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Leafs European prospects in the playoffs

Let's take a moment and catch up on the European prospects, rumoured and firmly in hand both.

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Andreas Johnson

I profiled his regular season, and now that the playoffs are in full swing, we can see how he's doing. Has he taken a big step?

Game One

Frölunda had some days off to wait for their quarterfinal opponent to be determined. Once they got underway against Djurgården, they looked very good, taking the first game 4-2.

Johnson and usual centre Johan Sundstöm had 2017 draft-eligible Kristian Vesalainen on their line. You know you're not in the NHL when a guy that young is playing on the second line in the playoffs. But I'll say it again: remember that name.

Johnson had a slow start in the game, but in the third period, he started to find his groove and was tough for the Djurgården goalie, Mikael Tellqvist, to handle. Frölunda outshot the Djurgården side in the game, and most of that dominance came in the third period.

Johnson had the eventual game winner on the power play, while Montréal prospect Artturi Lehkonen had a stronger game with two goals, the first, and the insurance marker that he got shorthanded.

Game Two

The second game was a tough and chippy affair with Frölunda getting drawn into the Djurgården's physical play a bit too much.

Frölunda's only goal came from Joey Crabb, and they remained tied at one deep into the final minutes of play. A late, blindside hit on a Frölunda player after he took a shot on goal resulted in a scrum that somehow ended up in a Djurgården power play. They won the game on a power play goal and added an insurance marker to make it 4-1.

Johnson's line had a lot of shots, and Johnson himself was shooting a lot, just not getting on the board. The whole team failed to handle the intense atmosphere in Hovet, the Djurgården home rink, and the intensity of the bigger, tougher team on the ice.

Game Three

The third game of the series finished 5-2 Frölunda and the series is now 2-1 for them. This game marked the return from injury of captain, Joel Lundqvist, and the lines got shuffled as he worked back in.

Artturi Lehkonen was on fire again, but Johnson, with Spencer Abbott back on his opposite wing, added a great setup on Johan Sundstöm's goal to make it 2-1 in the second.

Frölunda, back at home where the fans are on their side, were in control most of the game. They keep their offence spread out--you never get a break facing them, even their grinder line can score--and are generating a lot of shots from the defence.

Even with this blowout win, it may be the case that their gifted forwards need to be more aggressive. They win by out-scoring everyone and everything, even their own weaknesses. Artturi Lehkonen is doing that, but so far, Johnson really isn't, but he is playing a strong supporting game.

Game Four

Johnson really struggled in this game, again with Vesalainen on his opposite wing. They were back in Hovet, and the crowd was relentlessly loud while Djurgården was relentlessly physical.

Johnson's line got hemmed in in their own end more than once, failed to clear the puck cleanly when they had a chance. The team as a whole dominated over Djurgården with an edge in shots on goal of 38 to 29, but Johnson had 2 shots on goal to Lehkonen's 6. Lehkonen also had the eventual game winner in a 3-1 win to put the series at the same score, 3-1 for Frölunda.

Game Five

Back in the Frölunda backup venue for this game, and the crowd was small but loud, heading into a holiday weekend.

Johnson was playing as the first line, mostly to allow Lundqvist to get back with his regular linemates, but not play full minutes.  Johnson's group are a mixed bag, good offensively, a bit lost defensively.

Johnson found the throttle in the second, as his 1 shot on goal ballooned to a team leading 5.  This is what he can do, he just so rarely does.  Djurgården made it a game with an early third period goal, but playoffs star Lehkonen got past Armalis, and then Johnson got the insurance to make it 3-1. Final score was 5-1, and this was Johnson's strongest game so far.

Habs and Leafs working together again to put Frölunda into the next round, what's next for these two?

Mantas Armalis

Armalis is the backup goaltender for Djurgården, and a rumoured target of acquisition by the Leafs. As mentioned in this profile of him, he appeared in only one playoff game in the round of sixteen, and it was a disaster of a loss.

After the debacle of the third game in the quarterfinal series where Tellqvist gave up 4 goals, it wasn't a surprise to see him get the start in the fourth game on Tuesday. It didn't end well for his team, but for the most part Armalis was good.

Frölunda presented him with some slick passing plays off the rush to get him to move laterally, and he came up with the save. He did look a little shaky handling the puck, both behind the net and just grabbing it and freezing it, but he had a lot to prove, nerves aren't unexpected.

His stats after the second period were fine, and with 29 shots he was busy:

The first Frölunda goal was more on his team than on him, they had a bit of defensive breakdown and left Oscar Fantenberg unattended at the circle, and he beat Armalis cleanly.

The second goal was Lehkonen making a great play, and the third was what happens to you when a team is rehabbing an injured Joel Lundqvist on on the fourth line. He set up his linemate with a pass sweeter than he usually sees, and he had Armalis one on one, and he didn't miss.

Armalis made 35 of 38 saves and didn't have a lot of support that wasn't coming from the crowd. Even so, I expected Tellqvist to get the next start.

The Lehkonen goal:

He looks like he gets squared up to me, but he's already down. Top shelf is there to be taken, and one Swedish pundit said he's better than Tellqvist as long as you don't shoot high. He's not a world beater, but he looks AHL-capable to me.

The coach of Djurgården must have agreed that Armalis is better than Tellqvist, as Armalis got the start in the fifth game of the series as well.  To win it, they needed to steal it.

Djurgården needed a masterful performance in net, what they got was a very strong one, and Armalis stoned Andreas Johnson right on the doorstep in a great play.  But he got caught kicking the net off the moorings to break up a scrum.  Frölunda made it 1-0 on the resulting power play.

Destiny seemed to put Armalis right where Johnson didn't want him, and he made several stops that were very impressive on him and everyone else.  He couldn't steal it though, his team was tired and he had too many shots coming at him.  Once Lehkonen got him, he was done.

If this was his last game in the SHL, he went down fighting hard; he was the only reason Djurgården were ever in it.

Nikita Zaitsev

Another rumoured Leaf to be, Zaitsev is deep in his playoffs with Moscow CSKA.

Moscow swept their opening round with ease, dropped only one game in their conference semi-finals and face SKA St. Petersburg in their conference finals.

Zaitsev has had a good playoffs, and it would be hard not to given the calibre of the team he's on. He's had one beauty of a goal so far and 5 assists.

Moscow relies on a very strong set of forward lines to get their points, and they use their defence in a fairly traditional way.

SKA is their first real test.  Moscow plays a very undisciplined game, gets in a lot of scrums after the whistle and take a lot of penalties.  They can't get caught in that trap against SKA, who have a power play weapon as powerful as Zaitsev in Nikita Gusev.

Moscow played their first game against SKA on Tuesday, an easy 3-0 shutout win. Zaitsev was on the ice for all three goals, and played his usual reliable game. Only 3 shots on goal came from any defenceman, so Moscow is just fine relying on their forwards for scoring.

They played the second match on Thursday, and Moscow looked like they had a fight on their hands at first, but they always have goals to score, and they got a pair late in the third.  The final score was 3-2 Moscow, Zaitsev had 2 assists. So far they are a machine that just keeps rolling on, Zaitsev with them.

This is Zaitsev with an assist on the power play after some excellent blue line work:

Thanks to Zeb at Habs Eyes on the Prize for the screenshot from the game with Armalis, and the game chat.