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KHL’s 2020/21 Regular Season is set to open on September 2nd amid Covid-19 concerns

Will it go smoothly for Vancouver Canucks prospects and alumni?

Kontinental Hockey League Western Conference Final: SKA St Petersburg vs CSKA Moscow
Former NHL star #13 Pavel Datsyuk wards off an opponent during the KHL playoffs in 2018.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is set to open its 2020/21 regular season tomorrow when CSKA Moscow hosts Ak Bars Kazan. It is the first professional hockey league to start a new season since the hockey world stopped-on-a-dime back in March 2020. Vancouver Canucks’ former player Nikolay Goldobin is expected to suit up for CSKA in his first ever regular season KHL game. He certainly was showing off his abundant offensive talent in the preseason.

Unlike the National Hockey League (NHL), the KHL eventually decided to cancel the rest of its 2019/20 season in the middle of its league playoffs without naming a champion. They instead decided to focus upon getting their next season started at its usual time, the beginning of September.

While the NHL playoffs bubbles have worked exceedingly well keeping the Covid-19 threat completely at bay, the KHL preseason has had its share of skirmishes with the deadly virus.

It is unknown if Canucks’ prospect right winger Artyom Manukyan was one of the Avangard players infected but he only dressed for one of their preseason games. He also missed almost the entire KHL 2019/20 season due to injury and was attempting to regain his job. For the time being though, he has been demoted to the VHL (the KHL’s AHL equivalent) to start the season. His coach, Bob Hartley, certainly likes him as a player and he should be recalled before too long.

Ironically, one of the likely main reasons Manukyan lost his spot was due to the late arrival of former Canucks’ forward Reid Boucher to the Avangard club. Boucher quickly showed his goal scoring abilities notching a shootout goal in his first preseason game. He is Avangard’s third shooter in the video below. He is likely to become one of the KHL’s top snipers this season.

Nikita Tryamkin’s Avtomobilist club has also wrestled with the virus. His team’s head coach, Bill Peters, tested positive for Covid-19.

Defenceman Tryamkin’s club cancelled its final five preseason games due to the fallout from the detection of the virus on the team.

Despite the preseason tune-up cancellations, the Big Friendly Giant and his teammates are scheduled to visit Traktor Chelyabinsk in their season opener on Thursday.

The duel with the coronavirus is not limited to these two clubs. KHL president, Alexei Morozov, announced yesterday that 131 KHL players have tested positive for Covid-19 and so far 57 of those players had fully recovered. He acknowledged that the virus has disrupted preseason practices and games but the league intends to press forward with their regular games on schedule. Some teams will have some spectators for home games and others will not. Those decisions will be made locally on a team by team basis. I note the KHL like the NHL is predominantly a gate-driven league.

The virus has already cost the KHL one entire club. The league usually operates with 24 member teams. However, this season they will make do with 23 combatants.

The Admiral Vladivostok franchise decided early on to sit out for one season for financial reasons due to a suspension of local funding for the team. They do intend to return to the league for the 2021/22 season.

The KHL’s challenges this season are multiple since five of their franchises play in five independent countries. Russia only holds eighteen of the twenty-three franchises within its borders. Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan and Latvia each have one club within their own borders that call their respective countries’ home.

China’s team, Kunlun Red Star, calls Beijing home. However, due to the border travel restrictions between Russia and China, they intend to play all their home games out of a rink located in a Moscow suburb this season.

There were rumours that the Finnish based Jokerit club would also find and use a home rink in Russia. However, it now appears they will play their home schedule out of Helsinki, Finland as per usual. But Jokerit’s season opening road game in Belarus on Thursday against Dinamo Minsk is in jeopardy due to civil unrest in Belarus related to local politics.

Speaking of Jokerit, guess who their number one center this season is?

Yes, number 10 is former Vancouver Canucks 2009 1st Round NHL Entry Draft pick Jordan Schroeder. The KHL is fast becoming the blue-and-green’s own Island of Misfit Toys.

Of course, Canucks Nation is most interested in its blue-chip prospect Vasily Podkolzin. He is embarking on his KHL swan-song with all roads leading to Vancouver on May 1st, 2021. He and his teammates appear to have avoided Covid-19 so far. However, the Russian Red Bull has been snakebit and did not score a goal in the preseason. Some of the drought is due to intransigent goal posts. But those same goal posts almost caused him a serious concussion injury.

Fortunately, it appears the young man is indestructible. He came out for the next period and immediately drove to the net on his first shift drawing a penalty shot. KHL rules allow the coach to choose the player to take the penalty shot. SKA’s coach chose his number one center to do the honours. And yes, SKA’s top middle man is another Vancouver Misfit Toy...the one and only Linden Vey.

Podkolzin and his SKA crew open their regular season on Friday on the road against Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.

I will be following all the Vancouver Canucks’ unsigned overseas prospects as I usually do. So far it appears all the European leagues will soon be joining the KHL and starting their own 2020/21 regular seasons up as well in the next few weeks. This year a new wrinkle is that more signed Canucks’ prospects have been loaned to clubs overseas until Vancouver’s 2020/21 training camp opens tentatively in November 2020. It will be an unique journey for potential future Canucks playing overseas this season. It should be fun to follow their progress as their seasons unwind.