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European Report: it’s always about the struggle to move up a level

Pierre Engvall impresses, Yegor Korshkov is trying to hold his second line job, and Jesper Lindgren is getting the hang of Finnish hockey.

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Timothy Liljegren & Carl Grundström

Since they are both at training camp, we’ll just ignore them this week. Only one is likely to go back to Sweden, however.

Yegor Korshkov

Last time, two weeks ago, I talked about how Yegor Korshkov got in a game without his usual linemates, Pavel Kraskovsky and Alexander Polunin. It lasted only one game, and then the usual kid line was back together.

Lokomotiv had a light schedule for a few days. The KHL goes dark on September 7 to remember the lives lost when Lokomotiv’s plane crashed in 2011. The team also had a few extra days off around that date.

Prior to the memorial date, they looked very tired and ineffective. Korshkov’s line had dropped down to the third unit, and they were just not really clicking with each other offensively. It looked to me like a team, that, were they in the NHL and playing like that, would be top of the list for which coach is going to get fired first speculation. They lost the game on September 6 by a score of 3-0 and barely ever touched the puck.

The break did them good, for all it must be emotionally difficult.

They came back and won three straight against some good teams, and are sitting currently in third in the West (the highest any team not SKA or CSKA can hope to get).

But there are some mixed signs for Korshkov and for the team. They play an unusual style, where the defence, particularly the top pair, shoot the puck a lot. Jakub Nakladal has more shots per game than any of the forwards. He leads the entire team by more than one shot per game. What that means is that when he and Staffan Kronwall are not on the ice, nothing much is happening.

The coach can’t decide if Korshkov’s kid line or his other decent enough line is second or third. The results for each group are not very good, but so far, the nod goes to the older, more experienced line. Korskov has three points. The season is ten games old. This isn’t great.

What Korshkov’s line has going for them is speed, and in a recent game against a better, yet older and slower, Magnitka squad, they moved up to the second unit, and ran the other team ragged. They’ve started to connect on passes and look smooth in the offensive zone. He helped win their most recent game by drawing a penalty with all that speed, and Lokomotiv scored on the subsequent power play.

One thing that was on display in pre-season, when Korshkov was on the national team for some exhibition games, has stuck through the season. He’s developing a chippy, aggressive style that was missing from his game last year. If the other team starts something, he will answer the call. If he has his eyes on a trip to North America next year, he needs this. He’s got some good teachers on his team to tell him where the lines are as well.

Right now, Korshkov has a terrible shooting percentage, his linemates are having worse luck, and yet their competition for the second line job looks very beatable. It’s always what’s said of Korshkov: If he takes the step... Well, the door is open, he needs to move through it. I wonder very strongly though if he hasn’t outgrown the kid line. Maybe this team needs a lineup shakeup more than a coaching shakeup.

Pierre Engvall

The SHL started play Saturday, and Pierre Engvall played his first game. He is the fourth line left wing at the moment, having had some success in pre-season, particularly in CHL games.

HV71 opened the season against Djurgården and won it 4-2. Engvall had one even-strength unassisted goal and an assist on another, so a massively good start for him in less than ten minutes of ice time.

The highlights are here, and he is #88 in black.

Jesper Lindgren

I was not expecting Jesper Lindgren to take hold of a top pairing job on his new club, HPK, but he has. Given that, I’m going to focus more on him than anyone else as the seasons begin.

He is very fun to watch, has a smooth jump up in the offense style that reminds me strongly of Calle Rosén. He carries the puck well, is a little hesitant defensively, and he’s not very big. He’s not going to muscle anyone off the puck.

HPK have paired him up with a couple of blueline hugging partners, and one thing stood out in looking at his stats: he’s on the ice for almost all the goals, for and against. So, too, therefore is HPK’s top line, and this leads directly into the other thing that stood out: They aren’t very good at driving play. Their Corsi is bad. Lindgren’s is bad, but relatively speaking to his bad team, he’s doing better in the early going than it seems, and a few games of data means little to nothing.

HPK are a threat offensively when they do have the puck, and this is where Lindgren shines. I don’t think anyone is expecting this team to be the top of the league, but for Lindgren, if he holds that top pairing job, he should finish the season well advanced from where he was last year in the Allsvenskan.

In Saturday’s game his current partner had to bail him out when he got undressed pretty badly in the defensive zone. There’s definitely a gap in his game and it’s right in front of the net. They won the game 2-0, but the shot location map shows that they allowed a lot of shots from right on the doorstep, while they didn’t take many from good locations.

Lindgren is a work in progress, but it’s obvious when he has the puck why he’s got the job he has. He needs to grow the other side of his game to keep it, however. Through five games, he has one assist and a really bad CF%.

The VHL Players

The VHL, roughly analogous to the AHL, is often erroneously referred to as a league of clapped out old men. Many people think that’s what the AHL is too, since the only time they notice it is when some formerly good player has his giant contract buried there.

But just as the AHL is trending younger, so is the VHL becoming a league set up to develop the younger players who have either aged out of junior hockey or are too good for the junior team in a given club.

Bars Kazan, the VHL club assosciated with Ak Bars in the KHL, has a big roster right now of arround 40 players as the season begins and all but four of them are under 24.

SKA-Neva St. Petersburg has a similarly sized roster that trends a touch older with 10 players 24 and over. Their KHL team, the powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg, has so much money they can keep some KHL ready players on permanent hold in the VHL if they like. Some of that veteran contingent is those sorts of players.

On both teams, the bulk of the roster are 20, 21 and 22, and they would stack up as younger overall than the Marlies. They both have a few teenagers as well, Vladislav Kara at 19, is not the youngest on his team.

Nikolai Chebykin

Nikolai Chebykin has played two games so far with his new VHL team, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, and has no points. He is getting approximately third line minutes.

Vladislav Kara

Vladislav Kara has played three games so far with Bars Kazan. He has no points, but is playing about 18 minutes per game and over 20 shifts, putting him just below the top few forwards.

Persons of Interest

Igor Ozhiganov: Playing with CSKA, who have so many players they can tailor their roster to the level of competition, Ozhiganov has dressed for 7 of a possible 9 games. He has one assist on what is just a hair over third/fourth pair minutes. The KHL dresses more than six defenders for most games.

He’s been used primarily against easier competition, and it seems that one thing CSKA wanted after their early playoff exit last year was to improve their defence. They added Nikita Nesterof and Alexey Marchenko.

Ozhiganov might have been the number two RHD last year, he’s not now.

His game looks very solid and ordinary, which might be a good thing, but he still isn’t showing signs of being a man that should be in the NHL. Righty though. That lowers the entry fee considerably.