BY JEFF ANGUS
On Monday we took a look at the KHL Western Conference, today we look at the Eastern Conference, which many could argue is the “Star Conference”.
Ak Bars Kazan
One of the KHL teams most people outside of Russia are familiar with, Ak Bars Kazan looks to be once again of the league’s strongest clubs. Alexei Morozov is their most notable player – Morozov spent some time in the NHL with Pittsburgh about a decade ago, and he was the captain of Russia’s squad at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Islanders prospect Kirill Petrov is also one of the most important players on the club. They are in third place in the conference through 11 games.
One of a few teams in the conference with a name that is impossible to spell (or pronounce, for that matter), they are currently in last place. Claim to fame – Ekaterinburg is the hometown of Alexei Yashin. Yeah… that’s about it.
Evgeni Malkin is back with Magnitogorsk after dominating with the club as a teenager. Joining him is friend and Maple Leaf Nikolai Kulemin. They should form one of the KHL’s most potent duos. Sergei Gonchar was also signed to a lockout contract to stabilize the back end. A couple of names you may recognize – Cal O’Reilly, Oleg Tverdovsky, and Mats Zuccarello are also on the Magnitogorsk roster. Expect them to contend for the conference title.
Another one of those hard to spell, hard to pronounce teams. Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers is their most recognizable player. They are one of the better teams in the conference, and their roster is made up mostly of Russian-born talent.
Washington star prospect Evgeni Kuznetsov is Traktor’s best player, and one of the best in the league, as well. The KHL has worked hard to keep him in Russia, much to the chagrin of the Capitals organization. Kuznetsov is supported by NHL veterans like Jan Bulis and Andrei Kostitsyn. They are currently in top spot in the conference with eight wins and only two losses.
Yugra has made the playoffs in consecutive years. Their roster has no North American players on it, and not really any household names to the average NHL fan, either (unless Alexei Pepelyayev is a household name to you). They are located in the far outreaches of Siberia, and teams must dread the road trips over there.
Last season marked the first time Amur qualified for the KHL playoffs since the league’s inception. They’ll struggle to get back there in 2012-13, as many conference rivals have stocked up on talent during the lockout.
No shortage of talent on the Omsk roster – captain Alex Frolov is well-known to most NHL fans. They lost in the final last season, and are poised to return there in 2012-13. Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin has signed a lockout contract with Omsk.
NHL veteran Brent Sopel is a part of the Novokuznetsk defensive group. The club is currently holding down the final playoff spot – quite a feat, as they have yet to qualify for the postseason in their KHL history.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa
The former club of Alexander Radulov, Ufa will be in tough to replace the league’s best player. Nikita Filatov is one of a number of players on the Ufa roster who was once a prized NHL prospect (others include Igor Grigorenko and Alexander Svitov). They were the KHL champs back in 2010-11.
Sibir is currently in second place in the conference, an impressive feat considering they missed the playoffs last year and have qualified for them only once in the last four seasons. Their roster is primarily Russian born, with Canadian goaltender Jeff Glass the most recognizable name to NHL fans (Glass backstopped Canada to gold at the 2005 World Junior Championship).
This Kazakh-based team has many recognizable names – Nigel Dawes, Nik Antropov, Victor Hedman, and Dustin Boyd. Antropov and Hedman are signed to lockout contracts. They have made the postseason in each of the past four seasons; however, they have yet to advance past the first round. Perhaps the lockout acquisitions can turn their fortunes around.