The KHL playoffs are now in the second round, while the SHL is playing its preliminary round prior to the main playoff round next week. The Liiga in Finland finishes on Monday, and their playoffs are underway soon.
Playoff thrills and spills are what move European players up and down the draft rankings ahead of the Canadian Junior players getting the same treatment. So now is when you should suddenly start seeing highlights of guys you’ve never heard of.
But that’s next year’s prospects; first, here’s the the current crop:
Frölunda played their last game on Thursday, but before we get to that, there was this news:
Hearing the Maple Leafs will announce shortly the signing of 2nd round pick Carl Grundstrom to an entry level deal.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) March 9, 2017
Nothing has come of this since, and Grundström was a bit busy the day after this tweet went out playing his last game.
He was a bit busy the day before too, playing Frölunda’s second last game of the season against Skellefteå. He was very good in that match, playing his usual physical game and getting in his usual good number of shots. Skellefteå was just too good for Frölunda, though, and withstood being outshot by a big margin to take the win 2-1.
On Thrusday, Frölunda faced Linköping, and a win was necessary to keep from sliding any further down the tight standings. Once the dominant team in the league and safely in the number one spot, Frölunda had slid down after a very poor second half where nothing ever seemed to go right.
The final game was a perfect way to end the season, and for Carl Grundström, it was the cap on his year. He scored twice in the 4-2 win, getting the go-ahead goal twice. You can see the full highlight video here.
The first goal for Linköping was scored by Vilmos Gallo, probably the best Hungarian hockey player in the game. Keep watching for the intermission interview with a guy who looks strikingly like the Rangers’ goalie. The team were thinking they were getting beat again at this point. He doesn’t look so happy.
After a chance by Sean Bergenheim, they show Frölunda’s first goal where you can see Grundström, #3 in white, getting into scoring position and ready for any rebounds. He might not be a great playmaker—he is not—but he knows where to be in the offensive zone, and he can capitalize.
Next up is a very rare sight: a fight in a Swedish hockey game. That was a Swede and a Finn too, none of these North American imports bringing their bad habits over.
The third period is where it all happened, and Grundström started things off with a bit of an easy one on the power play off of a gift from the Linköping goalie. Position. Capitalize. Goal.
His next goal, after Broc Little ties the game, is less opportunistic, and looks more like the sort of thing he has always shown he can do in junior-level play.
The win put Frölunda into third place and got them a date with Skellefteå in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. That is the price for that second half slide. Skellefteå, who aren’t the dominant team they were last year, are still Frölunda’s kryptonite with their tough defensive style that limits chances. This is a reprise of last year’s final round, which Frölunda won, so it will be a contest of rivals.
Play gets underway on March 17 as they wait for teams 7-10 who playoff to decide the final two teams in the top eight. If you finish first or second in the SHL, you get to play one of those tired teams, so slipping to third was a really bad plan.
Grundström himself finished the season with 14 goals and six assists. He went cold post WJC just like his team did, but he never stopped playing his game, and if anything, his overall play improved.
That’s not a lot of points looked at on its own, but in a 52 game season in the top league, that is good for someone his age. Grundström finished first for U20 players in SHL points (4th in points per game) and ninth for U24 players (14th in PPG). He is scoring at a rate above draft-eligible likely first-rounder Lias Andesson, who is a year younger, and below Joel Eriksson Ek, who was a first round draft pick last year. In other words, right where you’d expect. But just the fact these teenagers are in the SHL is some evidence that the player pool is diminishing.
Grundström’s near future seems pretty set now: playoffs, contract, and another summer of training. Next year comes when it comes and isn’t likely weighing much on his mind right now. That first round against Skellefteå probably is.
Lokomotiv began their second round series against last year’s finalist Moscow CSKA (Nikita Zaitsev’s former team) on Wednesday. Their easy cruise past Dinamo Minsk was over and they were swimming with sharks.
CSKA outplayed them all game, and two beautiful goals by Lokomotiv defender Jakub Nakladal were not enough to outdo one of the top two teams in the league. Lokomotiv fell 4-2 in the opener, and Yegor Korshkov got on the scoresheet with a diving penalty and nothing else.
The kid line of Korshkov, Pavel Kravkovsky, and Alexander Polunin were very outmatched in the first game. They are used to being given time and space for their beautiful cycle game and their fantastic rush passing plays. They aren’t quite at the point where they know how to take it from a better team.
In the second game, Lokomotiv looked nearly as outmatched, but they traded goals all game long, got away with taking a lot of penalties, and were lucky enough to be ahead 4-3 when the horn went. Korskov and friends were pushed back to something more like fourth line minutes, and while they had one interesting rush chance, that was about all they managed.
The Lokomotiv top line, which is cut from the same cloth as Korshkov’s crew but are older and wiser, couldn’t do much either. Petri Kontiola had one of the four goals. He and Max Talbot and Brandon Kozun are looking almost as stifled as the young guys.
The scoring was accomplished by Andrei Loktionov and Yegor Averin, middle aged hockey players of 27 or so who are the more classic grinder line on the team.
In regular season points, Polunin, Korshkov and Kravkovsky are fifth, sixth and seventh on the team, with the Kozun line first, second and third. Loktionov sits right in between them, and having a good scorer on the third top line is one of the reasons the team succeeds. And is also one of the ways they resemble the Leafs.
The third game of this series goes this morning and comes back to Yaroslavl, so perhaps home ice will help the underdogs.
Korshkov is stuck at one goal and no assists in playoff points.
We said goodbye to him too soon! He is playing for MODO’s J20 team in the run up to the playoffs. He appeared in two games, both victories, and he has two assists already. They play a few games between the top ten clubs, and then they move into the actual playoffs next week. My expectation is that Lindgen is overpowered for junior hockey and should be a huge boost to this team.
Mora IK, who finished first in the Allsvenskan, played second place BIK Karlskroga in a best of five series to see who gets a direct ride to the competition for promotion to the SHL. Mora won that series in three straight victories. Pierre Engvall had two goals and two assists in the three games, so he is carrying his hot scoring streak into the right time of the year.
Mora IK now play Leksand, who finished last in the SHL, in the series that determines who goes up and who goes down. The second last SHL team plays another Allsvenskan team who are chosen in a separate, even more complex process.
Last year, Leksand beat MODO in a thriller of a match to send that club into the tailspin it’s only now coming out of. So, winning promotion is often a trip up to a league that is very tough to climb any higher in, as Leksand has shown.
For Engvall, what it means is more meaningful hockey to play and a chance to ride along with Mora IK to the SHL next year.
Doesn’t this all seem simple and direct? Don’t you wish the NHL had relegation?
Always a mystery, this fellow. This week, Nikolai Chebykin’s VHL team played the final match of the their first round of the playoffs, which they won, giving them the series and a date in the next round beginning on Monday. But Chebykin didn’t play. Even with only five games to everyone else’s six, he is in second place in playoff points on his team. I can’t find any notice he was injured, and I can’t imagine he needed rest.
Tune in next week, and I’ll try to find him again.
Persons of Interest
Vladimir Tkachyov has seven points in seven games in the KHL playoffs so far. His team are up a comfortable two games to none in the second round and the only challenge ahead for them will be last year’s champion Magnitka in the next round. For a centre on a low scoring team, he is very high up the standings. Someone in the NHL is signing this man come May Day. It might not be the Leafs, but someone will take him on.
Kristian Vesalainen couldn’t even get a shot at 13th forward on Frölunda in the stretch drive. He played palyoff games last year as they were suffering from injuries. The less he plays, the lower his draft ranking falls, the bigger a bargain someone might get with him. Or not, this draft is very hard to call past the top two, and maybe he’s not all that. He dressed in 26 games this season, had six points, only one of them a goal.
Lias Andersson finished the regular season with 19 points, nine of them goals, in 42 games for HV71 in the SHL. That is a very impressive result for a draft-eligible player. His shooting percentage is a touch high at 12.5, but it’s not as much an issue as with Grundström.
Next week I’ll see what the Liiga stats can tell us about their draft-eligible players, which might be a lot since the Liiga give you good shot metrics.