Ak Bars eyes third Gagarin Cup run after free-agent signings

In a couple of weeks’ time, the fourth KHL season will get underway. Two-time champions Ak Bars will again be the ones to beat, although they’ve had a mixed pre-season.

Ak Bars are getting used to life without Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who relinquished his club duties to manage the national team. Vladimir Krikunov, though, should command the respect of the players.

The former defenseman led Team Russia to bronze at the 2005 World Championships, and helped Dynamo Moscow win the Russian championship the same year.

Bilyaletdinov is not too far from the action, though, taking time to scope out potential prospects for international duty.

Lauris Darzinsh was acquired from Dynamo Riga in the off-season. The Latvian international is already feeling the pressure of the finals with the season yet to start.

Ak Bars have top-notch training facilities, according to former NHL star Antti Miettinen. The new signing also understands the huge expectations that come with donning the Snow Leopard jersey.

Elsewhere, the two-time Gagarin Cup winners added one of the most feared men in the league during the off-season transfer bonanza. Denis Kulyash, a former Omsk Hawk, boasts a world-record slap shot, registering a speed of nearly 178 kilometers per hour during the latest All-Star game.

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