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European Report: Good news for Mikko Kokkonen

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Kokkonen has yet to play, while the rules on KHL juniors are revealed.

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7
This is not the post-draft season Mikko Kokkonen wanted to have.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Mikko Kokkonen

D - 18 years old- shoots left - third year pro, second in Liiga.

Back in July, before the WJSS, Finland played a national junior team tournament, and Mikko Kokkonen was hurt. It was never made clear how exactly, and he travelled with the team to Michigan for the WJSS. He played in one game there for one shift, maybe two. He’s not even listed on the game stats, so his attendance there will disappear into the mists of time.

Since then, he’s travelled through preseason with Jukurit, but never played. He’s now missed the first four regular season games through Friday. No one has ever said what’s up, but the talk around him has a familiar sound. It seems like Kokkonen has missed his entire post-draft summer of events and tournaments to a concussion.

On Friday, Jukurit released this information:

There is positive news for the Jukuri Hospital , as defender Mikko Kokkonen has been granted a game permit. Latvian striker Martins Dzierkals is also likely to make his debut in a jersey over the weekend.

- Mikko’s situation is still being watched, whether we start or are still looking for a sense of play through A-youth [A period spent on the U20 team]. However, having been on the sidelines for a long time, the game is still a game. It’s good to have experience there. However, this weekend he will play, says Kangasalu. — via Google Translate

(More on that other name in there in a minute.)

Kokkonen has not been listed on the roster for Saturday’s game, but if he’s okay to play for sure, then he hasn’t missed enough of his regular season to matter. He’s going to be playing catch-up on his conditioning, however. If they send him back to junior for a while, then he’s in the position of having to win his roster spot back, and that’s very unfortunate.

Eemeli Räsänen

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

Jokerit has played six games already, as the KHL season is fully underway. (Remember, Jokerit is a KHL team, Jukurit is a Liiga team, and they have no connection with each other beyond being in Finland.) They’ve had a very poor start, with only two wins so far while they’ve been scoring piles of goals. They need a goalie, and they need him now.

In the midst of this rough start, Eemeli Räsänen has been dressed in every game as the team has four defence pairs on their playing roster. Even better, though, he’s actually played in four games. In one, a rout of the truly terrible Dinamo Riga, he played over 15 minutes and had 22 shifts. I saw a little of that game, and he looks fine. He’s mostly a blueline hugging defender with a nice shot that he doesn’t overuse. It’s an extremely good sign for him that he’s actually getting regular ice time, and Jokerit will be able to keep him on the playing roster as a “designated junior”

Patrick Conway’s wonderful Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog has an article up that outlines the rules for designated junior players in the KHL.

A KHL team, for each game, is given two extra optional lineup spots which may be used only for junior-age players.

And:

For each KHL match, a game lineup of 20 players (18 skaters plus two goalies) is selected from the KHL roster. However, KHL teams are able to dress in addition, for each game, two young players from the club’s junior roster.

Räsänen is in his last year of eligibility as an older junior, so Jokerit is going to want to take a long look at him this year, his make or break season, to decide if they think he’s got a future at a high level of hockey. For the rest of the details on how this rule works, check out Conway’s blog, and while you’re there, you might want to read about the VHL too.

Pontus Holmberg

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

As the preseason wore on for Pontus Holmberg and Växjö, it became clear they were keeping him on the third line, but he had settled into playing left wing. This is both a surprise, and likely good for him. Any player that has genuine experience at all three forward positions is in a better position to move up, and when that player has a utility game in the first place, it’s vital.

Växjö has played three games so far this season, with game four on Saturday. They’ve lost them all, have the most goals against, and have scored only six, which is the second worst at this early stage. Their starter, Viktor Fasth, has a save % of .757 so far.

Holmberg, whose line is not where the goals are expected to come from, has played only 11:31 minutes per game so far, and he’s leading his team in blocked shots. If they don’t sort their goaltending out and start getting in the offensive zone, he’s going to end up with a busted something from spending all his time taking pucks off his body.

The most surprising thing about his season so far is that he’s last on his team in Corsi, after showing himself as a beast at driving play last year. This is likely an indication that he’s being tossed out in defensive situations and those blocked shots attest to that as well. Let’s hope this situation improves quickly.

Semyon Kizimov

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

Last year, Semyon Kizimov’s team, Lada, were affiliated with the KHL team Lokomotiv. I learned from Conway’s post on the VHL, linked above, that they aren’t affiliated this year. This will mean that Lada won’t be hosting Lokomotiv’s high-end juniors who aren’t yet ready for the big time. It means Kizimov might manage to move up on the team to get a more meaningful role

So far he has played six games, averaging 12 minutes per game, and he’s not getting any points. The team sure is, though, as they’ve won all six games.

The top line on Lada by points is a veteran line with two of the players under 30. This is the trouble with the VHL. If a team isn’t developing juniors for anyone but themselves, a guy like Kizimov can get stuck behind the veterans. This is exactly the situation that the AHL decided to fix by limiting veteran players in games.

Kizimov and the rest of the U20 players on Lada are local Togliatti-born players, but the glut of veterans are all from somewhere else. Lada, who ended up in the VHL and out of the KHL due to financing and ticket sales issues, sure look like a team focused on their bottom line. They want to win games to sell tickets and they need to sell tickets to pay for their veteran players.

Kizimov is going to have to find that scoring rate he had last year and improve upon it to move up on this team.

Vladislav Kara

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

Last season saw Vladislav Kara get some KHL time on Ak Bars, and this season, he seems to be firmly in the VHL on Bars Kazan their farm team. They’ve played six games, won half of them, and Kara has played 13 minutes a game with one goal and three assists.

Kara and Kizimov are in very similar situations, but note that Kara is two years older. He needs to be grabbing a top line spot on Bars right now if he’s going to get another look in the KHL. Both of these players are very good for their ages, just not excellent. It’s hard to judge who they’ll be in a few years. Another Nikolai Chebykin, who is a solid and reliable VHL player, or one of those utility KHL players that can suddenly show up in the NHL at 25, previously overlooked. We’ll have to wait and see how they develop over the next year or so.


Speaking of players finding their level: As mentioned above Martins Dzierkals, still technically a Leafs prospect, has landed a hockey job with Jukurit in the Liiga. He played one game on the fourth line and is slotted in on the second line for today’s game. Once he’s played a few more games, his level in that league (two or three steps down from his KHL team last year) will be clearer.

If you want to hear what he has to say, this interview is all in English:

Next time, I hope to have something good to say about Kokkonen’s play, but that’s all for now.