The defending champ, a new-look Traktor and two pairs of brothers in Tatarstan

Last season: lost to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in first round of playoffs

AHead coach Andrei Razin made quite an impact in his KHL debut season, leading Avto to the playoffs and giving eventual champion Metallurg something to think about in the opening round. His sartorial choices also raised some eyebrows, not least the pink jacket he donned to celebrate reaching the playoffs. This time around, there are changes though. Goalie Jakub Kovar moves on to Severstal, replaced by Salavat Yulaev’s Vladimir Sokhatsky. International acquisitions come in the form of Czech forward Jan Buchtele, impressive in last season’s Champions League with Sparta, and Rok Ticar, a Slovenian international well-known from his time at Slovan. Niklas Andersson, once of Severstal, returns to the KHL after a season in North America; unlike the European players Avtomobilst had little chance to watch him last season but Razin insists it wasn’t a difficult decision to sign him up.

Ak Bars
Last season: lost to Salavat Yulaev in first round of playoffs

The 2015-16 campaign always looked like a transitional one for Ak Bars, but falling at the first playoff hurdle was still a disappointment. In response, two of last season’s imports, goalie Jussi Rynnas and forward Mattais Sjogren have been moved on and the defense is remodelled following the departure of experienced duo Konstantin Korneyev and Yakov Rylov. Gagarin Cup winner Rafael Batyrshin arrives from Magnitogorsk, Ziyat Paigin returns to the club after a spell at Sochi. Up front the key signing is Jiri Sekac, returning to the KHL for the first time since helping Lev to the 2014 final. Local prospect Alexander Soshnin, 19, returns after two years in Saskatoon, and will be looking to prove himself in adult hockey. But the most significant change may come in the coaching staff, where Valery Belov, for so long Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s right-hand man, has left. Alexander Zavyalov comes from Torpedo to replace him.

Last season: failed to reach playoffs

The Toglyatti club rebranded itself over the summer and the new image is less redolent of the motor marque that gives its name. On the ice there are some interesting new arrivals: three-time Swedish champion defenseman Mikael Johansson arrives from Farjestad while fellow blue-liner Taylor Aronson, 24, brings a wealth of AHL experience from Milwaukee. On offense, Nikita Filatov arrives with plenty to prove. As a youngster at Columbus Blue Jackets he seemed to have the hockey world at his feet, but he himself admits that he has struggled to make the most of his undoubted talent. After bouncing around several KHL teams he arrives from Dynamo Moscow looking for a settled season to show off his skills once again.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Last season: won the Gagarin Cup

When your team wins two championships in three seasons, it’s easy to understand why stability looks like the way forward. And so there are few significant changes in Magnitogorsk this summer. Last season’s stars have stayed in place and rather than splashing the cash to bring in new faces, Magnitka is content to allow the next generation of youngsters to emerge from its youth set-up. Club vice-president Gennady Velichkin promises there will be no hangover after last season’s success and the club is primed for another celebration early in the coming campaign: star forward Sergei Mozyakin needs just five more goals to set an all-time career record for goalscoring in the Russian and Soviet championships. Mozyakin ended last season on 424; Boris Mikhailov’s tally is 428.

Last season: lost to Avangard in the first round of playoffs

Bogdan Yakimov, one of the brightest young talents in Russian hockey, is set to come back home to Nizhnekamsk on a season-long loan from Edmonton Oilers. Yakimov featured in Russia’s bronze medal-winning u18 and u20 rosters while playing for the Neftekhimik organization and was highly ranked ahead of the 2013 NHL draft, where his rights were snapped up by Edmonton. Things in Canada haven’t gone so smoothly, though, and the Oilers announced at the end of July that he was spending the coming season in the KHL. Elsewhere, two pairs of brothers will be spearheading Neftekhimik’s attack this season as the Tatar team looks for another tilt at the playoffs. The Alshevsky twins, Yaroslav and Stanislav, return to Nizhnekamsk after a year at Admiral, while the Makarov brothers, Dmitry and Konstantin, come from Salavat Yulaev and Admiral respectively. There’s further offensive power – and another Admiral connection – in the form of Richard Gynge, a Swedish forward who also featured for Dynamo Moscow and Lev, while Finnish forward Tommi Sallinen makes his KHL debut.

Last season: failed to reach playoffs

Since finishing runner-up to Dynamo Moscow in 2013, Traktor has struggled. The production line of talent that produced players of the calibre of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Valery Nichushkin has slowed and the limitations of the team’s budget have taken a toll. But there are promising signs for Anvar Gatiyatulin’s roster ahead of the current season following some shrewd summer acquisitions who can bring plenty of experience to the team. Czech duo Jiri Novotny and Michal Repik both featured in Lev’s 2014 playoff run, Paul Szczechura has been consistently productive for the Dinamos of Minsk and Riga, and Igor Mirnov is a proven goalscorer from his time with Ak Bars, Salavat Yulaev and others. On defense, Kirill Koltsov arrives from Torpedo and looks set to fill the gap left by departing two-way D-man Deron Quint.

Last season: failed to reach playoffs

The pivotal moment in Ugra’s season last time round came when Nikita Gusev was traded to SKA. Up to that point, the Khanty-Mansiysk team was riding high in the Eastern Conference; subsequently it dropped out of playoff contention altogether. That’s a familiar tale for clubs operating under the kind of budget constraints that hamper Ugra, and the summer has seen another round of wheeling and dealing to assemble a roster that can push for a top-eight finish. Goalie Alexander Sharychenkov, ex-Dynamo Moscow, will be looking for a chance to establish himself as #1 - a role his ability deserves even if his opportunities in Moscow were limited. Elsewhere there are familiar names, such as Igor Radulov (arriving from Spartak) and Roman Lyuduchin (HC Sochi), hinting at some solid, if unspectacular results ahead.

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