Ak Bars Kazan 2014-15 Preview

Ak Bars Kazan 2014-15 Preview

04 Sep 2014 | By Matt Tidcombe
 

The KHL season is finally upon us and Ak Bars Kazan are gearing up for their seventh season in Europe’s premier hockey league.

 
 
 
 

Last season Ak Bars compiled a 34-14-6 record but lost in the first round of the playoffs to Sibir Novosibirsk in what was a major shock but they are retooled for the upcoming season.

Valery Belov is no longer behind the bench and is replaced by Zinetula Bilyaletdinov who was previously their head coach from 2005-11 and guided them to their 2009 and 2010 KHL titles.

On the ice, there are a number of changes.

Konstantin Barulin moved to Omsk meaning Emil Garipov takes over as the teams number one goaltender. Last season he was fantastic as he went 13-5-2 with a 1.43 GAA and a .952 save percentage. Former New York Islander Anders Nilsson is the back up now.

On defense, Ilya Nikulin, Vasily Tokranov, Albert Yarullin, Shaun Heshka, Alexander Osipov, Stepan Zakharchuk, Konstantin Korneyev and Evgeny Medvedev all return. Nikulin will also be the captain for the coming season.

The newcomers include Yakov Rilov and Vladimir Denisov.

Last season, Ak Bars only gave up 108 goals, a testament to how well the team played defensively and in goal. Expectations for these two positions should be no different in 2014-15.

Up front, star forward Alex Burmistrov returns for another season with his hometown club. However, there are reports that Burmistrov may be returning to the NHL for the 2015-16 season.

Last year, Burmistrov led the team with 37 points, 10 of which were goals.

Ak Bars’ second leading scorer from last season, Tim Stapleton, has joined Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik for the 2014-15 season so Ak Bars will be without one of their key players from last season. Furthermore, Alexei Tereshchenko, who had 25 points last year, is now with Dynamo Moscow.

However, holdovers from last season include 20 + point producers such as Kirill Petrov, (29), Mikhail Varnakov (23), and Janne Pesonen (22).

Third and fourth liners Alexander Svitov, Evgeny Bodrov, Dmitri Obukhov, Artem Lukoyanov return too.

While Ak Bars have a number of key performers returning on offense, it may just be their new acquisitions that will put fear into the eyes of opposing defensemen.

Russian center Fedor Malykhin, a player who combines speed with finesse for a deadly combination, joins from Automoblist after putting up 44 points last season (22+22) in 54 games.

29-year-old winger Igor Mirnov, who had 31 points (18+13) last year comes in from Ufa, while Vladimir Tkachyov re-joins the team after spending parts of last season with Ak Bars, Omsk and Moncton of the QMJHL.

After one year with Prague Lev, Canadian center Justin Azevedo joins the team and at just 26, he’s primed to have a big year in Russia. In last season’s playoffs, Azevedo was arguably Lev’s best player.

Right winger Oscar Möller, who has won the Swedish Hockey League the last two seasons with Skellefteå AIK will make his KHL debut with Ak Bars after posting 45 points in 48 games last year while the other major summer signing was winger Sergei Kostitsyn. The controversial 27-year-old spent last year with Omsk where he had 34 points (10+24) in 54 games.

The combination of new signings, plus last season’s stars, means Ak Bars have, on paper at least, the best crop of forwards in the KHL as they feature goalscoring, speed, power and experience.

However, some players may have to take on smaller roles than they are use to as Bilyaletdinov looks to find his best forward lines.

Last season, Ak Bars averaged just 2.54 goals a game and it was partly the cause of their demise in the playoffs. However, it appears as though they will be much more deadly in front of goal in 2014-15.

Ak Bars head into the season as one of the favourites for the Gagarin Cup. With Bilyaletdinov back the team will once again be disciplined but also well structured.

With that in mind, expectations will no doubt be high, so high in fact, that lifting the Gagarin Cup might be the only expectation this season.

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