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Avalanche Prospects Start Strong In KHL Playoffs



Avalanche Gulyayev

While the Colorado Avalanche are gearing up for their stretch run towards the playoffs, the KHL has already started their version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and two Avalanche prospects got their postseasons started with a bang.

Let’s start with Mikhail Gulyayev, who really had a very strong season for an 18 year old defenseman. The KHL is not always kind to young players, but not only did Gulyayev earn a regular spot out of camp, his role grew as the season went on, to the point where he was a top four defenseman by the time the playoffs started. And he doesn’t exactly play for a poor team, either. Avangard was the second best team in their conference, and could go on a real run.

They played game one early (for us folks in North America) Friday morning, and Gulyayev made an impact immediately. On their second goal, he picked up the primary assist, getting the breakout started. By the end of the game, Gulyayev decided he wanted in on the fun, and pinched in for his first career KHL playoff goal. It actually starts in his own end, as he takes a hit to get the breakout going.

Gulyayev finished the game with 16:10 of ice-time, two points, and five shots on goal, which tied for the team lead. Like I mentioned, I could easily see that team going on a run, so Gulyayev might be playing well into April.

Remember that he signed an extension earlier this year, so he won’t be coming to North America until at least 2026.

Gulyayev isn’t the only Avalanche prospect who started their postseason with a bang. Nikolai Kovalenko, whose Torpedo squad floundered down the stretch, helped his team surprise all of Russia, as they went into SKA’s building and beat the powerhouse team by a score of 5-2. I fully expected them to get blown out, given how their season finished, but they played a completely different style of play than what they’re used to playing, focusing on defense.

Kovalenko hinted at that. Here’s his quote that I found prior to the playoffs. It’s the type of quote a coach would love to read from one of his players.

Igor Larionov put Kovalenko back at center, and with no other center on his line, he did handle a lot of the defensive duties. He got the good mojo started after Torpedo’s goaltender took a delay of game penalty. Kovalenko and his linemate combined for a beautiful shorthanded goal, and the pass from the Avalanche prospect was pretty incredible.

The 24 year old hit the post late in the third, and looked a lot more like the guy I saw at the start of the year, who probably was the best player in the KHL. He finished the game with 18:18 of ice-time, which led all forwards, something Larionov had gone away from in recent months. They used him in all situations, and he responded in a big way, including a shot block late that stung him a bit. It’s worth noting that he’s better at face-offs than I expected, and won seven of the 11 he took.

I know Avalanche fans are rooting against his team to get Kovalenko over quicker, but they came out strong, and at the very least, won’t be swept. I’m not sure they have it in them to win this series, but that’s why they play the games.

As always, CHN will keep you updated on both prospects as the playoffs continue on.

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