The free agent market has some big names floating about. So far SKA St. Petersburg has been less then dramatic, but with the import spaces now wide open, the team fished out two forwards, Joakim Lindstrom and Jarno Koskiranta, and a defenseman, Andrei Zubarev. The club is filling up on top-six forwards and what is arguably a top four defenseman, trying to patch the holes left by the departures of Artemy Panarin and Patrick Thoresen.
Zubarev is an important addition to the club. , because while SKA’s defense was not hurt, it was a big negative for the team. With goalie Mikko Koskinen facing the most shots against during the playoffs, and last season’s disastrous penalty kill, looking towards a veteran defenseman who works both sides of the ice was a better pick up. Having a top pairing of Anton Belov and Maxim Chudinov is all very good for offence, but with constant turnovers and a slowly declining plus minus stat – not necessarily their fault but notable – adding another top four veteran defenseman with an Atlanta Thrashers connection with captain Ilya Kovalchuk will help stabilize the top. He also comes with a degree of offence, fifth on the struggling Salavat Yulaev in scoring while playing the second-highest time on ice for defenseman. A veteran at all levels on both sides of puck is a great pick-up for SKA, fortifying the penalty kill and easing the pressure off Koskinen. Team vice-president Roman Rotenburg talked about his hopes for him to become “one of our leading defensemen,” which, if fused neatly with coach Slava Bykov, could make SKA a running contender for another year.
The two forwards that were signed are a little different. We will start with the KHL native. Koskiranta, fresh from Sibir Novosibirsk after two seasons, picked up 42 points in the regular season and 6 during the playoffs. While on the older side of 28, he is most likely going to end up recreating the “Foreign line” alongside Roman Cervenka, replacing Tony Martensson and Thoresen. But the main reason why he is here is because he is a Rotenburg player. He is an offensive talent with fast legs and great sense, a guy who I mentioned in my Sibir piece as being a strong part of the Nordic core: with speed, offensive gifts and character, or a“fighter,” as Rotenburg usually says. He racks up fifty points and is a versatile player that might not be a Panarin replacement, but reconstructing that third line, or the two that became the top line, is important. Rotenburg might not be a gift like Alexander Radulov, but he’s fixing the parts of the team that gave them the power the win the cup, the lower depth lines.
Lindstrom is the elder of the two and has been in a revolving door through various leagues, last suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs before arriving at SKA. Lindstrom is a player that will be able to slip in alongside Koskiranta will little difficulty. While he won’t be SKA’s strongest player, he would fit in as an equivalent of the foreign line’s Martensson. His age (31) shouldn’t hold him back, as he was still producing points with the Leafs and was the best player for Sweden at last year’s IIHF World Championships. Rotenburg needed a veteran two-way forward and that is exactly what he got. However, where he lands is up to Bykov and his rather unique way of random line shuffling to see whether he’s used as a two-way forward or a scoring forward.
Rotenburg knows what made SKA good and bad and has addressed the issues of who is staying and who is going; by locking down the bottom six and securing the holes left wide open by the departing players. With the potential loss of Viktor Tikhonov too, we might see Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeni Dadonov take the first line with Kovalchuk, while the two new additions and Cervenka could form the second line, with the third and fourth line being any combinations of the promoted 46ers, with names like Anton Burdasov and Alexander Barbanov leading the charge. While we might not see another breakout by Panarin, the holes have been cemented over straight away alongside those who have stayed.
While it’s not over yet, SKA will go into next season holding nearly all of their Gagarin-winning team. The hole left by Panarin and whether the new signings can truly match the long-term efforts of Thoresen and Martensson wont be seen until at least the preseason. Either way, under the ever watchful management, SKA is looking to make a run for not just another Gagarin but the championship itself.