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Leafs' prospects in Europe: when to start watching hockey

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Hockey starts sooner than you think. In approximately one month, Leafs' prospect Carl Grundström could be in action in Europe. The rest of the European prospects will begin to play soon as well. Catch up on who to watch.

Vladimir Bobylev with the Royals in his first year of two in the WHL
Vladimir Bobylev with the Royals in his first year of two in the WHL
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

Carl Grundström - SHL

Grundström played for MODO last year, a very poor team that has now been relegated out of the SHL into the lower tier league. Playing on a poor team got him a lot of icetime for someone his age, and it got him the attention of the SHL champions, Frölunda, where he signed for the 2016-2017 season.

Frölunda is the former team of Andreas Johnson, but they lost more than just him to Toronto. They also lost Artturi Lehkonen to the Montréal Canadiens, Spencer Abbott and goaltender Lars Johansson to the Chicago Blackhawks, Lukas Bengtsson to the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as two of their top defenders to other European teams.

They have added players above Grundström's level, and captain Joel Lundqvist is back as well as some other key players, including Johan Sundström, the second line centre who played with Johnson.

Frölunda saw success last year playing an offence first, damn the torpedoes style that let them outscore their opponents by a large margin. They also had an astonishingly successful power play which added to the goal scoring punch. Some of that main power play unit is still there, the crucial anchor in Henrik Tömmernes for example, but most of the young legs that drove that offence are gone.

Grundström has a big opportunity to take the place of one of those departed stars, but given his grittier style compared to Johnson or Abbott and his youth, he is more likely to find himself farther down the lineup. He is not the youngest on the team, that honour goes to Kristian Vesalainen, 17, who many expect to be a high number in the 2017 draft.

Frölunda's season in the SHL begins in September with their first game on the road in Malmö on the 17th. Their home opener is a week later when they host Brynäs. The SHL season features a break at Christmas at the approximate halfway point, and ends in early March.

Frölunda also compete in the Champions Hockey League or CHL, which is an exhibition tournament played in stages over the entire European season between teams from most European leagues excluding the KHL. Frölunda was last year's CHL champion.

The first round of CHL play takes place during most teams' training camps and acts as their pre-season tune up games. When a team like Frölunda plays the teams from weaker leagues, they often stack their roster with prospects to get a look at them. Expect Grundström to be in these early games.

The tournament uses a group format, with two teams advancing from each group of three to the next round, so it will be very easy for Frölunda to move to the second round of play.

Frölunda's first CHL game is August 19 against the Grizzlys Wolfsburg of the German league. They move on to play Dynamo Pardubice of the Czech league two days later on the 21st. They host Dyanmo at home on the 27th, and the Grizzlys on September 9.

The next stage of play takes place in October.

Vladimir Bobylev - KHL

Bobylev was just signed by Spartak Moscow, an old Russian team that dates to 1946 but has not been very successful in the KHL. They were great in the old Soviet league, but they missed the 2014-2015 season in the KHL due to money problems and have not made the playoffs since 2011.

In 2013-2014, Slava Kozlov, at 42, was their top scorer.

Last season they finished eleventh in the West Conference, which put them in the bottom third of the league. They had very poor goaltending, and their top scorer had 13 goals.

They have waved goodby to the goalie tandem they used most, kept their youngest prospect, who seems not bad, and imported a veteran from Sweden who is very good. They also added a veteran defender from SKA St. Petersburg, as well as Bobylev. He is the youngest player on the team, and there is no guarantee of course that they will not choose to play him on the junior team for all or part of the year.

A team struggling to establish themselves as a have-not team in a league where the biggest have team can put Pavel Datsyuk on the ice along with a star-studded roster never seen since the Red Army days might have room for a junior aged prospect who can score goals. Once known for icing nothing much but veterans like Kozlov, Spartak has a new roster for this season of mostly younger players.

Spartak open their season at home hosting Jokerit Helsinki on August 23.

There is no break in the KHL season for the World Cup, but there are breaks for the New Year's Day holiday and some of the Eurotour tournaments. The season ends in mid-February, with the junior league MHL season finishing a short time later. Teams in the KHL often transfer junior aged players down to the MHL for the playoffs.

Of course, Bobylev may be available as a loan to the Marlies at that time if neither Spartak club makes the playoffs.

Yegor Korshkov - KHL

Korshkov played most of his season last year for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He was sent back to the junior squad when the senior team lost in the first round of the playoffs, and he had an amazing playoff run in the MHL that showed he is as overpowered for junior hockey in Russia as Mitch Marner is for the OHL.

It should be expected that Korshkov will play his entire season with Lokomotiv.

As most people know, Lokomotiv lost their entire team in a plane crash in 2011. The hastily rebuilt roster played in the lower level professional league that year and were guaranteed a playoff spot on their return to the KHL the next season.

The tragedy has shaped the team more than anyone can ever imagine, and in their three years of play since, they have made the playoffs, but have made first or second round exits.

Former Leaf Staffan Kronwall joined the team after the tragedy, and Lokomotiv is also home to the infamous Petri Kontiola, who was third in scoring for the team last year. Aside from them, the recently added Max Talbot and one or two others, everyone on the team is under 30. They also added Brandon Kozun as well, giving them one of the fastest skaters in the KHL.

Korshkov, at 20, has an entire trio of players on the roster younger than him, and he proved last year he is ready for the big leagues.

Lokomotiv opens their season on the road in the Far East with a game against Amur Khabarovsk on August 24 in a city only 30km from the Chinese border. They make it back home for their home opener on August 29 against Dynamo Moscow with a stop to play Admiral Vladivostok along the way.

It will take a lot to challenge the absurdly stacked SKA St. Petersburg in the West Conference, but Lokomotiv has youth and drive, and maybe they might go deeper this year.

Jesper Lindgren and Pierre Engvall - Allsvenskan

Lindgren split his time last year between the U20 and the senior team for MODO. He ended up in the Allsvenskan, or second division league, when MODO were relegated out of the SHL.

Engvall grew up in the Frölunda club system, but is now under contract to Mora IK, who are a perennial Allsvenskan team that has not been near the SHL for ten years.

MODO shed almost their entire roster of highly paid talent and is very much a rebuilding team now. Aside from Lindgren, one of the few players to sign a contract extension was fellow defender Oscar Hedman. Also still on the team is veteran defenceman and team captain Byron Ritchie, so at their end of the ice they have continuity and stability. In front of them are a set of very young forwards, few of whom are elite level players.

Neither team should be expected to be good or to earn promotion, but both teams may well offer these prospects a lot of icetime and a chance to shine.

Both teams begin on opening day of the Allsvenskan season on September 14, and the season runs to early March.

Nikolai Chebykin - MHL

Chebykin, who is only 18, played his last two years for HK MVD Balashikha which is the junior team for Dynamo Moscow. He should be expected to play his whole season in the MHL again this year.

The MHL has not yet announced their schedule but they play a similar one to the KHL.

Keep track of your favourites

PPP will keep you updated on what's going on with all the prospects. You might see some indepth coverage of Frölunda or Lokomotiv as well this year.