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Saturday, August 24, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Amur Khabarovsk

Amur fans are a loyal lot, regularly filling the team's 7100-seat arena to capacity, but they had their patience sorely tested last season.  A stroll through the posts about Amur on this blog is a walk through a miserable campaign: their popular coach was fired, they were out of the playoff race by Christmas, all of their best players were traded or released in January, and to top it all off a former long-time Amur player and product of their youth system was killed during a game in the Kazakh League.  The fact that the team made the finals of the inaugural Nadezhda Cup tournament must have been scant consolation for all that.  So how has the organization responded?

2012-13 Record: 11W - 5OTW - 1OTL - 35L for 44 points -- 25th in the KHL -- 11th in the East Conf. -- 6th in the Chernyshev Div. -- Missed playoffs (lost 3-1 to Dynamo Riga in Nadezhda Cup Finals)

INCOMING: D Dmitry Bykov (Torpedo) | F Artyёm Dubinin (Lada Tolyatti [VHL]) | G Mika Järvinen (HPK [SM-liiga]) | F Artёm Kryukov (Avtomobilist) | F Jan Mursak (Grand Rapids Griffins [AHL]) | F Jakub Petruzalek (Dynamo Moscow) | D Dylan Reese (Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins [AHL]) | D Brian Salcido (SaiPa [SM-liiga]) | D Artёm Sedunov (Lada Tolyatti [VHL]) | D Denis Yezhov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk)

OUTGOING: F Nikita Gusev (CSKA) | F Juha-Pekka Hytönen (Lausanne [NLA]) | D Topi Jaakola (Lev) | D Nikita Korovkin (Unknown) | G Alexei Kuznetsov (Yugra) | F Janne Lahti (Jokerit [SM-liiga]) | F Anton Malyshev (SKA) | D Yegor Namestnikov (Yermak Angarsk [VHL]) | D Anton Poleshchuk (Admiral) | D Andrei Sergeyev (CSKA) | F Nikolai Stolyarenko (Yermak Angarsk [VHL])

Coach: Yevgeny Popikhin (since January, 2013)

Well, there is one name that jumps out at us from the "Incoming" list, and that is Jakub Petruzalek.  The Czech forward actually led Amur in points last season, despite being traded to Dynamo Moscow in early January.  At Dynamo, he did little during the regular season (2 assists in 10 games), but led the team in playoff scoring, finishing 4th in the entire league in that category.  This summer, he returned to Khabarovsk, and that can only be a good thing for Amur and their fans.

There are some other interesting acquisitions.  Jan Mursak has joined from the Detroit organization, and Reese has spent some time going up and down between the NHL and AHL too.  Neither of those players is likely to blow the doors off the KHL, but they have played at a high level and more-or-less held their own.  Amur also managed to hold onto both of the mad Loginov brothers, Vladimir and Alexander, on defense (note: they are neither brothers nor, as far as I know, mad). Vladimir Loginov was a particular shining light for them last year, playing 20:00 a night and posting a +3 in 29 games on a team that was -52 overall.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Amur's acquisitions are very much of the "sign and hope" variety.  Furthermore, the team will have to try to overcome the departures of Hytönen, Perttu Lindgren (traded during 12-13), and Gusev, last year's top forwards not named "Petruzalek,"  and I cannot see any of their new arrivals being too likely to accomplish that.  And while keeping the Loginovs was a good thing, and Reese and Bykov are highly experienced, I also do not see any likely replacement for Alexander Osipov, sent away from the defense corps during last winter's house-cleaning.

The goaltending situation remains similarly unresolved, although Mika Järvinen was pretty good in the SM-liiga last season (.925 save%).  As an interesting trivia note, he also has an SM-liiga goal to his credit, scored for KalPa during the 08-09 season.  Järvinen will share time with Alexei Murygin, who posted a mediocre .910 save percentage for Amur last season.

Setting the bar: I think, unfortunately, that we have to set the bar fairly low for Amur this season.  Success in 2013-14 will entail doing better than they did last season, and staying in the playoff hunt well into the new year.  If they can do that, maintain their fine record of selling out their arena, and win both games against their new Far Eastern rivals in Vladivostok, we can probably call it a decent season.  Actually making the playoffs would be a triumph.

Next up: Atlant Moscow Oblast!

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