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European report: Playoffs and an update on Vladimir Tkachyov

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Lots of Leafs prospects in action this week, but the season is over for some, including the number one person of interest according to rumours.

Sweden v Russia - Bronze Medal Game - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Carl Grundström

Frölunda started out this week down three games to two in the first round of the playoffs. They’d just won their must-win Saturday game, and had to win two more to stay alive against last year’s semi-finalist Skellefteå. Needless to say, that wasn’t easy.

Skellefteå had Joni Ortio in net, one of the Calgary Flames triumvirate of despair last year, and my favourite out of the trio despite his stats. He decamped to Sweden fast after that NHL disaster season and has seen his save percentage go up on a defensively-gifted team.

Carl Grundström has had one game where he solved him, and that was last Saturday. For Monday’s game, the only goal in regulation came from Victor Olofsson, a Sabres prospect who is 21, had a poor year by goal stats, but is finishing strong.

The game went to a very tense overtime and was solved by this amazing goal:

The text is a quote from Nicklas Lasu claiming he’s practiced that. Maybe he has. James van Riemsdyk practices those amazing tips at the net.

With Frölunda still alive, the two teams moved to the next must win game, knotted up at three game each.

This one was tense and well fought, with a goal from Jonathan Sigalet off of a feed from Olofsson tying it up at 2-2 early in the third period. No one else could score in regulation, so it was another trip to overtime, this one to decide who got the second round and who got the golf course.

Olofsson was the hero this time, riding his hot streak at just the right time, on a feed from Lasu, who has more historic OT goals than just the most recent one. Frölunda were on their way to the second round.

Grundström played very well in this series most of the time. It’s easy to forget he’s a year and a half younger than Olofsson when you see him playing a hard net-front game, digging out pucks and generally getting under the skin of the opposition. He shoots the puck a lot, and while that early scoring streak in the regular season gave people the wrong idea, his game is very much one that will translate to the NHL without much need for an interpreter. He could play in the AHL right now and do fine.

The first match of the second round is Monday against Brynäs, a good team with a mix of veterans and young prospects including the WJC goalie and Flyers draft pick Felix Sandström. They also have a high-scoring, undrafted 19-year-old Linus Ölund who is worth a look. He has moved up from junior this year and is making an impact in the playoffs.

Yegor Korshkov

Lokomotiv was never supposed to get to the Conference Final. That’s the consolation. They faced SKA St. Petersburg down two games to none and the only goal they got in a heartbreaking OT loss came from Yegor Korshkov’s linemate Pavel Kravkovsky. It was the only bright spot for that line in a game that proved the very top level of the KHL is a bit over their heads still.

The next game was a 2-1 regulation win for SKA, who looked like they made only as much effort as they needed to sweep the series and move on to face last year’s champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the final round.

Korshkov ended up with a goal and two assists in the playoffs and ranks 19th in U24 players as of now. The top ranked U24 player at the moment we’ll talk about in a moment.

With his season over, Korshkov has the chance to recuperate fully from his bone fracture and to train for the next season. KHL games start as early as late August, so do not expect to see him in Toronto for rookie or prospect camps. The timing is just wrong.

Pierre Engvall

Mora IK has turned in the story of the playoff season in Sweden. Usually the games to decide relegation and promotion between the SHL and the Allsvenskan are of interest to the local fans, and get overshadowed by the main playoffs. But the Mora vs Leksands rivalry and Mora’s play has caught everyone’s attention.

After splitting the first two games, Mora roared out to take the next two 6-1 and 4-1 with Pierre Engvall getting two assists in those games.

The fifth game went to Leksands 4-2, and Engvall had one goal and one assist in that contest.

The sixth game was played Saturday at Mora’s home arena and the crowd was electric. The team responded with an early 2-0 lead that ended up in a 5-1 blowout with two empty net goals, one scored by Engvall, his only point in the game. There was never any doubt, given the way Mora began the game, that they were rolling over Leksands one more time.

Mora IK is now an SHL team, and Engvall scored a lot of the goals that made that happen.

What this means is not just that the current team moves up to playing tougher competition. There are great changes in store because they will now have more money to spend. The usual run of things is for the team to go shopping for high-end players who grew up in the club but moved on to better teams. If they find this new blood, current players may get moved down the depth chart, or right off the team.

If they don’t build up the team, they could follow the arc of Leksands, the team they beat yesterday—one year up in the SHL and right back down again.

The other big question is will the coach, subject of more rumours than the players, stay with Mora. He is Jeremy Colliton, and it would be no surprise if AHL teams are calling him after his meteoric rise as a coach in Sweden. But he just helped build himself a bridge right into the SHL, perhaps he’ll stay another year.

Jesper Lindgren

MODO’s junior team played their semifinal against HV71 on Saturday and won in a shootout. This was a one-game, winner goes to the final affair, and the final is today. Jesper Lindgren played top pair, but had no points.

Breaking: somewhere in this picture is Lindgren after winning the junior championship.

Nikolai Chebykin

Dynamo Balashikha is in the semifinals of the VHL playoffs and is up two games to none. Nikolai Chebykin has one assist in this round, and is back up to playing second line minutes again. His good playoffs continue.

Persons of Interest - Vladimir Tkachyov

In 30 thoughts last week, Elliotte Friedman said this:

Ak Bars Kazan is down 2-0 to Metallurg in the KHL’s Western final. When their season is over, NHL clubs will try to close on forward Vladimir Tkachyov. Toronto remains very aggressive, but there are several chasers. He’s had a good season and a strong playoff. (Aside: love how the KHL website lists how long players are under contract.)

In fact, Ak Bars is now out of the playoffs, and Tkachyov’s season is over. He is right now the top U24 scorer in the playoffs with two goals and nine assists in 15 playoff games.

With Friedman pointing out the Leafs’ interest in this very interesting player, we have another wave of people getting him mixed up with the wrong Vladimir Tkachyov. You, dear readers, were in on the ground floor on this topic, and you would never make that mistake.

Also, a word to the wise: the KHL site might show contract expiry dates, but they don’t show extensions that have already been signed, so don’t get excited that it looks like Petri Kontiola is a free agent. He’s not.

I feel even more strongly that Tkachyov is a good fit for the Leafs after seeing him in playoff action. He is the central axle around which the creative wingers and defenders on the ice with him turn. He is very good on the penalty kill and at faceoffs, and he is a net-front man or a part of the passing circle on a power play. His skating speed looks good, and he’s smart about where to be on the ice.

Technically, his contract runs out on April 30, but an agreement to terms can come before that, like it did with Miro Aaltonen. He is likely on the long list for Russia’s national team for the World Championships in May. He might be on the short list, but until they know which NHLers are available and who comes out of the KHL final intact, that’s up in the air. He might simply want to wait until he knows if he’s on that team to make a decision about next year.

Nikita Zaitsev did not sign until just after his contract expired last year.

Next week will be a thinner list to go through as playoffs start to end for most of these players. If things go well, Grundström should be the last man standing for a few more weeks yet.