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European Report: It’s already playoff time

Yegor Korshkov played his first playoff game yesterday, and Carl Grundström is nearly ready for his post-season.

MARKKU ULANDER/AFP/Getty Images

Carl Grundström

When we last visited Carl Grundström, he had seven goals and four assists in a season shortened by the Maple Leafs training camp at the beginning and a knee injury at the end of 2017. He’s back on form now with five goals and an assist in his four games heading into Saturday’s game against HV71.

The SHL took a two-week break for the Olympics, so Frölunda played a few games in early February and started up again on February 24. In Saturday’s game he helped out on this power play goal:

Frölunda lost the game in overtime, however.

Grundström has 14 goals and seven assists in 32 games on the season and is second on his team in goal scoring. He’s had great chemistry with new centre Jan Mursak, and he’s roaring along heading into the playoffs.

Frölunda play three more games in their regular season, ending next Saturday. You get three points for a win in the SHL, so they can move up as far as second place or drop down a couple of spots with a losing streak. The playoff picture for them will go down to the wire.

Yegor Korshkov

The KHL took off the whole month of February, but they and Yegor Korshkov also got back to work last week. Lokomotiv played two games, the first without two of their returning Olympian forwards, and the second, and last of the regular season with the whole team, but not Korshkov for some reason.

As detailed in this interesting article on Korshkov, he is playing on a new line and having success. Only one player has changed on the line, however, and the claims about his ice time growing are a little overstated. The team has moved to a shorter-shift style of play this year, and Korshkov’s number of shifts has increased while his ice time was fairly static over the season but up a bit over last year. He is still in a second-third line limbo, and hasn’t really cemented his position as on the brink of top-line status, but he certainly seems closer than he was at the beginning of the year.

Lokomotiv finished fourth in the very tough West Conference, and therefore have the hardest first-round playoff match against the team that finished fifth, Torpedo. They played their first game of round one on Saturday, and it was an eventful one. Korshkov took a dirty hit behind the net, and missed a few shifts. Lokomotiv won it 2-1 by relying on their power play.

Overall, Korshkov looks bulkier, stronger, more confident and much more likely to win a board battle than he ever was. He is 6’4”, but has always played like a much smaller forward. He handles the puck extremely well, skates with it well, passes well, and aside from the hit, looked like he was really on his game as a playmaking winger.

Lokomotiv can win their first round, but getting deeper in the playoffs will be a tough task. They get no rest, however, as they play their second game today.

Pierre Engvall

At the end of January, Pierre Engvall had two goals and five assists on his injury-shortened season. He had one of his occasional point-filled games in early February and now sits at five goals and nine assists in 28 games of solid fourth-line play where he’s averaged 13 minutes per game. However, in recent games, he’s been moving up the lineup. In Saturday’s game against Frölunda, he had an assist on the game-winning overtime goal.

His team, HV71, will make the playoffs, but the defending champion needs a big push to make the top six and get a bye into the second round.

Jesper Lindgren

The Finnish Liiga took a very short break around the Olympics and got back at it at the end of February as well. Back in January, Jesper Lindgren played one game at the end of the month, saw 11 minutes of ice time and has been listed as injured ever since. I do not have any details on the injury.

HPK have two more games, and they seem very unlikely to make the playoffs, so his season seems to be over.

Nikolai Chebykin

Life is looking up for Nikolai Chebykin. His team finished the regular season on top of the standings in the VHL, and he had nine goals and nine assists in 32 games. So far in the playoffs, success has continued, and he has one goal and five assists in the first five games as Dynamo St. Petersburg rolled to a 4-1 victory on their first round opponent.

Vladimir Bobylyov

For Vladimir Bobylyov, this season has seen him drop back to junior hockey in the MHL in his last year of eligibility. He’s at a point per game pace in 18 games for this club’s junior team, and he’ll see some playoffs, but that can’t be what he wanted out of this year. On the other hand, Chebykin took time to crack the VHL, moving from team to team, and he’s rolling right now.

Vladislav Kara

The points haven’t been coming at the same pace for Vladislav Kara as they were. In his VHL season he finished at nine goals and six assist in 33 games. Unfortunately, his team is not a playoff team. He has not appeared on the roster of either the KHL team, who are tops in the East and enter the playoffs today, or the MHL team who are a middling playoff team about to get ready for the post-season after a few more days of regular-season play.

His points are good enough for fourth among U20 players in the VHL, however. He is behind two drafted players and a hidden gem who was never drafted (and is listed at 5’9”) in Alexander Podkorytov. In points per game, Kara is sixth among U20 players who have played at least 10 games.


Persons of Interest

Igor Ozhiganov: got an assist in the last game of the season and finished the year with nine points. He plays on a top team and may go deep in the playoffs, but it’s hard to say much about a defensive defenceman who plays lower down the lineup.


The Future

Carl Grundström is the only one of these players with an NHL contract. We should expect him to show up on the Marlies when his playoffs in Sweden are over, and we should not expect him to leave Toronto again. Will he move right into the NHL next year? Likely not, but he should be one of the best players in the AHL.

Yegor Korshkov’s KHL contract expires on May 1 this year. However, given that the Russians won the Olympic gold medal with a KHL all-star team of mostly experienced veterans, they may chose to send their U25 B team to the World Championships in May. If that’s the case, expect to see Korshkov on the roster. He was on the long list for the Olympic team, after all. I think it’s time the Leafs took a closeup look at Korshkov, but with no time pressure on their rights to him, they may not feel that sense of urgency.

After those two, there’s not likely a future NHL player on this list. If you want to pin your hopes on an outside chance, go with Vladislav Kara. He is playing above his age level and succeeding at it. Nikolai Chebykin, who is older, looks like a confirmed VHLer who is not going to move up to the KHL, at least not anytime soon. Both of these players are under indefinite rights like Korshkov, so the Leafs can take their time on deciding if they fit in the organization’s future.

Vladimir Bobylyov looks to be aging out of junior with nowhere to go in Russian hockey without a big improvement over the summer. The Leafs rights to Bobylyov expire this summer, as he was drafted out of Canadian junior hockey, but I can’t see the Leafs offering him a contract. They had him playing in the AHL last season, and as soon as he was sent down to the ECHL he vanished back to Russia. I’m not sure why the Leafs would repeat that process, but they might.

Jesper Lindgren has one more year to show he’s got something. He was brought over to the Marlies last year, but did not play. Depending on his injury status, he may show up over here again.

Pierre Engvall has the SHL playoffs to make an impression, and he’s been playing well enough, but is certainly not dominating the way a player his age must do to have any sort of NHL future. His rights also expire this summer, and he played one game last spring on the Marlies where he looked totally out of his depth. He would be much more able to play at that level now, however.


Next week we’ll have more playoff results and hopefully some indication of where Kara is playing for the rest of the season.