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European Report: Everyone on the Ice

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All the prospects are playing.

Slovakia v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship

This is the first European Report post-draft and with all the players’ seasons actually underway. There are some leagues in Europe that have been delayed — the DEL, for example, isn’t willing to begin without fans. But the KHL rolls along, heedless of all impediments, and the SHL and Liiga have both begun amid COVID-19 restrictions on attendance.

The QMJHL lasted 14 days before they declared a major shutdown of games, so it’s certainly no guarantee all these leagues in Europe will continue on with their schedule as set.

If you find things confusing, all the leagues and acronyms and unusual concepts, check out the Glossary.

Drafted Prospects

Rodion Amirov

LW - 19 years old - shoots left - second pro year with some KHL time

Just as he was drafted in early October, Amirov’s KHL team Salavat Yulaev Ufa, lost about half their regular roster to COVID-19 infections or quarantine. He was playing on the top line in the KHL a few days after his 19th birthday after starting in the VHL. The main roster players are back now, and he missed some KHL games, but is not listed as injured. He played on the fourth line in the most recent KHL game.

He moved to RW for some of the games on the top unit, and was back in his usual LW spot in his most recent game on the fourth unit. He played only 11 minutes in that game, and a trip back to the VHL won’t be surprising.

In the VHL in 3GP, he has: 1G, 1A and 2Pts.

In the KHL in 14GP, he has: 3G, 3A and 6Pts. All of his goals came on the power play, and he played an average of 16:12 minutes per game.

Note: not all stats are current as of this moment, there’s a few days lag when there’s so many players to cover.

Roni Hirvonen

C - 18 years old - shoots left - second pro year in Liiga

Hirvonen was famously on the ice in a game at the moment he was drafted, and he has played in the Liiga for Ässät for all his games so far this season as the 2C. However, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is about to join the team, his old club, and that will almost certainly push Hirvonen down the lineup. Kotkaniemi won’t stay, however, so this will be a temporary change.

Hirvonen has: 7GP, 1G, 2A for 3Pts in 16:08 minutes per game. His CF% is terrible, so we’ll do that thing where we don’t look at stats like that in tiny samples.

Topi Niemelä

D - 18 years old - shoots right - Liiga for one year, back in U20

While he played fulltime in the Liiga last season, Niemelä is starting this year on the U20 team. Kärpät has a lot of experienced rostered defenders this year, and it’s hard to see him finding an opening there for a fulltime spot.

He has: 6GP, 1G, 3A, 4 Pts.

Mikko Kokkonen

D - 19 years old - shoots left - fourth year pro, third in Liiga

Kokkonen seems to be playing left on the second pair for Jukurit this year after playing right side last year.

He is pointless in six games played, and has a CF% of an abysmal 44.3%, which is nonetheless third best on his team. I think, maybe, they’ve had a tough schedule so far.

Filip Hållander

W/C - 20 years old - shoots left - fourth pro year, third in SHL

I’ve actually watched some of Hållander’s games, so I’ll talk more about how he plays. He’s the LW on the top line for Luleå, the team that finished first last year in the SHL. He plays with a veteran American C, who is very good in the SHL, and he has had a couple of right wings so far because they haven’t quite got to the form they had last year. Jack Connolly, the C, has been getting points on the power play, but their even-strength is a bit toothless.

Hållander’s game is like Patric Hornqvist’s, as the Pittsburgh fans had said. Not in size or aggression to the same degree, but in the way he’s magnetically attracted to the net-front. That style should be giving him some tip-ins and some rebound goals, but so far it isn’t. He looks a lot less useful playing the same role on the power play where I think you need more than just the tenacity to get into position. Andreas Johnsson’s power play game in the SHL was somewhat similar, but much better.

Away from the net-front scrums, Hållander seems to be relying on his C to do the hockey work, and that’s something an AHL season would modify. He has good puck handling and skating skills, he’s just deferring to the veterans too much. So far, he looks like the kind of prospect you think is a year closer to the NHL than they really are, so let’s think 2021-2022, but he is a very interesting player to watch, and is very unlike the rest of the forwards in the system.

He has: 7GP, 1G, 1A, 2Pts.

Artur Akhtyamov

G - 18 years old - catches left - first pro year in KHL/VHL, will play some MHL

Akhtyamov has been moving all over the place to get starts this season. Ak Bars, his club, has their own VHL and MHL teams right in Kazan, Russia, so it’s not really moving. The KHL team is excellent, the VHL team is too, and the MHL team is a good development-focused system. He’s in a very good place to grow his game.

He is currently on the KHL roster, and his two starts there were October 10 and 13, both very good with a .923 and a .913.

His VHL stats are even better. In four starts in September to early October, he has a .957. Easy to see why they called him up to the KHL with Tampa prospect Amir Miftakhov injured.

His three MHL starts, all in early September, included one shutout, and averaged out to .926.

Miftakhov is back now, and he and Akhtyamov shared a net in a KHL game that did not go well. I think the regular goalie will be back for the next one, and Akhtyamov might be on the move again.

It’s clear Ak Bars are serious about his development, and will play him anywhere it’s right to put him. I feel very confident that a team with a history of producing very good goalies will do right by him. Their goaltending coaches are Sergei Abramov, who is a local, played on the team and has coached for 20 years there. Joining him this year is Jaakko Valkama, who had been with Lokomotiv. It is extremely interesting to see Russian teams add Finnish goaltending coaches to get that different perspective.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov

F - 18 years old - shoots L - MHL, with some KHL appearances

Ovchinnikov has shifted between the MHL and KHL this year, and has been dressed but not played in some recent games. The KHL has a “designated junior” system where some young players don’t count against roster limits.

In junior, in a stretch of nine games from late September to the current week, he has 6G, 6A, 12 Pts, and a faintly absurd 25:25 minutes per game. He seems to have junior hockey well sorted out.

In five KHL games, he’s only actually played in three, and had 7:37, 6:20 and :19 in TOI.

If you’re thinking he belongs in the VHL, so am I. They may have a very good reason not to be doing that, but one thing is Sibir Novosibirsk, his team, isn’t very good, and sometimes it’s worth it just to keep the young players on hand and let them play. There may be Coronavirus reasons to not loan him out too, one never knows these days.

Axel Rindell

D - 20 years old - shoots R - second year pro in Liiga

It may have flown under the radar, with so many drafted prospects, that Rindell is going to turn 21 next spring. No spring chicken then, we should expect him to play fulltime in the Liiga in a high-up role, or else he’s a very longshot.

He is still U20 eligible this season, and has played two games for Jukurit’s junior team. He’s played six games in the Liiga, once lining up beside Mikko Kokkonen. He largely plays on the third unit, although, his pair and Kokkonen’s usual second unit switched in the most recent game. Defenders play a more even share of ice time in the Liiga on most teams so the difference is not dramatic.

He has: 6GP, 1G, 3A, 4Pts and 20:53 minutes per game.

Semyon Kizimov

RW - 20 years old - shoots left - first year in the KHL after two in VHL

Drafted two years ago, yet the same age as Rindell, Kizimov needs to be showing adult-level hockey skills by now. So far, he has four pointless games for Torpedo, his new team in the KHL, a team he should be able to make the lineup more easily. So far, it’s just not happening, and he only averaged 7 minutes per game.

I expect him to go right back to Lada in the VHL very soon.

Kalle Loponen

D - 19 years old - shoots right - first full year in Liiga after one OHL season

Also in Kärpät’s system, and if Topi Niemelä can’t crack the roster on defence, Loponen won’t. He’s played for the U20 team all season so far.

He has: 14GP, 3G, 6A, 9Pts.

Eemeli Räsänen

D - 21 years old - shoots right - first year in Liiga after two in KHL

Räsänen signed with HPK in the Liiga this year, and they missed almost their entire pre-season with quarantine after some COVID-19 cases in the junior ranks. His team has a roster of eight defenders, and so far he’s only played one game, but is listed as ready to return to the lineup as of this morning, so some minor injury or illness was in play.

Pontus Holmberg

W/C - 21 years old - shoots left - third SHL season

Pontus Holmberg has been scoring up a storm. No, really. That Pontus Holmberg. With a stronger team in Växjö and a real first line that can score, he’s been joining in from his spot as 4C to the tune of four goals and one assist in eight games. For context, he scored seven goals in 52 games last year.

Just a fluke? Maybe, but it could be a little less time playing defence. If he can do more than just play hockey really well — if he can actually get some points — he might be a good depth player with a chance. The SHL found his sudden scoring so remarkable, they led with it to promote Växjö’s next game.

Vladislav Kara

Winger/C - 22 years old - shoots left - fourth pro season, first full KHL season

Slava Kara changed teams from Ak Bars to the much lower-ranked Severstal Cherepovets, and he’s getting some ice time, which was the point, but he’s not getting points.

He has: 10GP, 0G, 2A, 2Pts. and 14:13 per game. He usually plays as the 4LW when he does get in a game, and his ice time has fallen as the season progresses.

Yegor Korshkov

RW/LW - 24 years old - shoots left - sixth year in pro hockey KHL/AHL

Largely just filling time until the season is over (as far as we know, his loan to his old club team Lokomotiv is for the full year), Korshkov is playing RW on the top line with centre Vladimir Tkachyov, a veteran of good solid skill.

He has: 16GP, 6G, 6A, 12Pts, and 15:51 minutes per game. It’s a short-shift team, though, so he’s playing over 20 shifts per game.

Signed to NHL Contract and Loaned to European Team

Filip Král

D - 20 years old - shoots left - first pro season after three in WHL, loaned to Prerov, Czech2

He has: 7GP, 2G, 8A, 10Pts.

Maybe a team in the first division will come calling with that stat line.

Mikko Lehtonen

D - 26 years old - shoots left - second year in KHL

Definitely on a short-term loan, Lehtonen is the 1LD for Jokerit in the KHL for now.

He has: 13GP, 7G, 8A, 15Pts, and three of his goals are on the power play, where he excels. He’s playing 23:38 per game, and they are not going to want to see him leave.

This goal, not even in that stat line above, is typical of his contributions:

Denis Malgin

F - 23 years old - 5 years in NHL, loaned to Lausanne of NL

He has: 5GP, 3G, 0A, 3Pts.

Kristians Rubins

D - 22 years old - shoots left - 2 years in AHL, loaned to Frederikshavn, Denmark

Elite Prospects is showing no games played, but an irritating scroll through the Metal Ligaen website shows me 5GP, 1G, 0A, 1Pts and 21:26 per game, so that sounds like top four usage. He has nine hits and seven blocked shots, so that sounds like a man who used to be in the ECHL. They must love him.

Congrats, Denmark, that’s the worst hockey league website I’ve ever seen.

Joe Thornton

He doesn’t so much go on loan as tell you he’s playing in Davos, Switzerland, and you nod and agree to it. Word is he’s playing for a nominal salary to be paid next year, so for free, basically.

He has one assist in one game played so far.