 season, a nice bit of stability to have. However, Admiral’s defence could stand to tighten up a bit; of the 20 KHL goalies who faced 1000 shots last season, only two played fewer than 40 games, and one of those was Admiral’s Igor Bobkov (1090 SA in 38 games).
The lone new defensive arrival is another youngster in the (barely) 22-year-old Mischenko, who had been playing for Avangard Omsk’s farm team. While, like most defencemen of that age, he remains a work in progress, Mischenko has shown a playmaking chop or two in his past, and could at some point help out with the scoring from the back.
I mentioned above that Igor Bobkov was a busy goalie last season for Admiral; fortunately, he was also a good one, as his .932 sv% ranked him tenth in the KHL. The 26-year-old, a former Anaheim Ducks prospect, has had an up-and-down career (his 2015-16 sv% was .909 in 28 games for Admiral), so we will not know whether he can do it again until the season begins. However, the fact that he caught the eye of the Russian national team last season is an encouraging sign.
All four of Admiral’s goalies from last season are still with the club, and the battle for the back-up’s spot behind Bobkov should be a very competitive one. None of Ivan Nalimov (13 gp, .902 sv%), Nikita Serebryakov (14 gp, .908 sv%), and Maxim Tretyak (4 gp, .915 sv%) particularly thrived in 2016-17, with the last of those (grand-son of the famous Vladislav Tretyak) the best of them in a very small sample. All three potential back-ups are young, with Nalimov the eldest at 22.
So, a lot of youth and skill available here — this should be an exciting Admiral team to watch. Third-year coach Andriyevsky has some work to do with his defence group, and of course much rides on whether Bobkov can repeat his good work of a year ago. However, barring unforeseen disasters, this team should be right back in with a very solid shot at a fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, and if things go right that first-ever trip to the second round is not beyond the realm of possibility.
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 Admiral be one of them? Well, the club has had its share of financial problems, some of them very serious ones, and they play out of one of the KHL’s smallest rinks in the 5500-seat Fetisov Arena. So there is certainly danger. On the other hand, they fill that building very well (97% or so capacity last season), and the team makes regular playoff appearances, so there are also reasons to be optimistic. If Admiral can keep their financial nose clean, and turn in another decent season on the ice, they ought to be ok.
Next up: Salavat Yulaev Ufa