The KHL regular season exploded into action this month after a full pre-season schedule. It has been nice to see fans in the stands again, albeit with limited numbers due to COVID restrictions that are still in place. Hearing crowds cheer a goal or a save has been a welcome change to the empty arenas of the NHL playoffs. Let’s hope that fans will be able to continue going to games and supporting their teams as we head into the winter.
As discussed in the previous KHL Report, there are a lot of interesting prospects playing in the KHL this year and some have already made their presence felt in this fledgling season. In this article, I will look at some of the standout performers from the first week of the season. I have yet to see all the main prospects play so I will focus on the ones who I have seen for this article. Feel free to let me know in the comments or on social media if there is anyone, in particular, you would like me to cover for next month.
All statistics accurate as of 09/12/20
Vitali Kravtsov, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (New York Rangers)
It has been a very pleasing start to the season for Kravtsov. He has been one of the stand-out players in the Traktor lineup during the first three games. His 16 shots on goal lead the team and highlight that he is making an impact on the ice. He has also been a key member of their first powerplay unit, dictating play from the right half-wall.
Playing a full season in the KHL this year will be much more beneficial to Kravtsov than splitting time between Russia and North America like he did last season. However, it is clear from the early play that he has learnt from his time in the AHL last season. It has been noticeable how much more physical Kravtsov has been, using his size (6-4, 183lbs) to both punish opposing defensemen and win battles along the boards. A lack of physicality was often mentioned as an issue with his game last season.
Kravtsov has scored one goal this season but it is another example of him using his size, along with his skill, to make a play. He fights through a couple of cross-checks to make his way to the front of the net. When he receives the puck, he makes a lovely backhand-forehand move to beat the goalie and lift the puck over his outstretched pad into the goal.
Although he is still some way off being the finished article, the early signs are positive for Kravtsov. He looks like he will be given every opportunity to play a key role on a competitive team. If he keeps progressing the way he has been, it could be a breakout year for the talented winger.
Artur Kayumov, LW, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Chicago Blackhawks)
Kayumov will undoubtedly be a key member of Lokomotiv this year. He is averaging 17:46 time on ice so far this season and is getting powerplay time on the second unit. I feel he will end up having his best statistical year this year; he has a goal and an assist in the first four games.
Offense is Kayumov’s game. He looks to drift unnoticed into the soft areas to receive a pass and get a shot off. He can also be direct when he gets the puck. Against SKA St. Petersburg, he created space for a shot on goal by faking to the inside before shifting to the outside. Although his skating is decent, he does not have the speed to blow past defensemen. Being able to create that space is a way to offset his lack of speed, and is a trait that would translate well to the NHL.
My main concern with Kayumov is his defensive game. He looked lost in his own zone on two consecutive shifts against Amur Khabarovsk, puck watching instead of picking up his man. There was improvement against SKA though, where he was noticeably more active in the defensive zone so this will be something to monitor as the season continues.
Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (Vancouver Canucks)
SKA has arguably the most exciting fourth line in the KHL this season and Podkolzin is the driving force behind that. He has picked up where he left off last season, combining high-energy, direct hockey with high-end skill. Podkolzin is also noticeably bigger this season – the KHL website has him listed at 6-foot-3 and 202lbs.
He has been a positive impact player on nearly every shift that I have watched so far this year. He has been in the face of defenders as soon as they get the puck, hunting to get it back and start an offensive sequence. His defensive work has been solid as well, including a big shot block right at the end of the first period against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to preserve a 2-0 lead.
Offensively, his directness regularly leads to opportunities on goal. He uses his speed to power past defensemen along the boards and is always looking to drive the net. The tweet below is the perfect summation of Podkolzin so far this season – a good backcheck to win the puck, skill to allow him to evade the opposition, followed by speed to gain the zone and get a shot off.
There has been a lot to like about Podkolzin’s start to the 2020-21 season. I’m sure he will be hoping to make a bit more of an impact on the scoresheet and it feels like only a matter of time before he will. A goal and a primary assist in five games while seeing just 11 minutes of ice per game isn’t too shabby. The level of play is there and Canucks fans should be excited.
Kirill Marchenko, LW, SKA St. Petersburg (Columbus Blue Jackets)
A quick glance at the stats may lead you to believe that Marchenko has had an uneventful start to the season. He has yet to put up a point in four games, although he does have 10 shots on goal. As always though, the stats don’t quite tell the whole story. Marchenko has looked good in parts, with his most recent game against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl being his best.
In the game against Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Marchenko put in a noticeable effort. He worked well along the boards, keeping possession of the puck and passing off to a teammate. He also backchecked well on a Torpedo offensive rush, which led to a turnover and a controlled zone entry the other way. But Marchenko has cut his teeth as an offensive threat and in this game, he struggled to create much.
In his next game against Lokomotiv, Marchenko looked like getting back to his best. He was able to use his great hands to beat defensemen and get a shot off on two separate occasions. In the first instance, he collected a loose puck, toe dragged around the opposing defender and had the goalie beaten but the puck just went over the net. The second effort was even more impressive. He used a between the legs deke to get around the defenseman before getting a shot off that the goalie managed to save.
The season is still young and it is surely only a matter of time before the goals and points come for Marchenko. If he can replicate the level of performance that we saw against Lokomotiv then the floodgates could open.
Ivan Morozov, C, SKA St. Petersburg (Vegas Golden Knights)
The third member of SKA’s fourth line has probably had the quietest start of the three. Morozov has been a very dependable player so far, hunting pucks and causing turnovers all over the ice. He has also spent some time on the second powerplay unit, playing down low and in front of the net. His faceoff win percentage is currently 58.8% so he is doing well in the faceoff dot.
However, he hasn’t made much of an impact from an offensive point of view. He has been held pointless through four games, with only three shots on goal. Whilst Morozov is known as more of a two-way player than an offensive threat, he has displayed offensive ability in the past. He does have the ability to make passes into high-danger areas so I will be looking for more from him in the coming weeks.
Notes from Around the League
- Dmitri Samorukov (EDM) was named rookie of the week after scoring on his debut for CSKA Moscow and averaging 18:04 time on ice.
- Ilya Konovalov (EDM) was named player of the day on 09/10 after posting a .944% save percentage with 34 saves.
- Alexei Protas (WSH) scored his first professional goal for Dinamo Minsk against Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
- Dmitri Voronkov (CBJ) has put up two goals and three points in four games, with an average of 15:14 time on ice.