Нижний Новгород (17:00)
Having lauded the finest goaltenders and defensemen, khl.ru finishes off this look back at those players whose star rose or shone more brightly during the 2016-17 Championship with a tribute to the top five forwards of the campaign. We did not base our ratings solely on statistics, but also included such factors as rapid progress in the players’ careers and national team recognition.
Regular season: 60 games; 85 (48+37) points; +/- rating: +10
Playoffs: 17 games; 24 (7+17) points; +/- rating: +8
Find any sentence containing the name “Mozyakin,” and you can be sure the word “record” is not too far away. Since September of 2016, Sergei smashed so many records that we would need to create a tome thicker than Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which to list them, while finding a record he has not broken would tax the brain of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps we should limit ourselves to the most important – Sergei Mozyakin surpassed Boris Mikhailov’s career total to become the best sniper in the history of Russian national championships.
He achieved this on the way to being the regular season’s best points scorer and best goalscorer, and today’s generation of hockey fans must consider themselves very lucky to have been around in an era dominated by the most dangerous forward Russia has ever produced.
Those fans react to Mozyakin in various ways, but never with indifference. Some are impressed by his longevity (he is 36) and minimal number of injuries, others are bedazzled by how he flings, slings, or taps the puck past the hapless goalie, still others are awestruck by his puck control. In Mozyakin there is something to delight everyone, except nervous defensemen.
Unsurprisingly, Mozyakin was named as captain of Russia for the 2017 World Championships, but a rare injury cruelly ruled him out of the tournament. On the bright side, he might now find time to organize his eternally-expanding trophy and medal collection.
Regular season: 50 games; 76 (26+50) points; +/- rating: +33
Playoffs: 17 games; 19 (4+15) points; +/- rating: +6
The finest center on this side of the Atlantic – this accolade pre-dates the 2016-17 campaign, but has been voiced more frequently and contradicted more rarely as the season progressed. He is the focal point of what was probably the best offensive line of the Championship, and in a year when the Gagarin Cup was captured yet again by the Petersburg Army Men, Shipachyov was the most lethal weapon in the arsenal.
He spent the first ten seasons of his career at Severstal, and like Mozyakin at Atlant, learned his art the hard way by being the main threat in a modestly-funded team, thus attracting all the opposing defensemen’s attention.
As an established member of SKA’s stellar brigade, however, Shipachyov’s form this year went into orbit. In his 50 regular season games, for example, he provided fifty(!) assists. A craftily-disguised pass to bamboozle the defense? All part of his armory. A lethal finish to a complex combination? No problem. Shipachyov, more than anyone else, was the beating heart of SKA’s fearsome powerplay unit.
When the biggest test arrived, in the shape of a Gagarin Cup final against the reigning champion, he delivered. He and his linemates even outshone the legendary Kovar-Zaripov-Mozyakin troika, and this was one of the mini-battles which brought the Army Men victory.
Shipachyov was selected, of course, for Team Russia’s World Championship roster, and was one of the first players to be sought by new NHL outfit Vegas Golden Knights.
Regular season: 57 games, 71 (24+47) points; +/- rating: +33
Playoffs: 18 games; 23 (7+16) points; +/- rating: +2
Even though SKA strode victoriously through the entire season with some aplomb, even the best sides encounter some tricky moments, and it was frequently Nikita Gusev who rode to the rescue. Fans may remember Game 1 of the Western Conference final against Lokomotiv in Saint Petersburg. The Yaroslavl men surprised the hosts with fierce forechecking, breakneck speed and lethal finishing, but Gusev conjured up a goal and then an overtime assist to turn a looming defeat into a stunning victory.
Such coolness under pressure shows a maturity beyond his years. While this has certainly been the best season in the 24-year-old forward’s career, his call-up to the Russian national team for the World Championships was merely cementing a place he had already earned with performances in the previous Championships. He was selected for both the 2014 and 2015 All-Star Games, where his sublime shootout goal has delighted millions of YouTube viewers.
Regular season: 59 games; 63 (36+27) points; +/- rating: +2
Playoffs: 10 games; 10 (7+3) points; +/- rating: +2
Dawes has been a leader at Barys Astana for quite some time, and this was the third straight season in which he scored at least 30 goals – a figure unmatched by any other player in the KHL. Nor was he a surprise success, being a veteran of over 200 NHL games in spells with the New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers and Montreal Canadiens, but defenses still have not found a way to stop the versatile Canadian winger.
With the absence through injury of Dustin Boyd, this season added an even bigger burden on Dawes’s shoulders, and one which grew heavier when Brandon Bochenski was sidelined for the playoff series against Traktor. Nigel shrugged off both setbacks, and led his team to the Conference semi-final.
Dawes also carved a special place in hockey history this season when he became the first foreign player to break into the all-time top 100 snipers in Russian championships. And in the 2016-17 regular season his goal tally was the second highest, bettered only by a certain Sergei Mozyakin.
Regular season: 59 games; 56 (23+33) points; +/- rating: +16
Playoffs: 14 games; 14 (2+12) points; +/- rating: -2
Lokomotiv’s most successful season since 2011 coincided with the arrival of perhaps one of the finest players in the club's history, and of course, it was no coincidence. Granted, the Yaroslavl men also claimed a bronze medal two seasons previously, but the men of 2014 were nowhere near as impressive in the regular season as were this year’s vintage.
The outpouring of joy from the Yaroslavl fans at Kozun’s arrival last summer could have weighed on the shoulders of a lesser player, but Brandon fully justified their optimism and is even in the KHL’s top ten points scorers of the regular season.
There were, undoubtedly, teething troubles: Kozun had to acclimatize to the vision and demands of head coach Alexei Kudashov, who in turn had to determine the best partners for the Canadian, but come the onset of winter and Kozun was as unstoppable as, well, a locomotive, and games in which he failed to score were few and far between. When we came to the playoffs, Lokomotiv was converting around 40% of its powerplays, thanks in no small part to Kozun’s pace, puck control and vision. He is not the most physically imposing, but makes up for this with determination and courage. Two heavy hits to the head during the series with CSKA still could not keep him off the ice for long.
The importance to Lokomotiv of having this diminutive forward is hard to overstate. The Railwaymen’s five-year journey in search of a new leader is finally over, and now that spring is upon us, Kozun has extended his contract with the Yaroslavl club. News of his exploits spread across the Atlantic and has reached the ears of the Canadian national team. Brandon represented his country at the Deutschland Cup, and has every chance of joining his compatriots on a trip to South Korea for the 2018 Olympics.