From Spartak to SKA
Last week, SKA and Spartak made probably one of the most tremendous trades in the 15-year history of the league. There have been three-way trades involving multiple players, but never before has a hockey player been given such a return as much as Alexander Nikishin did. The former Spartak blueliner is already last season’s top sniper among Russian defensemen. After making his KHL debut under Oleg Znarok, he grew into one of the country’s leading players in his role in just a few years.
Alexander also played at the Beijing Olympics in February and wasn’t even close to being simply a spare player there. But for all his positive qualities, from his size to his game thinking, the compensation from SKA looks unprecedented: five players under contract (Nikita Sedov, Nikita Chibrikov, Fyodor Svechkov, Maxim Krovyakov, Pavel Kukshtel) and the rights to four players currently overseas (Ivan Morozov, Kirill Marchenko, Mikhail Maltsev, and German Rubtsov, who has already signed a try-out contract). Spartak lost one of its stars, but got a whole cadre of real and potential reinforcements. All that remains is to realize the potential of Chibrikov and Co, as the team failed to make good use of Vasily Ponomaryov last year.
From Barys to Dynamo Moscow
Having parted ways with Vadim Shipachyov and Vyacheslav Voynov in the early days of the offseason, Dynamo proclaimed its commitment to its own youngsters. According to the most pessimistic projections, the Blue-and-Whites could ice a junior lineup. Over time, however, everything fell into place. Having traded their star Russian leaders, the Muscovites replaced them with imports. They traded Stanislav Galiyev to Ak Bars for Jordan Weal. His compatriot Eric O’Dell returned to the Russian capital. There was only one piece of the puzzle to complete the roster. The missing piece was Jakob Lilja.
This Swedish forward came to the KHL two years ago, choosing Barys as his springboard. In his first season in Kazakhstan, the Scandinavian became the team’s top scorer. In just two years in Nur-Sultan, he scored 39 goals, although previously neither at home, nor in North America, he could boast such performance. Lilja will continue the hit parade of Swedish forwards wearing the Dynamo uniform. Andre Petersson, Oskar Lindberg, and Anton Wedin have represented the Blue-and-Whites over the past few years.
From Chicago Wolves (AHL) to Barys
Barys has finally started finalizing its roster. As the Kazakh club is already accustomed to, the newcomer came from North America. To be even more accurate – from the AHL. Kevin Dallman and Darren Dietz, Brandon Bochenski and Nigel Dawes and a host of other internationals who have left their mark in Nur-Sultan have followed this route at various times. Will Chris Bigras reach that high bar? The Canadian newcomer is not just the same age as Connor McDavid, but also the man who played with the world hockey superstar in both U20 and U18 national teams. And at the 2013 U18 WJC in Sochi, Bigras won the first gold of his career. Last season the experienced defenseman won his first trophy at the adult level. After switching teams as the championship progressed, Chris became a part of the Chicago Wolves. The team, for which Vasily Ponomaryov and Pyotr Kochetkov finished the season, won the Calder Cup. Bigras, however, did not play a single game in the playoffs.
From CSKA to Dinamo Minsk
Four years ago, Chris Bigras and John Gilmour both signed two-way contracts with the New York Rangers. Both ended up playing for their farm club, but Gilmore was more productive. Now the Canadiens will play against each other in the KHL. If Bigras will begin his acquaintance with the league in Nur-Sultan, Gilmore will travel to Minsk as an established KHL player. He spent the last two seasons with CSKA and even won the championship with the Muscovites.
True, John couldn't boast a permanent spot in the CSKA’s lineup. The Canadian international was more of a rotation player. Ironically, Gilmore, an offensive blueliner by nature, can boast only six points in his first season and nine in his second regular season. Part of the reason is that Nikita Nesterov and then Darren Dietz had much more room within the CSKA powerplay units. In Minsk, the mobile defenseman will have a place to return to his former self, showing more impressive stats.
From Ak Bars to Dinamo Minsk
Dinamo Minsk's defense, which seemed bleeding at the start of the offseason, is gradually starting to look more alert thanks to foreign defenders. Shawn Lalonde has already put up a fight with Evgeny Chesalin. Alexei Emelin not only scored his first points for the Bisons, but also made it to the highlight reels with hits on Alexander Nikishin and Matvei Michkov. In addition to Gilmour, the Belarusian team added another import with past KHL experience. However, Mark Barberio’s Russian history is limited to six games for Ak Bars. Playing in Kazan from late December to mid-January, the experienced Canadian defenseman produced 3 (1+2) points for the Tatarstan franchise.
Barberio went to Beijing in February for the Olympics, but he never wore the Kazan’s Green Jersey again. He formally joined Dinamo from Swiss side Lausanne, as he played on loan from the Swiss club in the KHL. At his former place, Mark was such a respected player that he wore the ‘C’ for Lausanne.
From to HIFK (Liiga) to Neftekhimik
French hockey players in the KHL, for all the internationality of our league, are still a rarity. Only Stephane Da Costa managed to stay for a long time while being in demand by a number of top clubs. His compatriots had a tougher time. Four years ago, Yohann Auvitu played just 25 games for Sochi before getting waived by the Black Sea side. And now, after his Finnish-Swedish journey, the Frenchman returns to the KHL. He is attracted to Russia not by chance. Yohann’s wife is a Russian girl named Ilariya. Together they are raising a daughter, and the defenseman himself speaks Russian – even before signing with Sochi he spent his vacations in Russia. Auvitu will make his second attempt to play in the league with Neftekhimik, which lost its leading pair of Czech d-men Knot and Klot. The Nizhnekamsk side hopes that this plan will work, gives the fact that with HIFK, the Frenchman had the most productive season of his career, then he had a decent showing at this year’s IIHF World Championship.
From Vaxjo (SHL) to Amur
On the day that Janis Kalnins flew to Khabarovsk, the Tigers signed two more imports. The first one is more or less known in Russia, Andrew Calof. He recently played for Torpedo (more successful) and Traktor (less successful). Coming from Sweden, the Canadian confirmed his reputation as a reliable sniper. After scoring more than 20 tallies for the Vaxjo Lakers, the forward reached that mark in Nizhny Novgorod as well.
In Chelyabinsk, however, Calof as more focused on helping his teammates. After two seasons in the KHL, the international returned to Sweden, where he won his second title. Calof started his pro journey exactly in Scandinavia. On his native continent, Andrew played exclusively among juniors and students.
From Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) to Amur
Calof, as an import player with past KHL experience, should take patronage over his compatriot. Simultaneously with the announcement of one Canadian, Amur announced the acquisition of a second. The nephew of famed goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who in the ‘00s was remembered for winning the Stanley Cup with Anaheim and his overly massive outfit, is now coming to the Russian Far East. His relative Cameron Lee tried to make the Pittsburgh roster in recent years, but never became a partner for Evgeny Malkin. As long as the Penguins have such a master as Chris Letang on their roster, it’s almost impossible for defensemen from the Penguins’ system to show themselves on the powerplay units. But in the KHL, Cameron will definitely be given a chance to show his offensive skills with the man advantage. His legendary namesake in our league, Chris Lee, once set a record for defensemen in points.