It’s been a while since the last report, and this is going to be a big catch up on how everyone is doing. European leagues are about to go on a break for the Karjala Cup in Finland where the national teams of Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic join the hosts for a four-day tournament. So the next report will be sometime after that.
D - 18 years old- shoots left - third year pro, second in Liiga
After a delayed start to his season, and a trip back to the U20 Jukurit team, Mikko Kokkonen is having trouble claiming a spot in the Jukurit men’s team lineup. He’s played seven games in total in October for the big club, averaging 16 minutes per game, playing on the third pair. He has no points so far.
He has also played three games for the junior team woven into his Liiga season this past month. He’s had one goal and an assist in those games, giving him two goals and three points on the season there in nine total games. He is the top pairing defender when he plays junior, so the extra time on ice is likely good for his conditioning.
It’s hard not to see the benefits of a system where a player can move to whatever level of team is right for him on any given day. He’s not stuck playing junior because of rules that favour team finances, and he’s not sitting on the bench in the Liiga because they found someone else to take his spot.
D - 20 years old - shoots right - second year in the KHL
There was a slightly erroneous report going around a month ago that Eemeli Räsänen had been sent to the Mestis (Finnish second level men’s league). The slightly more complex story is that Jokerit, the KHL team Räsänen plays for, was doing the same thing as Kokkonen’s Liiga team. They were loaning Räsänen back down a level while they had a break in their schedule. He’s returned to the KHL and now has seven games there, after four in the Mestis.
He has been playing 20 minutes a game on average in the Mestis and has one goal and one assist, but the playing time is hard to come by in the KHL. He’s been dressed but not played for seven games in October in the KHL, and it’s not helping his development at all that Jokerit hasn’t got a VHL team (one level lower than the KHL and tougher competition than the Mestis) for him to go to. Jokerit is losing a lot, and is in danger of falling out of a playoff spot, so they have bigger worries than one prospect right now.
Räsänen is in a bind, and he’s stagnating after a lot of injuries. I hope they figure something out where he can play, even if that does mean a return to the Mestis full time.
W/C - 20 years old - shoots left - second SHL season
Pontus Holmberg is a grinder, and he’s grinding out a tough season so far. Växjö, who have terrible goaltending and can’t score, have crawled out of last place on a technicality (a tie-break with one other team) and they are now over one-quarter of the way through their season. It’s too early to say it’s too late for them, but they have less than half of the points of the top five teams.
Holmberg, who is now down to an average of 12 minutes a game as the team looks for goal-scorers, has added one assist and is at one goal and three assists in 15 games. His play-driving abilities haven’t left him, however, as he’s at 56% Corsi, on a team where that’s seventh best for regular roster players. He has the third-worst PDO on the team, though, so he’s been on the ice for a lot of the twin problems they suffer from.
RW - 19 years old - shoots left - second year in the VHL
You do not want Semyon Kizimov’s life. After a great season last year where he was near the tops for his age group in the VHL, he has one goal in the season to date. In 20 games. He’s shooting over one SOG per game, at a slight increase over last year, and there’s no information on blocks or misses, so his individual Corsi rate is unknown, but that’s a hell of a slump.
His ice time has withered back to fourth-line minutes, which is hardly going to help him, but at least he’s in every game. This man needs to regress! He’s fallen behind Vladimir Bobylyov and Nikolai Chebykin in production, and since both of those Leafs draft picks (technically still prospects in the system) look like career VHLers, that’s not good, although they are both three years older.
Winger/C - 21 years old - shoots left - third pro season, first in the KHL/VHL
Vladislav Kara has had everyone else’s good fortune as well as his own share, it seems. After playing 15 games in the VHL and scoring an even point per game (five goals and 10 assists), he has been called back to the KHL. He has one assist in three games for Ak Bars, the team tied for first place in the league in points.
Ak Bars has some injuries, notably to one of their top centres, so we have to hope Kara can seize this opportunity and stick in the KHL. He played one shift in his first game last week, and then vaulted up to 12 minutes in his third game. They’ve won all three games, but then they’ve only lost five of 23 so far and have an identical record to CSKA.
Kara, meanwhile, leaves the VHL eighth in points per game for players who have at least 10 games and the undisputed leader of the younger than 24 set. He’s had an exceptional start to his season, and has earned a spot on one of the best rosters in European hockey.
Speaking of a really good roster, and a really good player, there have been firm rumours that Konstantin Okulov of CSKA is interested in offers from the Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens for next season.
Olulov is 24, a left-shooting winger and centre, who is originally from Novosibirsk, town out in the middle of Siberia near the Kazakhstan border. It’s also the birthplace of Egor Korshkov, currently having a very good season on the Marlies.
Okulov is in his third season with CSKA in Moscow, and he’s rolling along the last two at .67 points per game. That puts him in the top 40 in the KHL for regular players. Elite Prospect’s Rinkside (subscriber content) did a feature on him and pointed out that he only plays third-line minutes on the stacked CSKA squad, and if you calculate out his points per 60 minutes, you get a top-20 scorer.
But that’s on CSKA, and considering I’ve just told you that there’s two teams in the KHL who have only lost five games out of 23, you have to realize these players aren’t living in a world with parity as the NHL has now. Points on some teams are easier to come by than on others. And those teams also have great players, so it gets very, very difficult to separate out the rich, stacked team points inflation from individual skill, even if you look at years of scoring results. Remember Vadim Shipachyov? He looked less exciting taken away from Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev. Kovalchuk was one of the worst free agent signings in memory, and Gusev himself, a far superior player to Okulov, is struggling to get his NHL game together on a New Jersey Devils team that is also struggling.
I watched Okulov play one game, so get your salt shaker out, but he’s got interesting things going for him. Rinkside points out his skating is good and he’s a good transition player, but I would add some caution that transition is easier in the KHL by a large factor than in the NHL. Nikita Zaitsev was a key to CSKA’s transition once upon a time.
Okulov plays their system well, and it’s a Leafs-adjacent system of speed, quick passing, offensive pressure and a lot of puck movement to generate quality scoring chances. But I though Mikhail Grigorenko, also linked to the Leafs, was the notably better player. The CSKA coach agrees, as Grogorenko is a top line centre/winger there.
I’ll try to have a look at them sometime later in the season, but Okulov is on the Russian team at the Karjala Cup, so if he does something exciting, expect to hear about him, as a lot of scouts go to that event.
Look for the next report sometime heading into December, and until then, try to be as fortunate as Vladislav Kara, and as resilient as Semyon Kizimov. You’ll never have Pontus Holmberg’s Corsi, though, don’t even try.