Back at the end of September, I wrote a prospect report on the start of Artur Akhtyamov's season. There was mostly good news for him – he had been called up to his KHL team (Ak Bars Kazan) after starting in the VHL again. Ak Bars' starting and backup goalies got hurt, and Akhtyamov wound up starting in two games while they recovered.
In those two starts, he had a .915 sv% in two losses for Ak Bars. It was a good start for someone who hadn't played in the KHL at all in almost two years, but he showed some issues that could be improved upon. He was straying from his crease during scrambles that took him way out of position, and he had a tendency of making himself so small in net that he didn't really cover much of it if a shot came his way.
It is now, as of writing this, one month to the day since that original report was published and I once again have mostly good things to report.
EIGHT STRAIGHT STARTS
Since the last prospect report, Akhtyamov had a run of eight straight starts for Ak Bars. That gave him 10 straight starts since taking over as their starter while the other goalies were out with injury.
In those eight additional starts, Akhtyamov had:
- His first KHL win
- His first KHL shutout
- A five game winning streak
By the end of this run, Akhtyamov had a 6-2-2 record with one shutout and a .932 sv% – which was near the top of the entire KHL for goalies who played in at least 10 games.
Akhtyamov had definitely made some improvements in those two areas I mentioned. Since they were both problems that I had seen from his VHL the past two seasons, I was willing to chalk them up to an adjustment period to a more difficult level of competition.
Not that he completely fixed them, but his moments of shrinking himself or chasing a puck out of his crease did decrease in frequency. Just like we've heard about Joseph Woll in recent days, Akhtyamov is best when he plays calm in the crease. He is quick and athletic enough that he can make reaction saves if needed, and I was pleased to see him continue that at a pretty high level in the KHL. But he's even better when he doesn't have to move much – either because his defense makes things easy on him, or because he's seeing and anticipating the play in front of him.
THE RETURN OF BILYALOV AND WHAT'S NEXT
All things considered, you can't really ask more from Akhtyamov in this KHL stint. He really needed an extended run so we could see if his VHL success could translate, but starting the season he looked blocked by Ak Bars' two main goalies: Bilyalov as the starter, and Miftakhov as the backup.
After Akhtyamov's start on October 20th, Bilyalov returned from his injury and made the next three starts for Ak Bars. Akhtyamov for now has been pushed to the backup role while Miftakhov is still out. Akhtyamov did get another start on Sunday the 29th, stopping 12 of 14 shots in a 2-1 loss. It does seem like, for now, Akhtyamov will be making infrequent starts while Bilyalov gets a more regular starter's workload.
Which begs the question of what's the rest of this season going to be like for him? If and when Miftakhov returns this season, will Akhtyamov be sent back on loan to the VHL? Will they try and keep Akhtyamov as the backup instead? Will he earn enough trust to get more of a 1B than a pure backup role?
Before Bilyalov got hurt, he had started ten games to Miftakhov's one. If that same ratio holds, I think I'd rather he play more in the VHL to be honest. But since Bilyalov returned, he made three starts and then Akhtyamov got one. One in four games getting a start is a lot better than one in eleven.
If everything stays as it is right now – Akhtyamov is kept as the backup for the rest of the season, and he keeps getting into every fourth game – he'd potentially get another 10 or so starts over the rest of the season. He'd likely not get into any playoff games unless there's another injury, or to fill in partway through a game if Bilyalov struggles. If Ak Bars is eliminated from the playoffs early on, he could come to North America and at least train with the Marlies while they finish up their season and (hopefully) a playoff run.