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European Report: Pontus Holmberg is pounding hard on the door to the Swedish WJC team

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He’s not the most exciting prospect the Leafs have ever had, but he can play the game.

Canada v Sweden: Gold Medal Game - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship
This is the jersey Pontus Homberg wants to wear.

Most of the action this week is from the Four Nations U20 tournament in Czechia. All the games were streamed online, and both Pontus Holmberg and Semyon Kizimov played on their national teams.

Yegor Korshkov

RW - 22 years old - shoots left - fourth full KHL season

Still injured.

Eemeli Räsänen

D - 19 years old - shoots right - first year in the KHL

Still injured.

Jesper Lindgren

D - 21 years old - shoots right - second season in the Liiga

No Liiga games played this week.

Pontus Holmberg

LW - 19 years old - shoots left - first SHL season

The Four Nations tournament was played over three days at the end of this week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Pontus Holmberg was there for Sweden, and let’s just get this out of the way first: Sweden was bad at this tournament.

Normally, this event would feature teams very close to the WJC rosters with some players added who the coaches haven’t made decisions about yet. In Sweden’s case, their top defenders are all in North America, so this roster was playing the deepest of the depth at D behind a forward corps that is weak overall and was missing a few players to injury. When the WJC rolls around, you should expect to see Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Adam Boqvist and Erik Brännström on the roster, which will change them dramatically for the better.

As for the forwards, Holmberg wasn’t on the radar until just before this SHL season began, and even though that was a bad showing by the Swedes in Czechia this past weekend, Holmberg made the most of it. In part because the Swedes are short on star players, a good positional centre like Holmberg is getting a long and serious look where he might not other years.

In game one against the Czechs, Holmberg was held off the scoreboard in a 5-1 loss, but was still named player of the game for Sweden. He looked most dangerous on the power play with 2019 draft prospect Nils Höglander, who Holmberg played the whole game with. Höglander was exciting at times in this game, but struggled to make magic while so over matched.

Holmberg doesn’t really make magic. He plays smart and assertive, and he has offence, but not the kind that takes your breath away. From the beginning of the first game, you could see he’s a pro player. He’s tuned in, doesn’t grudgingly backcheck, he just does it, and he’s always alert to where he should be when he isn’t the guy with the puck.

In game two against the bigger and faster Finns, the Swedes really looked outclassed. They were shutout 4-0, and Holmberg was his usual self, but I was struck by how the better quality forwards on the team were unable to do anything to get chances.

In game three against the offensively forceful Russian team, it was more of the same for Sweden. They lost 5-1, with Holmberg getting the only goal for Sweden. He played most of this game with Lucas Elvenes and Emil Bemström, who were the top-line wingers on day one, with Holmberg as the second line centre.

In personal terms, Holmberg did everything right in a tough situation, and I can’t see how he is not on the preliminary WJC roster now. But unless the defenders really light it up, the Swedes are going to struggle to score in Vancouver/Victoria.

The next step for Holmberg is to go back to Växjö and keep doing what he’s doing. Their next game is Tuesday. And then in early December, we should get the preliminary roster list for the WJC camp there made up of the players in Sweden. They will get ready for a camp in BC beginning in December. If you live out there and want to see the Leafs prospects, this page has preliminary details on pre-tournament friendlies for the Swedes.

Semyon Kizimov

RW - 18 years old - shoots left - no pro experience, first year in VHL

Semyon Kizimov was also at Four Nations. He went scoreless in the first game, a loss to Finland, and the second game, a close victory over the Czechs. In the Russian win over Sweden, Kizimov played as a winger on a lower line, but his line was the one that was hot at first. He had two assists on the first two goals.

He’s more of an opportunist player than Holmberg, very much looking to flee the zone defensively or to swoop in and pounce on the puck offensively.

There’s no ice time stats for this event, so it’s hard to judge, but he had a lot more forwards ahead of him in quality than Homberg did. I would say Holmberg is very much the better all-around player though.

Kizimov might end up on the Russian WJC team, and some good play in the VHL between now and their camp will help, but this event overlapped the Canada Russia series between the Russian juniors and the WHL/OHL/QMJHL all star teams. This was half of Russia’s top players and some fill-in depth, which means Kizimov is farther down the depth chart than Holmberg is in Sweden.

He has the same task as Holmberg, though, go back to his team, help them keep their place near the top of the standings, and he’ll see what December brings.

Nikolai Chebykin

Winger - 21 years old - shoots left - third VHL season

Nikolai Chebykin played two games this week and had third- and then fourth-line minutes. He’s been showing this pattern all year since he came into the league, and so far, he’s not finding his usual VHL-level scoring.

Vladislav Kara

Winger/C - 20 years old - shoots left - third pro season, first in the KHL

Bars Kazan played two games in the VHL this week, with Kara on the squad after his recent demotion, and he’s getting a lot of ice time, almost 20 minutes in Saturday’s game, but was held off the scoreboard in two losses where Bars only scored one goal in each game.


Next week should be a more regular schedule for everyone, and that will hold until the next break in early December. Until then, be a hipster, say you knew all about Pontus Holmberg before anyone else!