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European Report: The puck is about to drop for the KHL playoffs

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Most of Europe is still jockeying for playoff spots, but the KHL is in playoff mode as of today.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The KHL regular season wrapped up on Friday, and it took to the last game played to sort out playoff positions. This was the most exciting finish in years, and both Lokomotiv and Jokerit have home-ice advantage in the West Conference. They both hit the ice today for game one of round one. By the end of April, someone will have won the Gagarin Cup. If you want a deeper look at the KHL playoff matchups, check this out.

Yegor Korshkov

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

Lokomotiv had the luxury of clinching their playoff spot, third place in the West, early on, so they played out the last few games of the regular season getting some of their younger players on the ice. Korshkov, at the advanced age of 22, is not young by that team’s standards this year.

In the final two games of the regular season, which they won against SKA and CSKA, Korshkov played 16 and 12 minutes as the depth got some shifts.

As Lokomotiv takes the ice today in Yaroslavl, we should expect Korshkov to hold down his regular spot on the third line right wing. The third line generally plays even minutes with the second, and the team has a top scoring line, a middle six, and fourth line of a rotating cast of characters.

Their opponent in the first round is HC Sochi, which means the away games are in a beach town. It’s like playing Florida in the first round in the Atlantic. Sochi finished the regular season really strong, beating everyone they were in competition with for a playoff spot, and they moved up on the last day and got out from under the spectre of playing SKA or CSKA and getting smoked.

I don’t know Sochi very well, but one name on their roster stands out — their points leader Robert Rosén (no relation). He was Elias Pettersson’s centre last year in the SHL, and he was very, very good in the SHL and stayed that good in the KHL.

The other notables are the not-quite NHL-calibre defenders who lead the team in points from the blueline: Jyrki Jokipakka and Ziyat Paigin. They’ll counterbalance Lokomotiv’s top pair of Staffan Kronwall and Jakub Nakladal.

Lokomotiv should take this series easily, however, since they have the overwhelmingly superior goaltending. But anything can happen in a hockey game, so we’ll see how it goes.

Game on, and score some goals, Yegor!

Koshkov finished his injury-shortened regular season with three goals and two assists in 19 regular-season games.

Eemeli Räsänen

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

Jokerit was in a similar position to Lokomotiv, as they couldn’t get higher than forth in the West before last week started. They played their youth a lot in the final games, and that means Eemeli Räsänen played out the regular season with some ice time. He played almost 12 minutes in each of the last two games, and in one of those (a total blowout over last-placed Slovan after their starting goalie had been suspended) he got a primary assist on one of the goals.

Will he play in the playoffs though? That’s a tough one, and I’ll guess not. The team have a lot of defencemen who are serious veterans with playoff experience. I think Räsänen has to work for next season in the KHL (he’s under contract for another year) and see what that brings him. There aren’t going to be a lot of teenagers in the KHL playoffs, after all.

Jokerit play Dynamo Moscow, who finished just behind them in the standings. This is not going to be a walk to the second round by any means.

Räsänen finished his injury-shortened regular season with one goal and one assist in 12 KHL games, and one assist in five games in the Mestis.

Jesper Lindgren

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

HPK played three games last week, winning two and losing the third in overtime. Jesper Lindgren played 18-21 minutes in each game and came away with three assists on the week.

With only six games remaining, the team is in ‘just roll’ mode, with few lineup changes, and a lot of wins and close losses. They currently sit in fourth place in the standings, and yet they are only one point ahead of the team in seventh. They aren’t secure in their place yet, but they’ve done what they needed to do lately, which is win some games.

Lindgren currently has one goal and 14 assists in 39 games played. Last year, for comparison, he had two goals and six assists in 43 games. I think this year has been much better!

Lindgren is under contract to the Leafs, and on loan to HPK, so when his playoffs are over, if the Marlies are still in it, we should expect him to show up and add to the depth on defence.

Pontus Holmberg

W/C - 19 years old - shoots left - first SHL season

I’m not sure in Pontus Holmberg is Kris Versteeg’s biggest fan right now, and yet he’s a team player, so maybe he loves him more than you or I can imagine. Either way, the newest Växjö Laker has made a very big splash on arrival and stirred up the lineup. While Versteeg has seven points in five games, Holmberg is finding fewer opportunities in more limited minutes. The SHL has more younger players than most top European leagues, but like all leagues, the youngest usually take a back seat come crunch time.

Växjö played two games this week, won them both, celebrated the glory that is Versteeg, and are holding strong at fifth place in the standings which would give them a bye into the second round. They need to keep winning, though, as they are only four points ahead of the ninth place team with eight games left to play.

Holmberg played 13 minutes with three shots on goal in the first game, and got 15 minutes the next game. He is nothing if not game to keep playing as hard as he can, so I don’t worry about him getting less ice time right now.

He turns 20 in early March, so he’s not the young kid some of the recently drafted players are, and he is under contract to Växjö for another year after this one. That said, we likely will see him around the development camps this summer. It would be great to see him with the Marlies, if possible, because so far his only small ice play is the WJC, and some game action at a higher level would be fun to watch. That has to be a decision made in his interests though, not the watcher’s.

Semyon Kizimov

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

The VHL finished up their season on Sunday, and the first round of the playoffs are now set.

Lada finished up in fifth place, and they open up the playoffs against 12th place Sokol. Lada won two of their three games in the final week, and Semyon Kizimov played his usual minutes, but didn’t add any points. He finished the regular season with four goals and ten points in 47 games.

There were 52 players in total under the age of 19 who appeared in at least one VHL game this season. Of those, only 18 played in 20 games or more. Only 13 played in 30 games or more. Of those 13, Kizimov finished fourth in total points and third in points per game.

He was beat by a player ranked in the top 100 for the upcoming draft in Nikita Rtishchev, and two undrafted unknowns in Dmitri Voronkov (who plays for Vladislav Kara’s team, hmmm) and Danil Savunov. Kizimov, you should recall, was a seventh-round pick.

It will be most interesting to see if Kizimov can hold onto his ice time in the playoffs considering he just turned 19, and is one of only two players on the team with year 2000 birthdays. Regardless, his first pro season has been a resounding success.

Nikolai Chebykin

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

Nikolai Chebykin, who has struggled to play at his normal level this year, added two assists in the last four games to finish the year with eight goals and six assists in 26 games for a respectable total.

His team, Toros, finished third in the VHL, and he plays against Dynamo, who finished in 14th place. Chebykin went all the way to the last day in the playoffs last year, so that’s a high bar to try to clear on a team that isn’t quite as good.

Vladislav Kara

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

Bars, Vladislav Kara’s team, just barely missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker with the teams in 15th and 16th. He did score the game-winning goal in the last game yesterday, but it wasn’t enough to make the post-season.

He finished the regular season with five goals and 12 assists in 25 VHL games and three goals and two assists in 41 KHL games. He played the top line in the VHL and the fourth line in the KHL.

If Ak Bars decides to call him up for the KHL playoffs, it’s not likely he will get a lot of minutes. I don’t claim to know all the eligibility rules, but they have a deep roster, and are making a push to repeat as champion, so they’re a hard team to find space on.

In the VHL this year, there were 248 players under 21. Of those players that played more than five games, Vladislav Kara is second in points per game. He is too good for the VHL, clearly, but the next step will likely have to wait for next season.


In what is likely to be his final mention, Martins Dzierkals fell off the Dinamo Riga roster again, playing only twice in February. The team just missed the playoffs, so his season is now over.

Vladimir Bobylyov, who plays on the same team as Chebykin reappeared on the team after a bit of an absence and he scored on the last day. He ended up with two goals and 12 assists in 53 games, and isn’t quite the player that Chebykin is.

I don’t expect the Leafs to ever offer contracts of any kind to these three.