A selection of notable Junior Hockey League team alumni from Upper Volga
For the past three years Lokomotiv Yaroslavl major junior team was the undisputed leader of the Western Conference. However, as it often happens, everything turned upside down in the playoffs. Underdogs, that nobody expected to go very far, went from one round to another, while Loko was losing to SKA-1946 St. Petersburg in Western Conference Quarterfinals and to Chayka Nizhny Novgorod in Kharlamov Cup Semifinals.
In the 2015-16 season Yaroslavl once again finished on top of the Western Conference but this time around they had a new head-coach and if not older but much more experienced and skilled team. Dmitry Krasotkin, who had been Loko’s assistant coach, remembered well how Chayka won the cup in 2015, while his team had to settle for bronze. Symbolically, Yaroslavl hockey legend was destined to lead the team to their first ever Kharlamov Cup championship.
It wouldn’t be true to say that Loko’s path to the cup was a bed of roses. Out of 15 games Yaroslavl played that post-season, they lost two – one to Krasnaya Armiya Moscow and another one to Chayka Nizhny Novgorod. Loko outclassed Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk in the opening round of the playoffs – ‘the Tigers’ put up a good fight only in Game 3 of the series, as they managed to force overtime.
Next on the menu was Krasnaya Armiya Moscow, who stole a win on the road only to lose the series on home ice. Then Loko faced tenacious Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk Region, who were enjoying the best season in franchise history. In the final series Yaroslavl met Nizhny Novgorod and they got their revenge for losing to them the year before.
Lokomotiv major junior team led by Krasotkin became a team where all four lines provided firepower. Nevertheless, the most dynamic line on the team was still the one with Yegor Korshkov, Pavel Kraskovsky and Alexander Polunin. They were put together by former Loko head-coach Oleg Bratash and they were hungry for wins.
After the 2014-15 season Korshkov and Kraskovsky were 15th and 16th respectively among top scorers of the league. In the championship season they were 1st and 9th.
Interestingly enough, Kharlamov Cup Finals between Loko and Chayka drew larger crowds on average than Gagarin Cup Finals between CSKA Moscow and Metallurg Magnitogorsk – 6516 vs. 6500.
In The System
Anton Krasotkin (2 games in KHL, Save Percentage - 89,1; Goals Against Average - 2,57)
There’s been a lot of talk about famous Lokomotiv defenseman and major junior team head-coach Dmitry Krasotkin’s son not following his father’s footsteps. It’s an exciting fact since Krasotkin Jr. made a smart choice position-wise and he is currently one of the best netminders among his peers. Last season Anton had a breakthrough – he played for four teams in Lokomotiv system in four different leagues, setting unique franchise record.
In Loko’s championship season he shined between the pipes, posting .941 save percentage in the regular season. He was also named Kharlamov Cup Most Valuable Player. Before Alexander Sudnitsin joined Yaroslavl, Krasotkin had a good shot to be Lokomotiv’s backup. However, now the talented young goaltender will have to wait for his next chance. Meanwhile, he’s getting decent ice-time in the VHL and JHL.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl junior hockey school has a good record of producing high-quality defensemen for Kontinental Hockey League. 2015 World Juniors runners-up Rushan Rafikov and Vladislav Gavrikov look better than others on Lokomotiv.
Rushan Rafikov (47 games, 10 points (0 goals, 10 assists), plus-11)
Due to fierce competition, Rafikov began his rookie KHL season on Admiral Vladivostok. Rafikov has a big frame and thanks to it he feels comfortable in physical battles. Rafikov is not your typical stay-at-home defenseman. Known for joining offensive rushes, he was welcome on both KHL teams. When you look at Rafikov’s statistics from this season, you can’t call him a puck hog. He has crisp passes in his repertoire and he sees the ice well, which allows him to help his teammates score goals. How else would you explain that many helpers?
Vladislav Gavrikov (45 games, 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists), plus-8)
Gavrikov has much more in common than just playing for Team Russia at the 2015 World Juniors. They were put together on defensive pairing back in their junior hockey school days. Gavrikov developed into more of a defensive-minded defenseman, while Rafikov leaned towards offense. That allowed them to become the best defensive pairing in Russia in their age group. The 2014-15 season was a breakthrough for Gavrikov – he made his KHL debut, suited up for junior and then national Team Russia. Around that time, he also proved himself as a leader – he captained Loko in the JHL earlier in the season and he went on to captain Team Russia at the World Juniors as well. Despite having been left off the scoreboard at the World Juniors, Yaroslavl defenseman showed great skating ability with defensive sturdiness and was named the top defenseman of the tournament.
Well-known trio Polunin-Kraskovsky-Korshkov in the past few years became the pride not only of Yaroslavl but of Russian hockey. As Oleg Bratash decided to put these players together, he inadvertently created a three-headed hockey hydra. It’s hard to look at them individually but they seem natural as one entity with three heads and three hockey sticks, wiping the ice with their opponents.
Yegor Korshkov (35 games, 18 points (6 goals, 12points), plus-3)
Korshkov had to wait for his Junior Hockey League debut for a long time – after moving to Yaroslavl, he couldn’t play for the junior team due to his sports nationality. Perhaps, it was the delay that helped him to get into the spotlight in his debut game for Loko – he finished the night with a goal and an assist against Red Bull Salzburg. He was also a plus-2. Yegor is strong on his skates, has the ability of getting the pucks into the offensive end and he’s really good at battling in front of the net – that’s exactly how he scored the game-winning goal in the semifinal game against Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors. Shortly after that he would become Team Russia’s top-scorer at the tournament with two goals and six assists for eight points.
Mother Nature presented Lokomotiv forward with a big frame, which he uses a lot battling along the boards and in the slot. This season Korshkov recorded 43 hits in 35 games. He also likes to draw penalties – he led Lokomotiv this season in that department.
Alexander Polunin (37 games, 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists), plus-8)
Here’s a picture that has been pleasing to eye for two years – miniature Polunin skillfully dekes around the world’s top junior players to score a goal. His laser beam of a shot from central ice and horrific mistake by Team Denmark goaltender combined for the funniest goal of the latest World Juniors. Polunin himself compares that goal with the one he scored in his debut KHL game – Polunin scored on Lada Togliatti with his first shot in his first career Kontinental Hockey League game.
Even back in junior hockey school Polunin had impressive numbers and was called up to play for junior Team Russia. However, he had to start as the 13th forward and he had to wait for a while to score his first goal. By the end of the 2014-15 season things were looking up for him – in 17 playoff games he honed his sniper skills and positioning to score seven goals and notch four assists for 11 points. That put him on the radar of Lokomotiv’s coaching staff and Polunin got called up to the KHL.
Pavel Kraskovsky (48 games, 14 points (6 games, 8 assists), plus-11)
We’re wrapping up our forwards review with the ‘brain center’ of this young Yaroslavl line – Pavel Kraskovsky. A big center, he feels comfortable in physical battles, he times his passes well and goes tape-to-tape. He’s also decent at face-offs with 48,3 winning percentage.
Concentration and productivity at the right moment made him an irreplaceable component of junior Team Russia coached by Valery Bragin. Kraskovsky finished the 2016 World Juniors as one of his team’s top three forwards, scoring two very important goals – in round robin against Team Finland and in the semifinal against Team USA. He began his hockey career as a defenseman, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise that Lokomotiv head-coach Alexei Kudashov often puts him on defense, when his usual linemates are not dressed for the game.
What About The Others?
As per tradition, here’s a list of Top-3 Yaroslavl junior hockey school alumni, who currently don’t play for Lokomotiv.
Mikhail Sidorov, Ak Bars Kazan, defenseman (36 games, 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists), plus-2)
In the summer of 2015 Mikhail Sidorov joined Ak Bars Kazan from Lokomotiv and made his Kontinental Hockey League debut in the following December. Ak Bars head-coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov even dressed the young defenseman for five Gagarin Cup games last post-season. Sidorov got off to a better start this season – he scored his first career KHL goal and got a regular spot in the line-up. A solid two-way defenseman, Sidorov was right was Ak Bars defense needed.
Sidorov’s progress in the KHL didn’t go unnoticed by Valery Bragin, who selected him to play for Team Russia at the 2016 World Juniors. Sidorov killed penalties well and looked good paired with Yegor Rykov. For example, in the opening game against Team Canada their pairing was the only one on Team Russia that didn’t allow a goal.
Maxim Osipov, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, defenseman (42 games, 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists), plus-16)
This Yaroslavl alumnus moved to Nizhny Novgorod in the 2013-14 season and he hasn’t gone back yet. Osipov has played so well for Torpedo in the past two years that he was even called up to play for national Team Russia at Channel One Cup. Osipov currently leads all Nizhny Novgorod defensemen in points and his second best in plus/minus.
Osipov has excellent defensive skills and despite being a lightweight, he doesn’t shy away from physical contact. For his excessive zeal and crushing opponents in his defensive end, Osipov is often sent to the sinbin. He has 47 penalty minutes this season.
Kirill Kapustin, Amur Khabarovsk, forward (42 games, 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists), minus-1)
Kirill Kapustin is one of those who made a name for himself in the 2012 Canada-Russia Super Series in Yaroslavl, when he was looking to get a spot on Team Russia led by Mikhail Varnakov at the 2012 World Juniors. Kapustin plays center. He was considered to be yet another future Lokomotiv star and he won bronze medal at the World Juniors. At that time he was already getting ice-time on resurrecting Lokomotiv team – first in the 2013-14 in the VHL and then in the KHL as well.
Starting next season Lokomotiv coaching staff moved Kapustin from center to the wing, lessening his defensive burden. That went well for Kapustin as he began scoring points. In the summer of 2016 Lokomotiv traded Kirill to Khabarovsk, where he received more ice-time, while still playing on the wing. However, this time he was playing top-6 minutes.