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Thursday, September 12, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Avangard Omsk Oblast

Avangard actually had a very nice 2012-13 season, finishing up with 102 points and 3rd place in the league, but that was overshadowed by the disaster that befell them in the second round of the playoffs.  Avangard ran into Traktor Chelyabinsk and a red-hot Michael Garnett, and were shut out four times in five games.  Have they responded by blowing up the forward corps?  No, actually, but if you were very attached to any of the Avangard defensemen last season, you may be in for a bit of a shock...

2012-13 Record: 28W - 9OTW - 6OTL - 11L for 102 points -- 3rd in the KHL -- 2nd in the East Conf. -- 1st in the Chernyshёv Div. -- Beat Sibir Novosibirsk 4-3 in Conf. QFs -- Lost 4-1 to Traktor Chelyabinsk in Conf. SFs

INCOMING: F Alexei Badyukov (Vityaz) | D Ivan Baranka (Salavat Yulaev) | D Miroslav Blatak (Salavat Yulaev) | F Denis Kazionov (Severstal) | F Sergei Kostitsyn (Nashville Predators [NHL]) | F Oleg Kvasha (CSKA) | D Denis Kulyash (Ak Bars) | G Teemu Lassila (Barys) | D Nikolai Lukyanchikov (Neftekhimik) | D Dmitry Vorobёv (Torpedo) | D Stanislav Yegorshev (Severstal)

OUTGOING: D Anton Belov (Edmonton Oilers [NHL]) | F Alexander Bumagin (Severstal) | D Sergei Gusev (Avtomobilist) | D Stanislav Kalashnikov (Severstal) | F Matti Kuparinen (HIFK [SM-liiga]) | F Anton Kuryanov (Traktor) | G Alexei Kuznetsov (Yugra) | F Alexander Nesterov (Spartak) | F Vladimir Pervushin (Admiral) | D Oleg Piganovich (Donbass) | D Georgijs Pujacs (Dinamo Riga) | G Karri Rämö (Calgary Flames [NHL]) | D Anssi Salmela (Donbass) | F Andrei Taratukhin (Neftekhimik) | D Pavel Valentenko (Torpedo) | F Igor Volkov (Spartak)

Coach: Petri Matikainen (since Summer, 2012)

As mentioned, Avangard Omsk were very good last season, and even though their offense ranked "only" eighth in the KHL (152 goals) and failed heavily in the second round of the playoffs, it is actually no real surprise to see that they have kept the forward corps relatively intact.  The big three of Alexander Frolov, Alexander Popov, and Czech Tomas Zaborsky are all returning to the Avangard lineup, as is Alexander Perezhogin, and those four all represent fairly decent potential to put up points.  Even one of the newcomers, Sergei Kostitsyn, is a familiar face, as he wiled away the NHL lockout in Omsk last season.  Kostitsyn brings some baggage with him from Nashville, but he scored 29 points in 27 games for Avangard in 2012-13, and he should be welcomed back with open arms.  Denis Kazionov showed some scoring potential in Cherepovets last season, with 14 goals in 45 games, so he should be a useful addition as well.  Oleg Kvasha will bring size and veteran-ness, but perhaps not much else - his game seems to have gone off a bit of a cliff, as he went 4-4-8 and -3 in 35 games with CSKA Moscow last season.  Nonetheless, Avangard have little to worry about up front.

It is a different story on the blue line, as Avangard have basically turfed their entire quite solid 2012-13 defensive group.  Some of it was not of the team's own volition, as Anton Belov was lured away to Edmonton and the NHL.  He will be greatly missed, as will Pujacs and Piganovich.  Although Valentenko, Kalashnikov, and Salmela were not quite as impressive last season, they all saw regular time on the ice, and thus there are even more holes to fill.  Nikita Pivtsakin and Kirill Lyamin are basically the only two regulars from 2012-13 who remain.

Fortunately, Avangard have brought in some solid names as replacements for the departed d-men.  Baranka and Blatak were regulars for their respective teams last season, and Kulyash and Yegorshev had a very solid 2012-13 campaigns with Ak Bars and Severstal.  Nikolai Lukyanchikov had a very troubled 2012-13, scoring 1-0-1 and going -6 in only 18 games split between the KHL and VHL, but he was excellent in the lower league in 2011-12 (11-13-24, +14 in 48 games with Dizel Penza), and is only 24 years old.  He was brought to Avangard on a try-out deal, and has earned a place on the roster.  However, the real catch may turn out to be Dmitry Vorobёv.  His numbers with SKA last season do not jump out at you (0-5-5, +2 in 34 games), but given how stacked that lineup was, it is unlikely that he saw prime minutes in St. Petersburg.  He may do better in a more prominent role.  Avangard's defense is unlikely to be as strong as last season (The loss of Belov is particularly heavy blow), but it should not be that much weaker either.

In goal, it must be said that there is some worry for Avangard.  Away to the NHL is Karri Rämö, along with his very good .929 save percentage from a year ago.  Avangard have gone Finnish again with his replacement, as Teemu Lassila comes over from Barys.  Unfortunately Lassila was terrible in Astana last year, with a ghastly .895 save percentage in 23 games.  The good news is that injury may well have been a factor - Lassila's season ended early, and his .925 2011-12 save percentage in Novokuznetsk suggests that last season may not be representative of what he can do when healthy.  Avangard will certainly be hoping so!  In any case, returning local boy Eduard Reyzvikh will reprise his backup role, and he is certainly adequate for that.

Setting the bar: There are a few questions about Avangard's defense and goaltending, but this is still a pretty good team, and it will be interesting to see what happens when they run up against the likes of Ak Bars Kazan in the East.  However, we will keep expectations reasonable here, and say that they need to make the second round of the playoffs and put up a fight there in order to call the season a success.  It is close, though, and you can certainly make a case that they should be in the East finals.

Next up: Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod!


  1. Kvasha spent last season in CSKA, not Dynamo. Defense isn't very weaker; Salmela, Piganovich and Pujacs won't be missed at all, I can assure you. Only real loss in defense is of course Belov.

    As long as line Zaborsky - Popov - Perezhogin line is there I see Avangard as division Chernyshev winner.

  2. Thanks for the heads-up about Kvasha. I actually had it right in the list of players coming in, and then managed to get it wrong in the discussion bit... :/

    Agreed that Belov is the big loss at the back - the other guys have been replaced, and I probably did over-rate Piganovich a bit, looking at it again. I like Pujacs, though - he's not a star, and certainly not as good as Belov, but he's a useful defenseman and should be able to help Dinamo Riga out this season.

    I also agree with you that Avangard should finish in a good spot (although things are not going well today for them). Barys Astana can obviously score, but until they get the defense and goaltending figured out, they will have trouble challenging for the division title. Salavat Yulaev are decent too, but I don't think they're as good as Avangard! :)