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European report: Sometimes the wins are easy

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The first round of the KHL playoffs is done and there were few surprises. Meanwhile the Swedes are almost finished the regular season.

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
A last look at Jesper Lindgren this season as he is done for the year.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The first round of the KHL playoffs is set up as first team plays eighth, second plays seventh, and so on. There are rarely any close series outside the four plays five group.

Lokomotiv finished fourth in the West this year, and they faced Dinamo Minsk in the first round. Last week I talked about how Minsk had collapsed in their first home game and let Lokomotiv go up 3-0 in the series. It should surprise no one that they came back hard in their next game and won it. But that was all they had in the tank, and Lokomotiv took the series 4-1.

The second round is set, Lokomotiv play Moscow CSKA, the top team this year, and that contest begins on March 8.

Yegor Korshkov

Yegor Korshkov and his usual line play as the second unit on Lokomotiv most games behind the top line of Max Talbot, Brandon Kozun and Petri Kontiola. They are a solid and reliable scoring line that is growing more adept at playing in their own end. Sound familiar?

They do seem to me like the Russian version of Auston Matthews and friends playing behind Nazem Kadri’s line until they were ready to step out in front of the veterans. None of Korshkov’s line are elite players of Matthews’ calibre, so the step out in front process is slow and gradual. It will likely run through next year, but progress is clearly being made.

In their last two games of the first round, Korshkov’s line gave way to the depth, who were the only ones to score in the loss, and to Kozun and company who dominated the easy final win.

The second round is a much tougher challenge, and few are betting on Lokomotiv to get through it.

Carl Grundström

Frölunda play their last regular season game on this coming Thursday, so this past week was about winding it down and trying to get back to winning occasionally.

In their first game of the week, Frölunda lost in a shootout in a game they never seemed to be in. Grundström was not good, did not play much and did not shoot much. Some days are like that.

In the second game, on captain Joel Lundqvist’s 35th birthday, they won it in overtime, and Grundström got an assist on the first goal for his team. He can pass, and this might be a sign of his game developing more facets. You can see the highlights here, and stay around after Grundström’s play (#3 in white) to see Sean Bergenheim with a great goal and one of those classic three-on-three great save leads to the winning goal plays.

On Saturday, Lundqvist was playing in his 800th match for the team, but it wasn’t him getting it done, it was Patrik Carlsson, playing with Begenheim who had a hat trick in a 4-1 win.

As of today Frölunda is in second place only two points ahead of HV71.

Pierre Engvall and Jesper Lindgren

The Allsvenskan finished their regular season on Friday. Their playoff structure is complex (I dare you to study that flowchart at the linked page) and designed to produce a team that has a chance at promotion to the SHL, not so much a champion. Suffice it to say, it’s not worth explaining to track these two prospects.

Mora IK and MODO started off the week by playing each other. MODO won the game, improbably, after being down 4-0, and Jesper Lindgren had three assists on their five goals. Piere Engvall had two goals as well, so if ever there was a game to watch the highlights of, it’s this one. Lindgren is #7 in white, and Engvall is #10 in red.

MODO lost their next one to the second best team Timrå, and they ended their season with a final loss where their only goal was one shorthanded marker too late in the game to matter.

Mora lost one and won their final game in a blowout, scoring six goals. Engvall had been promoted to the top unit again, but he was silent in that game.

Engvall finished the regular season in ninth place in points with 40, 21 of them goals. He is tied with draft-eligible Elias Pettersson and behind Jonathan Dahlén, the player Ottawa traded for Alexandre Burrows. However, Dahlén is a year younger and Pettersson is two years younger than Engvall.

Engvall ended up with good results, but he’s not enough of a player to have SHL teams knocking on his door yet. If they don’t come calling this off-season, his only way up the ladder is to be carried there by Mora advancing.

Mora finished first in the league and is poised to play hard for promotion. They don’t wait around in the Allsvenskan, the first game of the post season for Mora is today.

Lindgren finished the season in sixth place in points for defenders with 24, only three of them goals. He was the top-scoring defender on his team, a bad team, and he was relied on to play top pair most of the time and to pair up with prospects from junior. However, he did not get serious consideration for the junior team. Like Carl Grundström on MODO last year, it’s hard to judge a good player on a really bad team, but Lindgren did all that was asked of him this year. He may get some looks from SHL teams.

MODO finished not quite last in the league after falling out of the SHL last year, and they are done for the season.

After paying some attention to these two draft picks for a full season, I think this: Engvall is a forward of limited skill on a good, high-scoring team. If Mora do make it to the SHL, they will have a rude awakening when they confront the pace of play. Lindgren is a better defender on a bad team in freefall. He isn’t top level, but he is likely SHL-capable.

I don’t expect to ever see either player in North America, but if one of them will surprise me, it’s most likely going to be Lindgren.

Nikolai Chebykin

Nikolai Chebykin has finally found his groove in the VHL, and he picked the right time: the playoffs. His team played two more games this week and he had two goals and one assist, bringing his playoff totals to four points in four games.

He is playing 12 to 18 minutes per game, so there doesn’t seem to be consistency in how he’s used.

Dynamo Balashikha leads the series three games to one.

Persons of Interest

Vladimir Tkachyov helped carry Ak Bars to a first round playoff win in the KHL East Conference four games to one. He’s very much a key part of the team and looks like a good player. The Leafs interest in him may have waned, however. With the acquisition of Eric Fehr, they have a backup fourth line centre and with 50 SPCs on the books, they can’t sign Tkachyov on May 1 even if they want to. Not unless they move a contract out before then.

Lias Andersson was rumoured this week to be on the move. The draft-eligible forward is playing for HV71, but reliable reports say he is going to sign with Frölunda for next year. This is the same source that correctly said Jhonas Enroth would sign with Toronto. If this is true, this shows that Frölunda’s willingness to play nice with NHL teams in developing their draft picks is paying off for them with good young players.

Martin Necas is a Czech draft-eligible player who was playing in the top Czech league. He has been loaned to a second tier team for the playoffs, which seems like a good move. Necas has very unimpressive points this season on the surface, but he is in the top tier all time for players his age in the top league. This is not a league that makes a habit of filling up teams with teenagers, and he even rates well in U24 players. That said, looking deeper at his stats, and I wonder if he isn’t another player getting ranked too high on a good Hlinka tournament and impressive U17 performance.