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European Report: Everyone is trying to move up the lineup

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Life as a lower-tier prospect is all about the struggle for a chance to prove yourself.

Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Camp Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Mikko Kokkonen

D - 18 years old- shoots left (routinely plays the right side) - third year pro, second in Liiga

Last time we learned that Mikko Kokkonen was finally cleared to play after a lingering injury, and Jukurit had sent him to their junior team. He played five games there and scored two goals, but the important thing was he got in some big minutes and got up to speed to come back to the Liiga.

Last Wednesday, that finally happened, and Kokkonen played his first game of the season. He was slotted in the lineup as the seventh defender, but played 13 minutes, which is about double what Justin Holl gets as the sixth. Now, he just needs to claw his way back up the lineup.

So far on the season, he’s at zero points in one game.

Eemeli Räsänen

D - 20 years old - shoots right - second year in the KHL

Last time, we all got to learn the rules about the designated junior in KHL games, and now it makes a little more sense that Eemeli Räsänen has been dressed for every Jokerit game so far this season.

In seven games played, he’s still looking for his first point on around 10 minutes per game played. He’s been dressed but not played in five games.

Jokerit has had a rough opening to their season, and Räsänen’s big minute games came in two blowout wins over the hapless Dinamo Riga. Jokerit have climbed up to seventh place in the West, and once they get to the top three where they should expect to be, they’ll relax a little. Räsänen is already ahead of where he was last year, however, a year that’s essentially a lost season and likely should just be ignored.

Pontus Holmberg

W/C - 20 years old - shoots left - second SHL season

Pontus Holmberg has had a very interesting start to his season. First, he was made into a left wing in training camp, and has stuck at that position since. Second, his team was terrible, and had the worst goaltending in the SHL out of the gate.

Then an interesting thing happened two weeks ago in the Saturday game. The team was still horrible, the backup was in net and laid down a .826, and they lost 4-1. None of that was new. The interesting thing was that Holmberg, playing on the third line with veteran grinder-winger Martin Lundberg scored the single goal for Växjö.

The next game, Holmberg and Lundberg were the top line wingers. And they’ve started most of the games since higher in the lineup as presented before each game. You can see what’s going on here. The coach is frustrated, and he’s found his hard-working responsible players and he’s putting them out there as an example to the guys who should be scoring the goals. How’s that worked out, you ask. About how you’d expect.

Växjö has lost 4-2, 5-3 and 3-1 since then. So are these announced lineups real or show? Well, Lundberg has played like a third liner most of the time, and Holmberg is getting lower minutes, so it’s mostly a message. And their starting goalie has the worst save percentage of any starter or heavily used backup in the league. Grit can’t fix that.

Holmberg has one goal and two assists for three points in seven games, which is good enough to be sixth in points on his team.

Semyon Kizimov

RW - 19 years old - shoots left - second year in the VHL

On the one hand, Kizimov’s team, Lada, has assumed their usual spot on top of the VHL standings. On the other, he is totally snakebit and has zero everything in 11 games. That’s not normal for him, but it’s keeping him on the fourth line and at 11 shifts per game. It’s a lot harder to dig out of a hole with a teaspoon than a shovel, so he’s got his work cut out.

Vladislav Kara

Winger/C - 21 years old - shoots left - third pro season, first in the KHL/VHL

Vladislav Kara is in the opposite position to Kizimov. He’s stuck in the VHL, blocked from getting a spot in the KHL by the team’s quest for more playoff glory while their window is open. His VHL team, Bars, is not all that good, and is way down in 14th place in the standings, but he’s doing great.

In 11 games played, he has four goals and seven assists, which, if my math is correct, is a point per game. He’s averaging 23 shifts per game and almost 15 minutes. Now if only Ak Bars, who are leading the East in the KHL could use a depth winger, he’s all set. Matt Frattin seems to have taken his job.

That’s all for this week.