D - 18 years old- shoots left - third year pro, second in Liiga
Miko Kokkonen was named to Finland’s preliminary roster for the WJC, so he will shortly be leaving Jukurit to report to camp for that event.
Last time on the Report, Kokkonen was slowly getting into the groove of playing after missing all of training camp and the start to the season with what we all assume was a concussion. He was still playing on the junior team a bit to get in shape, and his ice time on the big club wasn’t great.
Since then, he’s been listed on the third or second pair for every game in the Liiga, and has a steadily increasing TOI/GP, so he’s coming back to his proper form, finally. He’s also shooting the puck a lot more, but he’s not much of a personal goal scorer.
While his team is hovering below the playoff line, and no one on the team has good Corsi, with only two regular roster players over 50%, Kokkonen is not standing out in that respect this year.
He has one goal and one assist in 18 games, and while that all sounds disappointing, considering where he started, he’s doing well. He has an opportunity at the WJC camp to make a mark, but the Finnish defence corps is going to be hard to make, and they invited 11 defenders, so we’ll see where that leads.
D - 20 years old - shoots right - second year in the KHL
As discussed last time out, Eemeli Räsänen’s position on Jokerit in the KHL as a designated junior extra skater wasn’t getting him in any meaningful game action for the second year in a row.
He’s played three more games in the Mestis, in the Jokerit system, and then they took the surprising step of loaning him to a team in the Danish league. The Danish league is considered to be a semi-pro league, and is ranked well below even the second division in Sweden or Finland.
The move makes a little more sense, when you factor in the team has a Finnish head coach and another young Finn on defence. But so far Räsänen has only played in two games, making his debut on November 29. Jokerit also has a long history of signing Danish players and they have many connections to teams in that country.
If this gets him the development time he needs, then that’s great, but it now almost seems like he’d have been better off never leaving the OHL.
W/C - 20 years old - shoots left - second SHL season
Some things can’t change for Pontus Holmberg this season. He’s not suddenly going to score a lot, and his team, Växjö, which has clawed their way up out of last place all the way to the bottom four, is not going to contend. With 24 games played, and the halfway point of the season just around the corner at the end of December, they’re way too far back to make anything much of this season. Their best goalie has an .886 Save %, so they basically can’t win no matter what they do.
Holmberg has two goals and three assists in 24 games. He averages third-line minutes, but keeps showing up on the lineup card on the top line because he’s a responsible grinder who works hard.
He has a 52% Corsi and a 3.7% on-ice Shooting %, so he’s not even getting any assists because no one he plays with can score either. He’s doing a good job, being his good-pro self, but no glory is to be found on his team this season.
RW - 19 years old - shoots left - second year in the VHL
Last time, I talked about Semyon Kizimov’s horrible scoring slump, and of course we’d all hope he’d snap out of it, and things would be a little better. He’s added two goals and an assist in seven more games, bringing his season total to three goals and two assists in 28 games. If he keeps shooting, and he’s playing more like his normal minutes instead of being relegated to less than 10 per night, he’ll get some more points.
Slump busting doesn’t happen overnight. His team is good, with a likely playoff position by the end of the season, so if he peaks late, that’s all to the good.
Winger/C - 21 years old - shoots left - third pro season, first in the KHL/VHL
I looked up Vladislav Kara’s KHL stats a few days ago to see how he was coming along after his promotion in October. He was sporting a Shooting % of 30 at that time, and looked like a star! Alas, these things never last, but you take the points while you can get them. It’s cooled down to 28 already, but he’s got four goals and four assists in only 16 KHL games played in only 8:43 per game on average. That’s called running through the open door of opportunity at full speed.
He’s still on the roster in the KHL, but he was sent back to the VHL for the break in mid-November. He might be again in this December break, as the KHL is off until December 19.
He’s been listed in several recent games as playing on the top line, but that seems to be ... I don’t know what to call it, something like Sheldon Keefe’s token starting lineups that don’t last to the second shift, I guess.
He has played as much as 13 minutes of 22 shifts in recent games or as little as 9 minutes, so one has to imagine some player workload management and tailoring to the competition is going on.
Ak Bars leads the KHL in points, (wow, it’s fun to talk about a prospect on a good team for a change) and they have built up a cushion, with 36 games played, that they are now at the manage the team for the playoffs stage well ahead of many of their rivals.
So, as the end of the season approaches, and that’s February in the KHL, will Kara stay on the top team? Will he get shoved down the bench? Or has he impressed enough to be a member of the team when it counts? We’ll find out.
Vladislav Kara scores on a redirection. #LeafsForever https://t.co/ph6dRXS5gn— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) November 14, 2019
#LeafsForever prospect Vladislav Kara with a goal. https://t.co/N6HKWd1mdw— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) November 14, 2019
In looking up his goal videos, I discovered that Leafs fans following his career on Twitter are using the expected amount of restraint in discussing his earlier goal streak. He’s pointless in his last six games, so that’s cooled off. But the ‘playing on the top line’ thing sure got some attention beyond what it really means. Just bear in mind that he’s under contract to Ak Bars through 2021, and they’re a very good team, and a cup contender.
While it’s common for fans to be a tiny bit parochial about North American hockey, the motivation for Kara to drop everything, buy his way out of his contract, and play in the AHL is not going to be strong. He’ll be 23 when his contract there ends, and if he then chooses to try out for the Leafs, he’ll be the same age Pierre Engvall is right now.
With the WJC coming up, I’ll check back in again with all these players in mid-January, and if Kara is still in the KHL and still playing well, I’ll take the time to do a little more in depth on him.