Akhtyamov has been in odd position the past couple of seasons. He was a mid round pick without much fanfare, and while he's had pretty strong numbers in all but one season since then it hasn't really mattered. The problem is, any Russian goalie who has become a regular NHLer has progressed to much higher quality leagues than the VHL. I wrote about that last season:
After signing an ELC this past off-season, I had some hope that he might get some AHL time. But in the middle of their development camp, it was announced he would be loaned back to Russia. Problem was, his Russian team still had the same two goalies that they ran with all of last season in the KHL. So he didn't have an obvious path to getting playing time there.
And through the first few games this season, it didn't seem like anything was going to change. After having a good but not great pre-season with the KHL club, Akhtyamov was loaned to the same VHL team he was on last year to start the regular season this year.
In his first three starts in the VHL, he was mostly back to his form from 2022/23. In three games, he had a 2.02 GAA and a .933 sv%, including one shutout in his most recent VHL start.
But then there was some hope. He got called up to serve as the backup for Ak Bars in the KHL. I looked through all of their social media and news posts, in English and in Russian that I translated to at least get a general idea of what was happening. Their usual backup, Amir Miftakhov, was never mentioned as being hurt, not even being just banged up or nursing a nagging injury and needing a break for a bit. But the last time that Miftakhov played in a game was September 6th, and he served as backup for the next three games after.
Regardless, Akhtyamov served as the backup instead on September 16th, 18th and 24th. In that final game on Sunday, he actually got into the game! For all of 1:40, to end the game. He did make 2 saves in that time to help Ak Bars finish off a 4-2 win. After the game, I checked through their socials and website again to see if they gave any indication for why the starting goalie was pulled so late in the game. This time, they actually said something.
TL;DR: Ak Bars was going on a two game road trip, and announce three goalies would be traveling with them. Akhtyamov was one of them, but neither of the two others were their usual starter OR backup. Needless to say, Akhtyamov wound up getting both starts on that mini road trip.
In the first game, Ak Bars lost 3-2 with the other team scoring the go-ahead goal very late in the third period. Akhtyamov played pretty well overall, but was not spectacular. He stopped 26 of 29 shots, with the three goals being scored against him not being obviously his "fault". The first goal was a short handed 2 on 1, the second goal was another odd man rush, and the third goal was a completely screened point shot.
The one thing I would say is that on two of those goals scored against Akhtyamov, he looked very "small" in that he wasn't taking up a lot of the net – especially the top of the net. On the point shot goal, he looked like he was playing very low, either because he bet on it being a low shot or because he was trying to see through everyone's legs since he's not tall enough to see over anyone.
However, Akhtyamov also made some good saves. He was perfect on the penalty kill, for example. He stopped some other rush chances and made all of the easy saves he had to make. In the post-game bits, his coach spoke well of him and his efforts. Here are some highlights from the first game:
In the second game, Akhtyamov was again the starter and he faced an onslaught early on. Ak Bars were outshot something like 12-3 in the first 15 minutes or so, as they took two penalties and just had nothing going for them. It took Torpedo taking two penalties later in the period, including part of a 5 on 3, for Ak Bars to bring the shot totals to look less bad – but it was still 13-8 for Torpedo.
The first goal Akhtyamov gave up was on the penalty kill off a cross ice pass, so a high danger shot. Akhtyamov did get across in time, but he overshot his push and the goal went past his pad to pick the far bottom corner. This is something else I've noticed about his game – for the most part, he plays very positionally and will look very calm and in control in the net. He looks very strong on low shots, especially when he's set. But when you force him to move more, that breaks down and he can get pretty wild. And he's not as big as other goalies where he takes up enough of the net that he can afford to lose some of his positional control.
The second goal he gave up was the overtime winner, which was also on the penalty kill. It was a wide open guy at the point who had room to step in, then fire a shot-pass for a tap in at the side of the net. Not much to do about that. He was pretty solid through the rest of the game, and helped them get to overtime in the first place. Here are the highlights for the game:
Here are my thoughts on Akhtyamov's play this year and last. to play quiet, calm, and in control of his positioning. Once he starts needing to move, get low, or cover as much of the net as he can is where he gets into trouble. There was a moment in his first KHL game where he was overzealous getting across to challenge a shooter and took himself out of his crease. A chaotic scrum in the crease ensued, and Akhtyamov was actually unable to get back into the crease to do anything until the puck was cleared. He got lucky then, he won't get away with that all the time.
Akhtyamov's size is a concern if he cannot adapt to tougher levels of hockey than the VHL. It never looked like a limiting factor in the VHL, but in the KHL I notice it more. He seems to gamble on covering more of the net low, and leave the upper parts of the net with less coverage. At least, that's been the case so far through two KHL games. Funnily enough, in his second game they really shot low on him a lot, I'd almost think they scouted him and told their players to aim five hole or something.
So where does that leave Akhtyamov? He has had two losses for Ak Bars in his two starts, but he has generally played well. His save percentage is a good chunk higher than either the main starter or the other backup (who has only played in one game). As long as both other goalies are hurt, we should see Akhtyamov get a real run of games here. If we want to think that he is a legit goalie prospect, we should expect him to play well and steal a job with his KHL team. Being sent back to the VHL is not what we want to see – he needs a run of KHL games for us to really assess what he is.