1 September 2023
August was a busy month in the Dragons’ Lair
The new KHL season starts today, and the Dragons are in action for the first time on Saturday. So, before we get into a packed start to the new campaign – eight games in 14 days for our guys – let’s take a little look back over the summer.
First summer trophy
Our trip to Togliatti saw the Dragons secure the Lada Cup, coming out on top in a four-team tournament against Lada, Neftekhimik and the VHL’s Khimik Voskresensk. It’s the second time our club has won a pre-season tournament – the first one being the 2017 Romazan Memorial in Magnitogorsk – and while there are bigger prizes to play for it’s always a handy confidence boost to pick up some hardware. Coincidentally, Kunlun’s previous visit to the Lada Cup came in our debut season and formed the prelude to our first run to the playoffs. Hopefully, last month’s success is a good omen for a repeat of that 2016/17 season.
It’s also encouraging that in Togliatti – and elsewhere in pre-season – the Dragons got results against teams that are likely to be trying to force their way into the top eight. As well as Lada and Neftekhimik, we also beat Vityaz and Amur. Last season, one of our problems was dropping points in head-to-head meetings with our direct rivals. There are signs that Viktor Ignatjevs’ team is ready to be more ruthless in the crunch playoff battles.
Seventh-best pre-season record
If pre-season games counted toward the regular season, Kunlun would be tied for eighth place in the overall standings. In eight games, we had five wins and one shoot-out loss for 11 points in the KHL’s pre-season table. However, in terms of the percentage of available points won, the Dragons move up to seventh with 68.75%. On that metric, Red Star moves above Lada and Dynamo Moscow, but is also overtaken by defending champion CSKA (75%). The points percentage also has our guys closing on defeated finalist Ak Bars (72.2%) and Western Conference leader SKA (also 75%).
Throughout our pre-season program, Devin Brosseau and Spencer Foo were consistent scorers.
Spencer, who returned to the Dragons’ Lair in the summer after a season as part of the Vegas organization, picked up a point in every game he played and finished with 8 (5+3) for the summer. We’re looking forward to seeing that consistency transfer into the real stuff from now on.
Devin, meanwhile, edged his team-mate with 9 (5+4) points to lead KRS in summer scoring. He also formed a promising partnership with Colin Campbell and that pair looked good when joined by summer signing Nolan Moyle.
Both Brosseau and Foo were among the leading pre-season scorers. Devin ranked fourth behind prolific Ak Bars due Vadim Shipachyov (11 points) and Stanislav Galiyev (10). Dinamo Minsk’s Vladislav Kodola (also 10) had another productive summer. Spencer was seventh alongside Avangard’s Kirill Panyukov and Maxim Shalunov of Lokomotiv. Our players shared the lead in goals over the summer, with their five-goal hauls matched by Galiyev, Panyukov and Shalunov.
Much of last season’s roster is back with us – a promising sign after the high player turnover of recent years. But there are new arrivals as well, most notably on the coaching staff. We’re excited to have Viktors Ignatjevs stepping into the head coach role, and we’re welcoming back Brett Bellemore as an assistant coach. Both bring plenty of experience of our club – boosting that continuity again – with Viktors serving as Greg Ireland’s assistant last term and Brett playing on the team in our first season.
On the playing side, most of the new signings are also familiar. We’ve already talked about Spencer Foo, and we’ve also brought back goalie Alexander Lazushin from Admiral and the ever-versatile Zach Yuen, famed as the first Chinese player to score in the KHL. Forward Mikhail Abramov also returns to the Lair after some time in Sochi.
In addition, we have some exciting new additions. A couple of college graduates, Nolan Moyle and Austin Wong, look set to add some flash to the offense.
Moyle showed great potential when he centered Campbell and Brosseau early in pre-season. Throughout his career in youth and college hockey, he’s had a reputation for adapting his game to new demands and delivering what the coaches demand of his so we’re looking forward to seeing how he develops as a first-year pro.
Meanwhile, if Austin Wong’s name seems familiar, you won’t be surprised to hear he’s Tyler’s kid brother. Austin turned 23 during the Mayor of Moscow Cup and celebrated his birthday by playing on the same line as his big brother and producing three assists. Here’s hoping for many happy returns!
Ryan Merkley is an intriguing addition to the D-core. The 23-year-old was a first-round draft pick in 2018, but his time with the Sharks did not lead to a regular spot in the NHL. It did, however, introduce him to Rachel Llanes, a star with the KRS women’s team, who was working as a fitness coach within the organization. Maybe that helped persuade Ryan to follow his hockey fortune in the east? The Dragons also used the loan market to acquire promising young Belarusian defenseman Nikita Parfenyuk. The Dinamo Minsk prospect made an instant impact, scoring on his first pre-season appearance.