Barys Astana in 2017-18
Barys missed the KHL playoffs, for the first time ever, in 2015-16, then got last season off to a terrible start before head coach Andrei Nazarov was fired in early September. In came Eduard Zankovets, results began to improve, and the season that began so badly ended in the Kazakh team’s second-ever trip to the last eight in the playoffs. But it has been a summer of deep changes, as two club legends head out, and yet another new coach arrives. Can they get back to the post-season’s second round, or even its first? Read on…
Barys Astana in 2016-17: 25 W — 6 OT/SO W — 3 OT/SO L — 26 L
2nd in Chernyshyov Div., 5th in East Conf., 13th in KHL. Lost in Conf. SFs.
Head Coach: Yevgeny Koreshkov.
In: F Pavel Akolzin (Arlen Kokshetau [KAZ]); D Darren Dietz (Hershey Bears [AHL]); D Georgy Dulnev (HK Temirtau [KAZ]); D Vladimir Grebenschikov (Ertis Pavlodar [KAZ]); D Nikita Kleshchenko (Krasnoyarskie Rysi [NMHL]); G Sergei Kudryavtsev (Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk [CHL]); F Artyom Likhotnikov (HK Temirtau [KAZ]); D Alexei Maklyukov (Dynamo Moscow); G Dmitry Malgin (Nomad Astana [KAZ]); F Anton Sagadeyev (Saryarka Karaganda [VHL]); F Dmitry Shevchenko (Dynamo Balashikha [VHL]); F Linden Vey (Stockton Heat [AHL])
Out: D Cam Barker (Unknown); F Brandon Bochenski (Retired); F Dustin Boyd (Dynamo Moscow); F Nikita Ivanov (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); G Vitaly Kolesnik (Unknown); F Ivan Kuchin (Arlen Kokshetau [KAZ]); D Ilya Lobanov (Arlen Kokshetau [KAZ]); G Pavel Poluektov (Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk [VHL]); G Kevin Poulin (Unknown)
It’s a cliche, I know, but this off-season really did mark the end of an era for Barys Astana, with the breakup of one of KHL’s all-time best lines. Since 2011-12, the trio of Nigel Dawes, Brandon Bochenski, and Dustin Boyd had been racking up the points for Barys, winning the KHL’s “Top-Scoring Line” award in 2014-15 and 2015-16. All three hail from North America (Dawes and Boyd from Canada, Bochenski from the U.S.), and as naturalized Kazakh citizens, they united as a line for that country’s national team as well. But no more: Bochenski retired this off-season, while Boyd will pull on a different blue and white sweater in the coming campaign. Only Dawes now remains in Astana.
Injuries had an unfortunate effect on the big line’s last season together in 2016-17; Boyd missed the first three months of the season with a broken arm, and finished with a stat line of 30 gp, 8-6-14. Bochenski missed time with a concussion, although he was tremendous when healthy (57 gp, 17-36-53). Dawes, meanwhile, stayed healthy and had a great year: a line of 36-27-63 in 59 games saw him finish second in the KHL in goals, and in fact tied for the second-most goals ever in a KHL season. So at least Barys fans can console themselves with the thought that Dawes is the one remaining.
It appears that Dawes will be joined by newcomer Vey and returning forward Martin St. Pierre on Barys’ top line. That could work; Vey is a good playmaker who scored 15-40-55 in 61 games with Stockton last year, and he no doubt relishes the thought of teeing up a sniper like Dawes. St. Pierre’s scoring has been more modest, but he did finish fourth on the team in points last season with a line of 54 gp, 11-20-31. And the native of Ottawa has also become a Kazakh citizen and made his debut for the national team in 2016-17.
There does not appear much to get excited about among the other incoming forwards, and that is unfortunate, as Barys got some bad news on the injury front today. Reliable Kazakh forward Roman Starchenko, a Barys player since the KHL’s opening night in 2008-09, will miss about two and a half months with a hand injury. Starchenko filled in on that top line in Boyd’s absence, and finished third on the team in goals and fifth in points (51 gp, 15-11-26). His absence will exacerbate Barys’ lack of depth at forward, unless someone unlikely steps forward (the best bet for that among the newcomers is 23-year-old Sagadeyev, who has shown some modest progress the last couple of seasons in the VHL).
On defence, Barys will once again be led by another famous player from the Canadian-naturalized-Kazakh group, in Kevin Dallman. Now 36, he is sixth all-time in KHL points, and first by a mile among defencemen (345 points in 462 games, including playoffs). While he no longer scores like he used to, he did turn in a fine 2016-17 season with a line of 9-24-33 in 60 games, finishing sixth in points among KHL rearguards, and will be called upon to do likewise or better this coming campaign.
Among the other returning Barys d-men, the most significant is Roman Savchenko, who, like Starchenko (and Dallman, for that matter), was part of that original Barys team in 2008-09. Last season, he scored 4-9-13 in 50 games, and while he has had better years, he is still only 29 and can realistically hope for a rebound. There remains a chance that Barker could return (he is currently still a free agent), but his 2016-17 season was a deep disappointment. He arrived last summer having led KHL defencemen in points in 2015-16 with Slovan, but scored just 6-10-16 in 55 games in Astana while posting a team-worst -17.
There is some promise among some of the new defencemen, particularly Dietz. A good offensive blueliner in Canadian junior hockey, he has never quite gotten the scoring to come around in the professional ranks. However, he only just turned 24, and a season under Dallman’s mentorship will likely not hurt him. The same could be said of the two young men from the Dynamo system, Shevchenko (21 years old) and Maklyukov (23). The former, a hulking youngster at 6’3″ and 230 lbs., is showing some signs of being very useful at the point on the powerplay, while Maklyukov was a KHL rookie this past season who got into 30 games for Dynamo (just two assists to show for it, but still). There is a long way to go with all three players, but there are also possibilities.
The Barys net will once again be guarded by Henrik Karlsson, after the 33-year-old Swede posted a .920 sv% in 46 games for Barys last season. That was below league average, but not by much, and he should be able to match or better that this coming campaign. Neither Poluektov nor Poulin came particularly close to league average goaltending as Karlsson’s backups, so the battle for that job will be between newcomers Malgin and Kudryavtsev. Malgin, now 30, has had a couple of cups of coffee with Barys down the years, but is generally a journeyman’s journeyman. The 22-year-old Kudryavtsev had something of a breakout campaign with Torpedo of the VHL, going .944 in 10 regular games and .936 in eight playoff contests. His .915 sv% in 27 Kazakh League games was not bad either, in the context of that circuit. It should be an interesting battle, in other words.
It is perhaps a pity that Zankovets, the coach who rescued Barys’ 2016-17 season, stepped down after the season, as it would have been interesting to see how he did with a full summer to prepare. That should not be taken as a knock on Koreshkov, mind you, but a new coach, plus a new and unproven top line, plus poor forward depth, etc. etc. may all add up to something of an adjustment season for Barys. I certainly would not write them off as regards the playoffs — there are some very good players here, and they did just make it to the last eight — but Barys Astana are likely to face an uphill battle in 2017-18.
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 Barys be one of them? No, Barys will be fine, despite poor attendance (just 39.4% capacity) and the occasional brush with financial difficulty. They play in a city of 800,000, in a beautiful new 11,600-seat arena that will host the 2017 KHL All-Star Week festivities. And they have been a decently competitive team on the ice nearly every year, having only missed the post-season once. Finally, with KHL’s burgeoning interest in the Asian near-abroad is very much in Barys’ favour. While it would be nice to see that new rink more full on game nights, there is nothing much to worry about here.
Next up: Jokerit Helsinki.