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European report: the battle for late season ice time begins

It’s one thing for a prospect to prosper in September on a men’s team. How are they doing now that playoffs loom?

Sweden v Canada: Semifinal - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship
Will Elias Pettersson be the star of this report next year?
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Carl Grundström

Frölunda had an extremely light schedule this week and it may have cost them a win.

They played the second semifinal of their Champions Hockey League series on Tuesday, and it was a dull and extremely easy will over the Swiss competitors Fribourg-Gotteron. Grundström had one of the late goals. Their aggregate score was 9-1 in the two games, so Frölunda cruises to their third straight CHL final against the Czech team Sparta Prague. The final is one game, played in early February.

After they came home from that fun Swiss vacation, Frölunda faced last year’s championship opponent, Skellefteå. The competition level had gone up considerably, and Frunda looked sleepy to start. Skellefteå had multiple chances in the first period, one when they stripped the puck with ease off of Grundström’s stick.

He was the hero who tied it up in the second period, and you can see that goal at the 1:50 mark of the highlight video. He’s picking up garbage around the net, and that is exactly how you get point.

But the winning goal went to Skellefteå in the middle of the third period. If they’d started on time, you can hear Mike Babcock saying.

Grundström has 12 goals and three assists, and is fourth in the league for goals; he does not have to worry about his ice time at all. For points, he’s still much, much lower.

Reality check: the SHL leader in goals is Dennis Everberg who is also third in points. I know him very well. He played a season on the Colorado Avalanche but could not stick in their lineup or get any NHL job. The crucial difference is that Grundström is 19 and Everberg is 25.

Jesper Lindgren and Pierre Engvall

Engvall had a fun week, he notched the fifth and sixth goal in a 7-0 blowout and then his team played Lindgren’s, where they got a 3-2 win. He made it 2-1 in the second, but it took two more goals to decide it.

Lindgren, meanwhile helped his team to a 1-0 win and then, when facing Engvall’s team, got on the board with a tripping penalty, and nothing else.

Engvall’s goal streak, and we’ve seen him get streaky scoring before, has put him into 13 place in the league. He’s very close in goals and points with hot draft-prospect Elias Pettersson, but Pettersson was in the WJC for over a week and is 18 to Engvall’s 20.

Lindgren has slipped to 20th for defenders, but he has the most points on his team at that position and continues to get second unit ice time most games.

Nikolai Chebykin

First you have to find him, then you can look at his points, as always. Last time he was in the KHL on Dynamo Moscow.

This week included the KHL all-star game, so some teams sent their junior aged players down to the MHL for the break.

Before the break, Dynamo played two games, and he was the 13th forward in both games, getting one 23 second shift in the second. The KHL and most European leagues allow teams to dress more skaters than the NHL does, so dressing and then sitting on the bench can be just like the pressbox, only with more false hope.

He popped right down to junior hockey the next day and played two games for MVD Balashikha. He had an assist on both goals in a 3-2 loss and then in the second game, against the same opponent, he had four goals and one assist in a 9-2 victory.

Chebykin is the second highest in points on his junior team with only 16 games played out of a possible 43.

Where will he go next week?

Persons of Interest

This is where I’ll look at mostly the draft-eligible Europeans the Leafs might have a chance at over the next few weeks. I’m also tracking Vladimir Tkachyov, a player the Leafs are rumoured to be looking at. I’ll have a long look at him this coming week.

Kristian Vesalainen is in a very awkward position right now for a draft-eligible player. He was not in the lineup for Frölunda’s CHL game, and he played less than one minute in their only SHL game. It’s one thing to sit out when you’re too good for junior, but not yet cracking the big team lineup, after you’ve been drafted, but right now, he needs to play to be seen. In one sense, the worst that can happen is he drops down in the draft rankings and goes to a better team. Or maybe that’s the best that can happen. Either way, he should be playing somewhere.

Elias Pettersson was at the top of the Allsvenskan points chart when he went to the WJC, and he’s back in action, but hasn’t started climbing back up yet. As a player in a lower-level league, he doesn’t have to worry about ice time very much either.

Lias Andersson who was Pettersson’s linemate at the WJC, is in a similar fix to Vesalainen. He plays in the SHL for HV71, and since the WJC, he’s been in one game for six and a half minutes and dressed on Saturday as the extra forward.

Klim Kostin has it much worse, however. He is a teammate of Chebykin, but has played only 18 games because of injury. His games are split between all three levels of the Dynamo system, just like Chebykin, but his point total is an anaemic one goal and one assist, and people are starting to wonder if he hasn’t been wildly overrated off of a good U17 performance.

Scott Wheeler covers two European defender in the Liiga, so if you haven’t seen that yet, give it a read.