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This will be a shorter update that I wanted to make because we're still waiting for the third round of the CHL playoffs start – in fact, they all start later today! But in the meantime, there have been two significant championships that have been settled for our prospects over in Russia.

I had a very fun week, on back to back days seeing both Artur Akhtyamov in the VHL and Nikita Grebyonkin in the KHL sweep their finals series and winning their respective championships.

Artur Akhtyamov

Simply put, Akhtyamov capped on a fantastic playoff run with arguably his best hockey of the year. In the four game sweep, Akhtyamov's game by stats:

  • Game 1 – stopped 33 of 36 shots (.917 sv%)
  • Game 2 – stopped 38 of 39 shots (.974 sv%)
  • Game 3 – stopped 38 of 41 shots (.927 sv%)
  • Game 4 – stopped 41 of 42 shots (.976 sv%)

Summing the entire series, he had a .943 sv% while facing 39.5 shots per game. Three of the four games were won by only one goal. The other was only won by two goals with an empty net goal included.

Akhtyamov finished the whole playoffs with a 16-5 record, two shutouts, a 2.15 GAA and a .932 sv% while playing every minute of every game. He won all three overtime games his team played in during the playoffs, and if you believe in "clutch" then he certainly came up clutch for Neftyanik quite often on their run.

Akhtyamov's performance earned him the MVP award for the whole VHL playoffs, and his home team certainly agreed with it.

So what's next for Akhtyamov? Well, he was only loaned to Russia this year after being signed to an ELC last summer. He started in the VHL again, despite being dominant as a goalie there for a whole season. This year, however, he got an extended run as a #1 goalie for Ak Bars while both their backup and regular starting goalie had long term injuries at the same time.

In Akhtyamov's 17 game run in the KHL, he had a .921 sv% and a losing record for his effort. He definitely had moments where he didn't look right for the level, but honestly he was better overall than I was hoping. It showed he has some legitimacy as a goalie prospect.

That said, Akhtyamov is now 22 years old. That's not exactly "old" but neither is it young. It sounds like it's up in the air as to where Akhtyamov may play next season. In an interview, the GM for Ak Bars – his KHL club – mentioned that there was some kind of agreement with Toronto that the loan would be for two years, and they really want him back for next season. Having a full season in the KHL wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him, if it gets him more playing time at a higher level of difficulty.

The Leafs will likely have Hildeby and Peksa returning to North America for next season. They still own the rights to Petruzzelli, but he is an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer. Dryden McKay and Luke Cavallin were each signed to two year AHL contracts back in 2022, so they will also be free agents after this season.

But they could also sign other goalies for the AHL or ECHL teams this off-season. Honestly, if I bring Akhtyamov over to North America for next season I don't think I'd want him playing primarily in the ECHL. I'd want him being a 1A/1B in the AHL getting half the starts. So if they don't have room for that next year, loaning him back to the KHL to buy one year's time isn't a bad thing to me.

Though, that assumes he has a 1A/1B opportunity there too. Ak Bars' main starting goalie for the past few seasons has been Timur Bilyalov, a (now) 29 year old who had a .938 sv% in 48 regular season games and a .935 sv% in 5 playoff games. His contract reportedly expired after this season, but per some reports from his agent on the same day I am writing this, he has signed a two year extension with Ak Bars. Their main backup for the past two seasons has been Amir Miftakhov, and he is under contract until after next year. He had a .930 sv% in 9 regular season games.

So that raises the big question for Akhtyamov. I'm sure his KHL general manager would love to have the same obscene goalie depth with Akhtyamov – at best – fighting for the backup spot, him potentially only playing in around 10 regular season games in the KHL or being in the VHL for a third straight season does not sound great for his development. Not to me, anyway.

Nikita Grebyonkin

The very next day after Akhtyamov's championship win, Nikita Grebyonkin and Metallurg completed their sweep to win the KHL championship.

Grebyonkin wound up playing in 14:20 in the final game, which was the most ice time he had in the playoff since April 4th. He finished with 3 goals and 3 assists in the 23 playoff games, averaging 14:22 of ice time for the whole playoffs. Four of those points coming in the first round where he was arguably the best all-around player for the team in all situations.

It was a bit of a confusing run for Grebyonkin, which I've been touching on in previous updates. After having the most average ice time per game among all the team's forwards through the first round, it fell off slightly in the second. Then in the third he had three straight games playing under 10 minutes – including one where he didn't play beyond the first period, but was named player of the game by his teammates.

We did get some answers or at least a clearer picture once the championship was won. There was apparently a report in Russia post-game that he was playing through some kind of injury that left in barely able to walk. You can judge for yourself, but in this clip of him hoisting the Gregarin Cup his right leg does look like it buckled a bit.

Playing through an injury would certainly explain 1) why his ice time started to decline, and 2) why his teammates were still giving him their team game awards in spite of it.

The other noteworthy report we got after the game came from a Russian sports reporter. Grebyonkin was going to pursue his hockey career in North America, in fact he was expected to leave to join Toronto very soon. The reporter, Alexey Shevchenko, added "He might even be able to play for Toronto, who drafted him, in the current Stanley Cup if the club advances to the next round of the playoffs."

That... sounds less likely if he was really playing hurt, to be honest. Though if he finished playing around 14 minutes maybe he had recovered some already and could get more rest and recovery before the next round of the NHL playoffs. However, reportedly Grebyonkin himself did confirm that he was heading to Toronto.

Toronto is sitting at 49 of 50 SPCs, per Cap Friendly. So they do have the one spot left to sign another contract. That doesn't mean that they will, however, and I say that for numerous reasons. First, Grebyonkin's health would still be a question for me. Second, injury aside there's no guarantee he's ready for the NHL right now, let alone the NHL playoffs. I like him quite a lot, and I do think his playing style is conducive to the NHL and even their playoffs. But that doesn't mean Toronto has a spot already lined up for him – who would you take out for a brand new to the NHL rookie? Especially if Willy and McMann are getting closer to returning too?

If I were to guess, he may be signed to be "eligible" or not, but more likely he just wants to be around the team and maybe practice with them as a black ace. That way he gets time with the coaches and other players, so he can prepare for next season.

Other Playoff Prospect News

By now we know the third round schedules for London and Saskatoon, who will both be in arguably their toughest series of the whole playoffs even if they advance. Here are the dates:

London Knights (1) vs Saginaw (2)

Game 1 – Friday, April 26th at London – 7:00 pm EST

Game 2 – Sunday, April 28th at London – 2:00 pm EST

Game 3 – Monday, April 29th at Saginaw – 7:05 pm EST

Game 4 – Wednesday, May 1st at Saginaw – 7:05 pm EST

Game 5* – Friday, May 3rd at London – 7:00 pm EST

Game 6* – Sunday, May 5th at Saginaw – 2:00 pm EST

Game 7* – Monday, May 6th at London – 7:00 pm EST

Saskatoon Blades (1) vs Moose Jaw Warriors (2)

Game 1 – Friday, April 26th at Saskatoon – 9:00 pm EST

Game 2 – Saturday, April 27th at Saskatoon – 9:00 pm EST

Game 3 – Tuesday, April 30th at Moose Jaw – 9:00 pm EST

Game 4 – Wednesday, May 1st at Moose Jaw – 9:00 pm EST

Game 5* – Friday, May 3rd at Saskatoon – 9:00 pm EST

Game 6* – Sunday, May 5th at Moose Jaw – 4:00 pm EST

Game 7* – Tuesday, May 7th at Saskatoon – 9:00 pm EST

* = if necessary

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