Welcome to our KHL Season Preview, the Kontinental Hockey League or KHL, will be opening its 10th season as a league on August 21st, 2017. Which is great if you’re itching to watch some hockey, however, you would have to go online to do so, unless you live in Europe. There are some interesting things to be noted for this upcoming season as I will get into detail with down below.
Teams to Watch For:
CSKA Moscow may have finished last season with the most wins (41) but SKA St. Petersburg tied them in points (137) and eventually went on to win the Championship. Those are two top tier teams in the league. One is highlighted with players such as Lars Johansson, Alexei Marchenko, Nikita Nesterov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Kirill Kaprizov, Roman Lyubimov, Valeri Nichushkin, Alexander Popov, Ivan Telegin, and Vladimir Zharkov. The other (SKA) has some pretty notable players as well. Mikko Koskinen, Anton Belov, David Rundblad, Andrei Zubarev, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Kalinin, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Plotnikov, Sergei Shirokov, and Viktor Tikhonov. Both of these teams are pretty much even, the only downside for SKA is that they lost star center Vadim Shipachyov to the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. These two teams will most likely be at the top of the standings come to the end of the season, but with Pavel Datsyuk getting older, who knows how much he has left in the tank.
A player to definitely keep your eyes on is Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Sergei Mozyakin. Despite not having an elite level center to play with he dominates the left winger position and last season put up 85 points in 60 games, seven more than Ilya Kovalchuk who had Pavel Datsyuk to play with. And speaking of Datsyuk he only played 44 games last year and in doing so put up 34 points. Some other notable scorers to watch for are Nikita Gusev of SKA, Linus Omark of Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and Kirill Kaprizov of Salavat as well who is expected to have himself a breakout season after putting up 42 points in 49 games. While there isn’t many top tier forwards in the KHL like there is in the NHL there are still some guys who can get the job done.
Canadian defenseman Chris Lee led all d-men in scoring by a massive margin last year when he put up 65 points in 60 games. The next closest d-man was Matt Gilroy who used to be a highly touted player before stumbling in the NHL, he had a 38 point campaign in 57 games. Another defenseman who had himself a solid year and should do so again is former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Vyacheslav Voynov who put up 37 points in 48 games, whether or not he will ever return to the NHL for the Kings is definitely unknown but would be great for the team. Some other notable names to keep your eyes on would be Sami Lepisto of Salavat, Anton Belov of SKA, and Jakub Jerabek of Vityaz Podolsk.
Even though the league was dominated by teams such as CSKA and SKA last year, they were definitely overlooked when it comes to netminding with Pavel Francouz of Traktor Chelyabinsk. In 30 games Pavel put up a 1.43 goals-against-average along with a .953 save percentage. That’s astonishing for a team that finished middle of the pack, it’s too bad he didn’t have more to work with last season. For instance, Igor Shestyorkin of SKA, last years champs, had a save percentage of 1.64 and a save percentage of .937. One goalie to keep your eyes on this year is Washington Capitals netminding prospect Ilya Samsonov. Last year he played in 27 games for Metallurg earning a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .936 save percentage. If he becomes a starter this season, which is very likely he could play upwards of 30+ games and post some even better numbers, and who knows maybe push Magnitogorsk into the finals and maybe even a championship.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Ilya Kovalchuk does after no one would take him this offseason in the NHL. And with Shipachyov now gone to Vegas, he doesn’t have a second elite center to play with if Pavel Datsyuk stumbles. So it’s safe to assume Sergei Mozyakin will most likely win the scoring title again. There are some new faces in the KHL as well this year, Ryan Garbutt who played for the Anaheim Ducks last season is now gone to HC Sochi. Former King and Montreal Canadiens winger Dwight King is now gone to Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. As well as Nashville Predators former goaltender Marek Mazanec who signed with Slovan Bratislava.
The KHL can be a very wide open league from teams having 137 point seasons to some putting up just 40. But what is for sure is the fact you can expect CSKA and SKA back on top of the standings once again.