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European report: everyone is getting friendly

With most league play done and the World Championships a couple of weeks away, it’s time for some exhibition games, some more friendly than others.

foto: Kristina Gillerstedt

Nikolai Chebykin

First the good news: Dynamo Balashikha swept their final series 4-0 and won the VHL championship. Now the bad news: Nikolai Chebykin played eight seconds of the final game, part of one shift, and I can’t find out why. He had been playing 12-15 shifts per game in the final round, but hadn’t notched any points.

In the third game of the series, he was judged to be the instigator in a fight and got a game misconduct, so that might be why he didn’t play. With the European system of 13 forwards dressed for a game, you can bench one player for the whole game and not be short-handed. Maybe this was a life lesson and not an injury.

Chebykin finished the VHL playoffs with three goals and nine points in 15 games playing bottom- to mid-six minutes.

That’s a modest improvement over his regular season VHL play, and by points per game, he is top 30 in the VHL playoffs. That seems only adequate until you realize he is top of the list by points and points per game for U20 players. He is 11th for U24 players in points per game.

Next year will be telling for Chebykin. Can he find more game and get into the KHL or not?

Carl Grundström

Tre Kronor played two friendlies against Belarus last week, one on Friday and one on Saturday. The team has a very impressive list of NHL players ready to join up for the World Championships, and most of those players will be on hand this coming Thursday for a game against Russia in Stockholm. But before the big boys start taking roster spots, Sweden went with a young team to see some of their prospects in action.

Carl Grundström was one of the younger players on the national squad for the games versus Belarus. There’s just one problem: Grundström doesn’t have a friendly setting. He took no points in the two games, but he definitely stood out.

In the first game, he looked like he was still in playoff mode—introducing players to the boards, camping in the crease, digging out pucks in corners, and generally playing at a pace above a lot of his own team, not to mention the other side. He was in his office in front of the net fending off two defenders and making a huge screen when Frölunda teammate Victor Olofsson scored a goal in the 4-1 Swedish victory.

In Saturday’s game he was a little less on fire, but not by much. Sweden won that game easily as well.

The lineup for Thursday’s game does include any of the youngest players, and has room for only a few non-NHLers. Grundström might be done for the year now, but then, I thought that about Lindgren once too!

Pierre Engvall and Jesper Lindgren

Both players are still with the Marlies on ATOs, but hadn’t played before this weekend. The Marlies opened their playoffs on the road, with two games in Albany against the Devils.

It was the the Devils, last year in the playoffs that put Andreas Johnsson out of action in his second game. Johnsson was on the ice for game two in Albany, and so, unexpectedly, was Pierre Engvall.

Engvall played on the fourth line wing, centred by veteran Colin Greening and opposite Lindgren’s old teammate Dmytro Timashov. This was a perfect choice of linemates for a young man in his first AHL game. Greening knows the game, the league and is a good teacher by all reports, and Timashov knows both the Swedish game and the AHL.

The Albany announcer called Engvall a youngster at one point, so let’s just review that idea. He’ll turn 21 at the end of May. Johnsson doesn’t turn 23 until November. Timashov is a few months younger than Engvall, and most important to keep in mind, Kasperi Kapanen is also a few months younger. Engvall is no youngster on this Marlies team.

He is a rookie in the AHL, so we do need to bear that in mind. He ended the game with a straight run of zeroes on the score sheet—no points, no penalties, no shots on goal. The score in the game was 6-2 Marlies, and while Greening got one goal, Engvall wasn’t on the ice for that shift.

He didn’t play a lot. He was easy for Albany to physically handle, standing him up along the boards and knocking him down in the offensive zone, so that his height seemed irrelevant. He skates smoothly, passes really well, makes smart high percentage, conservative plays and he did not do anything in his first AHL game to make you think he was going to impress in his second. He didn’t do anything bad either.

Engvall only got a little power play time at the end of the game, and there was not much interest in a team with a four-goal lead doing much with it.

In contrast, Johnsson looked like a player out of the gate last year, and now, after a full year in the AHL, he has grown into one of the best forwards on the team—feisty in the slot, the crease and aggressive on the puck. He certainly was out there today, all of those things, so as a model for Engvall to follow, he had it all.

The Marlies are back in Toronto now to await their first home game on Wednesday (AHL playoff schedules are often strange.) The best of five series is tied at one game all.

Yegor Korshkov

Russia continued their series of friendlies using their B team, but Yegor Korshkov, along with two other younger players, were cut and sent back to the training camp. As more KHL players and some NHLers start rounding out the Russian teams, more players will be cut—the A team is the main national team, the B team is used as a training and development team in non-Olympic years. The A team will be formed up for the World Championships shortly.

Vladimir Tkachyov was still on the Russian B team as they played Switzerland on the weekend, but he’s already been pushed down the lineup out of the 1C spot.

There are unsourced rumours floating around that Tkachyov has decided against a move to the NHL because he might believe he has a chance at Russia’s Olympic team next year. There’s no way to judge the reliability of these stories, and so far it seems to be speculation. My speculation is that he’s not going to do anything until his contract expires next Sunday, and perhaps not until he’s done playing for the year. But I don’t see him as a lock to make the Russian Olympic team unless he makes this year’s World Championship squad and plays very well.

There are only so many spots for centres on any one team, and the competition might be very tough. Tkachyov is not in a class with the winger and Tampa prospect Nikita Gusev, who can count on an Olympic team spot and will likely not consider the NHL at all for next year.

Draft-eligible Players

Kristian Vesalainen has left Frölunda after barely playing down the stretch and seeing action in only one playoff game. He has signed with HPK in Finland. This is technically not confirmed yet, but is being reported as fact in Sweden.

He is playing today in the final of the IIHF U18 tournament where he leads in points heading into the last game.

Lias Andersson is joining Frölunda for next year, although this is still not official either as he’s busy playing in the SHL final with his current team, HV71. He scored a goal in their most recent win.

Miro Heiskanen is also at the U18 tournament, and the defender is second in points in the tournament on the strength of a lot of assists. Heiskanen is coming off a more successful league season in Finland than Vesalainen had in Sweden.

SC Bern won the Swiss championship. I talked about how Bern is the most popular team in Europe here.

This was their parade:

The guys bouncing up and down on the truck with the DJ are most of the team. The crowd was estimated at over 20,000, including some confused tourists.