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European Report: back for the stretch drive

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The report is back, and so are most of the players.

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship
Pontus Holmberg at the WJC.
Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

The European leagues are in their stretch drive heading to the playoffs which come much earlier than ours. The last day of the KHL regular season is February 22, and the SHL and the Liiga both finish on March 14.

With only a few weeks left, it’s good to see that most of the injured Maple Leafs prospects are back in action.

Yegor Korshkov

RW - 22 years old - shoots left - fourth full KHL season

Yegor Korshkov came back from injur for his first game on December 28. He was supposed to be eased in as the fourth-line RW in that game, but in the first five minutes of play, the third-line RW was hurt, and Korshkov stepped up and played 13 minutes.

He’s stayed on that third line through six games played so far. He’s getting power play time, regular shifts, and in one post-game interview he commented that he is slowly getting up to speed. He technically has a goal already, but it was called back by video review.

Kyle Dubas was on hand to see him play a few days ago, and that was the game where he had the most shots on goal.

Lokomotiv are fourth in the West Conference of the KHL, and while they could take Jokerit’s place in third, Jokerit has some games in hand to go with a one-point lead in the standings. There just aren’t many games left. The KHL plays a 1-8, 2-7, etc. format for their first round, so coming fourth means you have the hardest playoff opponent of the four home teams in your conference.

Last year, Lokomotiv made it to the second round where they were beat very easily by SKA. They have to hope that with SKA in second place for a change, that the chance to go through CSKA instead might get them their second-round win. They have a chance, but not a great one to pull that off.

Korshkov’s contract ends this May 1, so the option is there for him to sign an ELC for next season (it would be for two-years, given his age) and join the Leafs training camp. He could come and play for the Marlies on a PTO this spring, but that might depend on his health status.

No matter what happens, for this season, he is going to have terrible stats since he’s still waiting for his first point on a low-scoring team.

Eemeli Räsänen

D - 19 years old - shoots right - first year in the KHL

Still injured.

Jesper Lindgren

D - 21 years old - shoots right - second season in the Liiga

Jesper Lindgren came back from injury on December 28 as well, and he slotted in as the third pair RD in his first game. Since then, he’s been consistently the second-pair RD, so the lineup confusion of the first half of the season seems to be over.

He has two assists since coming back, and has one goal and nine assists in 25 games played this season.

On a team with very high Corsi — they have no regular roster player below 50 per cent — Lindgren is near the top with 59 per cent. He’s also got a great on-ice save percentage, which makes any defender look good, and an absolutely horrific on-ice shooting percentage, which means he looks like he suddenly can’t make plays, but the reality is more that no one scores when he’s on the ice.

HPK struggled at first this year, but have solidly grabbed onto a playoff spot now, so Lindgren should see some post season.

Already under contract to the Leafs, Lindgren seems likely to come over and join the Marlies this spring if they’re still playing when he’s done.

Pontus Holmberg

LW - 19 years old - shoots left - first SHL season

For anyone who didn’t watch the WJC this year, they’ll simply look at Holmberg’s zeroes across his boxcars and decide he’s a bust. It doesn’t matter how many times you say five games isn’t the measure of a player, goals are full of luck, teammates factor in, and on and on, you’ll still get the sniff of disdain that says he failed.

My eye test on him says he is a very good two-way centre with an excellent positional awareness and willingness to drive the net and cause trouble in front, but with a calm and controlled game that doesn’t see him take penalties. He passes very well, and is the sort of player who will shoot, but looks for the pass a lot of the time.

There were some charts posted post-WJC of stats that were tracked, and they bore this out. He wasn’t the best centre in the tournament — those high draft picks from Canada and the USA were — but he was very, very good.

Can he score himself, though? That is the question, and the answer is that if he had sick hands as well, he wouldn’t have been around at 156th overall in the draft. He’s a very good hockey player, and what level he’ll get to playing a role that absolutely requires skilled shooters as wingers is yet to be seen, but all the things a lot of those young, zippy wingers with sick hands are missing, he’s already got.

Holmberg got right back in it on January 5 for Växjö, and they have three wins in three games since. Holmberg is their regular third-line centre, and looks to be keeping that spot in the lineup down the stretch.

He has seven points on the season so far. He’s under contract to Växjö for another year after this one, and hasn’t been signed by the Leafs yet, but I’m not going to be surprised if he turns out to be a keeper. He’s 19, and he could be playing third-line centre in the AHL right now.

Semyon Kizimov

RW - 18 years old - shoots left - first year in the VHL

Lada, the VHL affiliate of Lokomotiv, had a good grip on first place in the VHL in late December, but they went on a losing streak, winning only one game in their last eight, so they’ve fallen to fifth. They’ve made a few trades, got a player back from Lokomotiv, and now need to push to the end of the season and try winning some.

Kizimov has stayed very steady at third-line minutes with at least 18 shifts per game, but he’s not scoring much. No one else on his team is either. He had two assists on the only two goals in the most recent game, a 3-2 loss, so that’s something.

He has four goals and eight assists in 38 games played for Lada. We likely won’t see him get a look at KHL play until next year. He only turns 19 next week, so there’s no hurry here.

Nikolai Chebykin

Winger - 22 years old - shoots left - third VHL season

While Kizimov’s team has dropped, Nilolai Chebykin’s has risen, and he’s now in third place. He’s added some points to give him six goals and two assists in 26 games, and he just turned 22 a few days ago too. His point totals are good, considering he’s playing fourth-line minutes.

I think he’s shown the level he’s reached, although injury delayed his start to this season, so he could have a better year next year. But to be anything in North America above the minors, he’d need to be holding down a regular KHL job by now.

Vladislav Kara

Winger/C - 20 years old - shoots left - third pro season, first in the KHL/VHL

Vladislav Kara played one game in the VHL in December where he had two assists, and then he was called back up to Ak Bars in the KHL.

The life of a rookie in the KHL is not all that fun. Kara has had two more “dressed but not played” games in this call-up, and a few where he saw five shifts or less. He scored a goal in one of those four-shift games, and added another goal in a game where he actually played over five minutes.

It’s pointless to look at stats with that usage. If he gets more than one chance to take a shot in a game, it’s a miracle, but he’s obviously got the ability to keep focused. In his most recent game, he got ten minutes and two shots on goal.

He has five points in 41 games played, which sounds horrible, but at seven minutes per game on average, it’s not.

Ak Bars is the defending champion and is in third place in the East Conference with a good chance to take second place, but not much hope of moving more than that. If Kara gets in playoff games, I’ll be fairly surprised.

He’s under contract to Ak Bars through 2021, so he seems to be planning a long Russian career before he gives much thought to the North American team that drafted him. That can change, of course. But while he seems to have the most promise of any Russian other than Korshkov, it also doesn’t look like he necessarily wants to try his luck here. Not yet, anyway.


Martins Dzierkals got called back to Dinamo Riga in December, and his tour in the Latvian league seems to have helped him. Or maybe he’s just had a turn of luck. He’s had a point is seven of 13 games since the start of last month. He’s playing third- or fourth-line minutes and has ten points in 32 games. His team is out of playoff contention, and has a very few games to make up four points, so it seems like he’ll be finished up in February. I think all bridges to the Leafs are burned here, so he’ll just have to wait for his rights to expire in June and then see who calls him.

Vladimir Bobylyov, who plays on the same team as Chebykin, has the same number of points in 14 more games, so that essentially sums him up.

While it’s rumour season, and Leafs scouts are all over the place looking at players, I’m not buying in on anything until we hear of a contract offer. The Leafs have no extra cap space, but they do have a lot of contract spaces next season. That tells me they’ll concentrate on players who have to be paid ELC rates, and the chances of someone making over a million signing with the Leafs are very small.

Next week is full of game action, so hopefully I’ll have goals to report. See you then.