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European Report: Development is a tough road that isn’t a straight line

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A lot of the Leafs prospects are struggling, but Pierre Engvall has been put in a position to succeed, and it’s working out great.

2009 NHL Draft Portraits
You draft a local kid, and you can follow his every move. These days, the draft picks can be much more of a mystery.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Timothy Liljegren & Carl Grundström

Both are still with the Leafs, and Grundström played last night, while Liljegren is not being rushed into any spotlights.

Yegor Korshkov

I was wrong last week when I said third was as high as Lokomotiv could get in the West Conference. They parlayed a winning streak and some average play from CSKA into a second place spot in the standings for now.

Last Sunday, they beat Lada (the second worst team in the East) 2-1 on the strength of two goals from the fourth line. Meanwhile Yegor Korshkov’s line, nominally the second line, played fewer minutes than any other forwards. It seems the coach is tired of their lack of production.

On Thursday, Lokomotiv beat Ugra (the worst team in the East) 3-2. They got two goals from the top unit and one from Daniil Apalkov, the best forward on the line Korshkov needs to compete with for ice time. Korskov lost that battle, playing 16 shifts to Apalkov’s 19.

On Saturday, they broke their winning streak with a blowout loss of 6-1 to Avangard, one of the playoff-bound Eastern teams. Max Talbot scored the only goal for the good guys. Korshkov’s line played third line minutes, and his stat line for the week was a very few shots on goal, a couple of penalties and nothing else.

Korshkov is now sitting at three points in 13 games, and his linemates are worse. To say this isn’t the start he wanted is an understatement. Lokomotiv is within two points of four other teams, so their spot in the standings is hardly secure. At some point, someone other than the top five unit has to score some goals. And that should be Korshkov’s job.

The longer this team goes without a linup shakeup, the more I think a coaching shakeup might come first.

Pierre Engvall

Engvall’s HV71 played two games this week. On Thursday they won their game against Brynäs 4-2. Engvall had two assists on a good number of minutes for a guy who is supposed to be on the fourth line.

On Saturday, they lost 2-0 to Linköping, and Engvall played about ten minutes. With the team trailing all game after an early goal against, it’s not a surprise the fourth line played very little. I watched a small amount of this one, and it is very odd to see a player of Engvall’s size playing the stationary forward at the opposing blueline waiting for his teammates to get the puck to him. He has, in other words, not gotten any faster or better defensively, but his team is using his skills to their best advantage.

The Linköping goalie who got the shutout is someone you might know: Jonas Gustavsson. The Monster lives!

Engvall has four points in three games, is perched in the top ten of SHL scoring and has to consider this start to his first SHL season better than he could have ever dreamed.

Jesper Lindgren

When last we checked in with Lindgren, he was top pair on a bad Corsi team. That hasn’t changed!

On Tuesday, however, HPK got to get their groove on against the not very good SaiPa. They won it 5-1, and while Lindgren had no points, he was on the ice for three goals for and played over 22 minutes.

On Saturday, I watched HPK play a better team in Kärpät, get outshot, but still hold the advantage on the scoreboard. They won the game 3-1, and had a terrible Corsi result but were about even in shots on goal. The team aren’t blocking a lot and the difference was primarily on missed shots.

Lindgren showed his usual mix of strengths and weaknesses. He passes well, but he’s physically vulnerable at times, he’s better at offence than defence, and so far his ability to drive play is low even relative to his team. The top line of forwards can make the same claim, and considering they feature the just-drafted Kristian Vesalainen, the team is looking for offence primarily from that group.

However, if I were coaching that team, I’d be worried not just about how much time that first unit is spending at the wrong end of the ice, but the sheer volume of shots they allow.

Nikolai Chebykin

I checked Chebykin’s stats, and I said, oh, so here we go again. Where is he? He did not play in the VHL this week. Instead, he took a trip back to junior, the MHL, to prove again what has already been proven more than once, that he’s fully mastered that level. He had 3 points in two games playing top line minutes.

I confess that finding the exact age restriction for the MHL has always been difficult. Chebykin is 20 as of August, so he is in his last year. Going back there seems pointless, but if SKA-Neva don’t want him on the VHL team, he’s right back where he was last year, having to prove he’s ready. It’s a very tough position to be in.

Vladislav Kara

Kara has played five VHL games (he’s a year younger than Chebykin, remember) and has one goal and one assist. He is currently getting around 16 minutes per game.


Persons of Interest

Igor Ozhiganov: He has now appeared in only eight of a possible 12 games, and still has just one point. I’m going to put him on the mental back burner until he starts getting regular game action somewhere.