SKA St. Petersburg has always had a flair for the dramatic. This year was no different, as April 30 came with heartbreak but also happiness. With the Gagarin Cup in the bag, veterans left with a smile and those who made the cut sneaked into North America. Their replacements however, come from the lower lines. Nonetheless, the rumor mill is on fire so let’s break down the roster changes.
The obvious loss is Artemy Panarin, who signed a two-year ELC contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. We wont dwell too much on this because before we know it, he could be donning the blue sweater again because of his KHL out clause. If Panarkn doesn’t make the Hawks, then the KHL’s doors are swung open and Evgenii Dadonov can be happy again.
However, the more unreported losses are those of Patrick Thoresen and Tony Martensson. Placed on the first line, the pair dominated with captain Ilya Kovalchuk to pace the playoffs – Thoresen finished only one point behind Kovalchuk – and become the key line that helped pull the series back. Thoresen was a veteran on the powerplay, the penalty kill and spent five years as the “Viking” of the team. The loss of two key leaders hits SKA where it’s going to hurt.
With the loss of the key high scoring forwards, SKA reacted in a perfectly reasonable way: locking down the entirety of the bottom-six. Let’s start with the forwards.
First of all, Pyotr Khokhryakov, Alexander Barabanov and Anton Burdasov picked up new contracts. Khokhryakov, had a strange 33 games this season, being constantly thrown on every single line and even playing on the first line as a Viktor Tikhonov replacement. In truth, he’s a bottom-six player who as a knack for playing closer to a defenseman than a forward.
Barabanov, on the other hand, has not played as many games, but has been solid across the KHL, the SHL and SKA-1946. Outgrowing the farm team, he certainly has a place on the main team and after being undrafted by the NHL, SKA was able to lock up one of their top prospects.
The last is Burdasov, another young forward with great legs. He is not without his flaws, as he is inconsistent and has bit of a knack for taking penalties. While capable of easily handling more minutes, he was let down by a revolving door of linemates. While still a solid forward, and what other KHL teams might kill for, he is not exactly an Panarin replacement. But it’s okay, having four lines of scoring is what managed to nudge the CSKA series over.
The defense has stayed the same, with the bottom pairings being locked down, including Dmitri Yudin, Nikolai Belov and Yuri Alexandrov. The key out the three is Yudin. While heavily sheltered with limited time and nearly always in the offensive zone, he managed to stay at a prime +15 and also picked up a silver medal at the world junior champions. While he is draft-eligible and projected around 30th among international skaters, it’s unsure whether he’ll go to the draft or not. Either way, he has attracted the attention of not just the scouts, but SKA themselves. If his development continues, he could break the top-four.
Belov, a young rental player picked up in a trade, has decent enough potential and made a good partner for Yudin. Alexandrov, another bottom pairing player, racked up only eight points with constantly decreasing ice time and might not have been the strongest defenseman on SKA, but the bottom pairs are locked down in case of any injury to a Maxim Chudinov or Anton Belov.
SKA has a nice batch of defensemen beginning to blossom. While there’s no game-changing signings because of Yudin’s uncertain future, SKA are secured with their depth-grade defensemen.
While SKA’s “All money no cups” joke has now died, the one of the revolving door of goaltenders continues going round and round, aside from starter Mikko Koskinen, who had a near MVP performance in the playoffs. While Koskinen is not going to be losing out his starting job any time soon, his established backup is going to be a fight.
New York Rangers prospect Igor Shestyorkin picked up an extension. Shestyorkin may be looking for more stability, but as Roman Rotenburg summarized, the importance of Shestyorkin is already being lauded.
“Igor Shestyorkin is a true fighter. He played in three separate leagues this campaign, and didn’t let anyone down, He was a shootout expert for SKA, and then helped SKA-1946 to the MHL Kharlamov Cup final. We’re happy, that such a player will keep on progressing with SKA,” Rotenburg said.
Ilya Yezhov is said to be lost and rumors of St. Petersburg native Evgeni Ivannikov returning yet again to SKA’s system means the mess of goaltenders is going to continue. Shestyorkin is due to go to the Rangers camp this year (minus visa issues) and Yezhov is expected to be at full health. Locking up Koskinen at the same time Sibir locked in Alexander Salak means both teams have no more interest in arguing about goaltenders. SKA has a consistent goaltender with many vastly talented backups.