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European Report: 2017-2018 preview

Who to watch in Europe this year.

2017 NHL Draft - Round One
So, Timothy, where are you going to be?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The KHL season begins tomorrow, and the SHL gets going in a few weeks, so it’s time to figure out which Leafs prospects are where in Europe.

Timothy Liljegren

Defender, drafted 2017, shoots right, signed to ELC.

Will he or won’t he play in Sweden? We still don’t know for sure, but if Liljegren does, it will be with Rögle. The Leafs have weeks yet to decide, and since he’s going to the rookie tournament and camp and then the Leafs training camp, he will be busy in Toronto and area for most of those weeks. Some hints that Rögle is a distant second choice for him have emerged:

Carl Grundström

Winger, drafted 2016, shoots left, signed to ELC.

As far as I can tell, barring any official announcement from the Leafs, Grundström has been loaned to Frölunda in the SHL for now, and he is playing in pre-season games. I’m still a little surprised, although I had thought this was the right choice for him. He may come back for training camp, but that has not been made official. If he plays in the SHL, he can play a serious season of hockey on a competitive team, build up his total game, and finish up in time for the AHL playoffs unless Frölunda goes all the way.

Frölunda is also participating in the Champions Hockey League, and they play their first game on Thursday, August 24. The CHL is played as a tournament spread over the entire European season. Teams from many leagues (not the KHL) play off, and a champion is crowned. Frölunda has won it twice in a row.

The best part is that the games are streamed live for a small cost and not geo-blocked in Canada. They are on in the afternoon our time usually. This is your chance to inexpensively watch Frölunda in high definition. It’s very likely your chance to see a lot of next year’s draft darling Rasmus Dahlin too. The CHL games usually feature more youth in bigger roles than do the regular league games.

The SHL itself begins play on September 16. Now an old man of almost 20, it will be interesting to see if Grundström can stake a claim to a regular roster spot on the third line like he did for most of last year.

If a reversal takes place, and he plays on the Marlies, that’s not a bad option, but he’s got a lot of other wingers to share ice time with.

Yegor Korshkov

Winger, drafted 2016, shoots left, plays right wing, unlimited rights.

The KHL starts up tomorrow, and Lokomotiv, Korshkov’s team, play their first game on Wednesday against CSKA. Lokomotiv surprised many by beating them in the playoffs last year, and these two teams do not like each other much.

Korshkov spent part of his preseason playing on the Russian National Olympic or “B team” at the Sochi Cup. He played with his forever linemates Pavel Kraskovsky and Alexander Polunin. The three of them will likely make a line that gets essentially second line minutes on Lokomotiv.

This is Korshkov’s year to prove that he can play against harder competition in all situations with a little less carefully managed ice time and still succeed. All three of the Kid line looked excellent in the Sochi Cup where they were the fourth line on paper, but not in on-ice effect.

It seems probable that the actual Russian Olympic team will be too deep to have room for players so young, but a hot season might change some minds.

Lokomotiv has a largely intact roster from last year, and the top line is back as a group, so for the kid line to move up, they need to really make an impact.

Have a bit of pre-season action to whet your appetite:

Pierre Engvall

Winger, drafted 2014, shoots left.

Engvall has parlayed his breakthrough year on a hot Allsvenskan team into a job on one of the best SHL teams. As an SHL rookie at 21, he won’t be getting the top-line ice time with HV71 that he did on Mora IK last year, so he might struggle to make a splash, but this is the opportunity he has been working towards.

His growth in goal scoring last year was impressive, but SHL goalies won’t make such soft targets as he faced in the Allsvenskan. It’s reasonable to expect a dip in scoring rate. He hasn’t fared particularly well in early pre-season play.

The Leafs took a long look at Engvall this past spring, with a stint on the Marlies that included one playoff game and an invitation to development camp as well. His rights expire next summer, so this is the year he has to prove he’s worth an NHL contract. First, he has to prove he’s worth an SHL roster spot.

Jesper Lindgren

Defender, drafted 2015, shoots right.

Lindgren took the unusual step of moving from his Swedish club to Finland to take a job on the Liiga team HPK. The fact that his Swedish team was MODO, and they are deep in rebuild mode, might be why. HPK are competitive, and he may see much more ice time than he would have in the SHL at 20 if he’d tried for a job there.

He is coming off a very hot junior career, a good performance in the Allsvenskan, and he also needs to start making some noise on the ice at the top level. His rights last for two more years however, so he doesn’t have the same sense of urgency about him as Engvall does.

The Liiga opens its season on September 9, and they publish Corsi data, so we will be able to look at Lindgren’s performance this season in that way too.

Unfortunately, HPK is not one of the Finnish teams in the CHL, so there is no chance to see him play there.

Nikolai Chebykin

Winger, drafted 2016, shoots left, unlimited rights.

Chebykin has signed with the VHL club SKA-Neva St. Petersburg and will likely play the whole season there. It’s a good club, but the chances of advancement to the KHL are virtually non-existent. SKA’s roster is way too tough for him to crack.

He needs a solid year on the team with regular shifts and good ice time. If he succeeds, his ultimate level will be clearer. He’s very unlikely to be an NHL player, but he might fit on the Marlies at some point.

The VHL starts play in early September.

Vladislav Kara

Centre/winger, drafted 2017, unlimited rights.

Kara who is 19, is still eligible to play in the MHL, the Russian U20 league. He is a member of the Ak Bars Kazan club, and will likely split his time between the junior team and the VHL team as he did last season.

Ak Bars is very much going for it at the KHL level, so their senior team isn’t likely to be interested in developing juniors of his age right now.

The MHL schedule has not been posted yet, but games will begin soon.

And that’s this year’s crew in Europe. The rest of the European draftees are playing North American hockey. The European report will gradually move to a once a week event as the seasons get going.