No hockey team has done more to make their roster better and separate themselves from the rest of the pack this off-season than SKA Saint Petersburg. Albeit, the Russian team does play in the Kontinental Hockey League rather than the NHL, but no one could possibly be unimpressed by the talent that SKA has accumulated. While the NHL’s salary cap structure makes it almost impossible for a “super team” to be formed like those in the NBA or MLB, the KHL does not have such a structure and SKA is set to dominate the league in 2016-17.
This summer alone, SKA has brought in four players who played in the NHL last season, not the least of which is newly named captain and Detroit Red Wings legend Pavel Datsyuk. With one season remaining on his deal with Detroit, Datsyuk informed the team that he planned to play overseas in 2016-17. Not long after, his rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes, but his true destination has always been St. Petersburg. A veteran of nearly 1000 NHL games, Datsyuk had 918 points in his 14 year NHL career. At 38 years old, Datsyuk still has a few years of production left in his homeland, and will look to lead his new team to Red Wings-like success. Joining him will be fellow 2015-16 NHLers Viktor Tihkonov, Sergei Plotnikov, and Alexander Khokhlachev. Tihkonov returns to SKA after a one-year hiatus from the KHL where he tried his hand at another NHL stint, but did not find the success he was hoping for. Plotnikov is also making a KHL comeback, as he had played his entire career in Russia before signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Khokhlachev on the other hand, is finally making his professional debut overseas after committing to North American hockey at a young age. He played his junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2011, but after failing to develop as planned and crack the Boston roster, Khokhlachev chose to return home to Russia rather than likely spend another year with the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
The four new additions are joining an already loaded SKA roster that made it all the way to the KHL Western Conference finals last season. KHL superstar Vadim Shipachyov led the team with 60 points in 54 games last season, and former NHL All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk finished just behind him. Young Russians Yevgeni Dadonov and Lightning prospect Nikita Gusev and former University of New Hampshire Wildcats phenom Steve Moses round out what should be a potent top nine for SKA. The top blue line pair is led by highly regarded KHLer and Bruins property Maxim Chudinov and former NHL defenseman Anton Belov, and the net will be well-kept with returning starter Mikko Koskinen.
While SKA may not be good enough to be a contender over an 82-game season against NHL competition, it would no doubt win more than a few games and will certainly win a majority of its games in the KHL in 2016-17. The Russian “super team” will be a story for hockey fans to follow this next year, and could be especially interesting should stars Shipachyov, Gusev, or Chudinov decide to make the trip overseas for a shot at NHL success.