Almost a month has passed since the opening of the free agent market in the KHL. Far from all clubs have completed the task of forming a line-up for the next season, but this does not seem to apply to SKA St. Petersburg. The finalists of the Western Conference actively spent May, signing seven new hockey players at once.



Zhafyarov – in SKA, Kovalenko – in “Torpedo”. KHL transfer table

Strengthening the club from the banks of the Neva really needed. The composition of the army team was hit hard by the massive outflow of legionnaires from the KHL: three leaders of St. Petersburg in average playing time left the team at once – Lehtonen, who included the Great Nehochuha in the playoffs, hastened to terminate the contract immediately after it ended; Robinson, whose signing and frequent use raised many questions (at first his move was perceived as a panic buying), which became even more during the Gagarin Cup, retired; and Fantenberg, who first gave St. Petersburg the hope of reaching the first final since 2017, and then gave CSKA the seventh match, at first, it would seem, remained in SKA, but then nevertheless also terminated the contract.

But the biggest loss for the northern capital was the departure of one of the best goalkeepers of the season, Lars Johansson, and center forward Joonas Kemppainen, who was an important part of the shock link with Andrey Kuzmenko and Anton Burdasov. By the way, the last two also left St. Petersburg – Kuzmenko, after the best season in his career, reasonably went to conquer the NHL, and Burdasov returned to his native Chelyabinsk, signing a contract with Traktor.

Andrey Kuzmenko, Anton Burdasov and Joonas Kemppainen in SKA

Andrey Kuzmenko, Anton Burdasov and Joonas Kemppainen in SKA

Photo: photo.khl.ru

It turns out that overnight SKA lost its best six, losing the first goalkeeper, the first pair of defenders and the first link of attackers. By the way, until about the middle of the season that ended, these were the only fully formed and played combinations (with the exception of the pair of Ozhiganov – Fantenberg, which was nominally the first) – in the rest, the rotation was carried out almost until the very beginning of the playoffs not only between matches, but often during them. Now the coaching staff of St. Petersburg will have to rebuild all this.

St. Petersburg will probably be sculpting a new first link from expensive newcomers – one of the Zhafyarov pair – Khairullin (most likely Damira) will be retrained as a left winger (SKA is not used to doing this), and Nikolai Prokhorkin will return to the center. Nikita Gusev may well be on the left flank (if, of course, he signs a new contract), but they are unlikely to ruin his connection with Mikhail Vorobyov and Danila Moiseev in the second three.


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We must immediately make a reservation that any of these options for the first link will not be an equivalent replacement for the previous one. In the trio of Kuzmenko – Kemppainen – Burdasov, everyone had excellent offensive duties – Andrey was in charge of creativity and could create threats from literally any angle, Anton acted as a pronounced sniper, which SKA will no longer have, and Joonas created traffic on the penny , which the army team really lacked in the playoffs.

The same was true of the game in defense – Kuzmenko actively met the opponent in his zone, while Burdasov and especially Kemppainen concentrated more on actions at their own goal. The Finn was especially useful – again, when playing on a nickel. In the new top three (whatever it may be), there is simply no one to take on the functions of the Finn. Prokhorkin is a little fan of wrestling in the slot, and the appearances of Zhafyarov and Khairullin there are more episodic in nature.

Marat Khairullin

Marat Khairullin

Photo: photo.khl.ru

At the same time, the invitation of each of them is fully justified by the need for SKA to fill the gap in the composition after the departure of a good half of the leaders. But the signing of two other forwards – Artyom Fedorov and Nikita Komarov – is not yet entirely clear. As the Honored Master of Sports and coach Alexander Yudin rightly told the “Championship”, in the conditions of a limited choice of right-handed forwards (there is only one left at the heart of SKA), Fedorov acquires special value in the market. Komarov, on the other hand, comes to the club as a replacement for the namesake Leo and Evgeny Timkin as a brute force.

But in this case, what to do with Zykov, Galimov, Khusnutdinov, Tsitsyura, Shvets-Rogovoy, Bardakov, Ketov and the remaining Volkov who extended the contracts? In the championship youth team (and SKA, as they say, is preparing the best youth in the country), the MVP of the Kharlamov Cup Krovyakov (overall right-handed forward-universal), Svechkov, Chibrikov, Groshev and, of course, Michkov, who could already get time at the base, are growing up – what will the club do with them? It seems that we will get an answer in the middle of the season, when someone shoots at Sochi or Vityaz.

Forward SKA-1946 Maxim Krovyakov

Forward SKA-1946 Maxim Krovyakov

Photo: photo.khl.ru

The same, in principle, applies to defense. By coincidence, the enumeration of defense players played into the hands of the army team in the segment, when almost all the leaders dropped out due to injuries. Then Sedov, who moved from Sochi during the season, showed himself quite well, in the first pair with Robinson Pylenkov received due attention and playing time, one of the few local pupils of Gryaznov did not spoil the weather at all, Kirsanov received constant playing time before leaving for the MFM. In addition to the experienced Ozhiganov, Falkovsky, Rukavishnikov, who returned in early May, and (with a stretch) Kamalov, this would be quite a good set for next year.

But for some reason, this was not enough for the SKA management (even taking into account the upcoming reinforcements from SKA-1946 in the person of Koromyslov and Smirnov, who had already taken to the ice several times in the KHL). And then Mikhail Pashnin and Andrei Pedan appeared in St. Petersburg. Two tough players who, together with Falkovsky, will have to take on the responsibility of conducting a power game (which is not always, especially in the case of Andrey, beneficial to the team), which was not so much in the previous season – then the emphasis was placed for tight care. And here again the question arises of the distribution of playing time – it is unlikely that the top three defenders were signed for marinating in reserve. And this means that the youth, among which is the most useful defender of SKA last season, Pylenkov, will again be pushed into the reserve.


An excellent Russian defender is growing up in SKA.  Tampa chose Pylenkov for a reason
An excellent Russian defender is growing up in SKA. Tampa chose Pylenkov for a reason

It’s still too early to talk about the prospects for SKA next season – before the start of the previous regular season (respectively, before the massive strengthening), it seemed that the conference finals would be a jump above their heads for St. Petersburg. It is interesting to see how the club will solve the goalkeeper issue – will they go with a pair of Samonov – Nikolaev in the season or will they try to invite someone from other KHL clubs or even from abroad.

In the meantime, the selection of the army team is a bit like chaos: let’s take the best available players now, and what to do with them – we’ll figure it out later.

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