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European Report: Last call before the juniors head to Alberta

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With the junior prospects a week or two away from joining their camps, and the December break coming up, this is a checkup of the European players.

NHL: SEP 09 NHL Rookie Showdown
Hollowell hits the ice in Finland.
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the November break over, the December break due in a few weeks, and junior players about to leave for WJC camps, this is the last time we’ll check in with the European players before all that disruption is over.

Some NHL loans to European teams are expiring, and we should expect some more of the loaned out Maple Leafs to come back to Toronto, quickly if the NHL gets progress on a new season start. Slowly, if they don’t.

If you find things confusing, all the leagues and acronyms and unusual concepts, check out the Glossary.

Drafted Prospects

Rodion Amirov

LW - 19 years old - shoots left - second pro year with some KHL time

The Rodion Amirov hypetrain is gaining speed even before the WJC starts. Multiple people clipped this shot of him failing to score:

Ooooo, he undressed an AHL defenceman. Oooooo. Okay, it’s a fun clip, and at least this isn’t Liiga goals where the ooing and ahing is over tricks ECHLers regularly do.

Amirov left for the Karjala Cup as part of the cheeky Russian team of U20 players sent to the men’s tournament, and he returned a conquering hero, leaving unhappy Finns and Swedes behind. The Russian juniors utterly dominated teams made up of Liiga and SHL pros, which shouldn’t actually be a surprise.

He then spent quite some time off the Salavat Yulaev roster, until the last few games where he’s played a limited role. He is set to leave for the Russian WJC camp at the end of this week, so his KHL stats should go into suspended animation for six weeks.

In 21 games played, he has three goals and three assists for six points. He is averaging 14 minutes a game, but that’s coming from a stretch playing top six, and another playing less than 10 minutes, so it’s not correct to call that “third-line minutes”. He had three goals in three games at the Karjala Cup.

Roni Hirvonen

C - 18 years old - shoots left - second pro year in Liiga

The Roni Hirvonen vs (Canadiens prospect and fellow centre) Jesperi Kotkaniemi argument was fun until people started taking Liiga points in < 10 games seriously. Kotkaniemi has left the team to return to Montreal, so Hirvonen has a clear run at holding the top C job on Ässät. At least for a couple of weeks, anyway. He’s scored a couple of nice goals lately:

No inferences about heat should really be made. Points sometimes come in bunches, and sometimes they don’t. The takeaway from Hirvonen’s season so far is that he’s showing personal growth from last year, holding his spot in the lineup against some serious pro competition, and he’s only 18 with lots of room for more.

In 18 games played, he has five goals and three assists for eight points. He’s averaging only 15 minutes per game, playing almost no PK, but some power play, and his Corsi is still really bad for a fulltime roster player. He’s been on the ice for the fourth worst number of shots against, and everyone ahead of him is a big minute defenceman. Obviously, there’s aspects to his game he’s not quite perfect at yet.

A serious analysis of his play vs Kotkaniemi’s shows where the weaknesses in Hirvonen’s game are. Points aren’t everything, but it would be odd if he were perfect.

Topi Niemelä

D - 18 years old - shoots right - Liiga for one year, back in U20

What is Topi Niemelä? Is he a junior or a men’s team player? Is he a top pair D or not? In this early part of the season Kärpät haven’t seemed sure yet. Which is fine, you’re meant to be a bit of a mystery at 18.

In eight games played in the Liiga, he has no goals and three assists, and he absolutely has been listed on the lineup card as the top pair guy once or twice. But his average TOI/GP is way, way below the real regular roster defenders. He does not play the power play, but he has a little PK time.

He’s going to be going off to Finland’s WJC camp when that starts up, so his team knows he’s likely unavailable until mid-January, and any top pair stuff was a look to see how he is now. They’ll be able to compare that to how he is in two months.

Unlike Hirvonen, his Corsi is fabulous, and should be taken with even bigger grains of salt, since it’s only eight game’s worth.

Mikko Kokkonen

D - 19 years old - shoots left - fourth year pro, third in Liiga

Not quite the oldest of the Finnish defenders the Leafs have as prospects, Mikko Kokkonen is having a weird year. It’s particularly weird when you compare him to teammate, and now Leafs prospect, Axel Rindell. They both play for Jukurit, which is horrible. They’ve both been on the ice for more shots against (in the Corsi sense, not Shots on Goal) than they’ve been out for shots for, but so has every other defender on the team. They are actually the two best with Corsi of 48%.

In 15 games played, Kokkonen has one assist while the team has managed 28 goals. I can’t imagine assigning meaning to a tour on a really bad team by a teenager, but that’s what we have until the WJC begins. Last year Kokkonen achieved the status of boring on a Finnish team that was... boring. We’ll see how he does this time.

As the Jukurit coach reaches the tear the hair out, what is wrong with you people stage of coaching a bad team, Kokkonen has returned to the right side for some games on a different pair to Rindell.

Filip Hållander

W/C - 20 years old - shoots left - fourth pro year, third in SHL

Luleå, Hållander’s team in Sweden is chugging along having only missed a few games from COVID-19 postponements, so they’ve played 16, and are in fourth place in the standings, well set up to be playoff bound. Hållander missed one game for some sort of injury or illness, and has bee chugging along, not scoring at his pace of last year.

He has one goal and five assists in those games, and is averaging fewer minutes per game than he did last year by over one minute, so figure one to two shifts fewer per game. However, he’s getting more power play time, and is also playing some PK, so his responsibilities have increased.

Hållander still has the highest Corsi of a regular roster player on the team, and is clearly used almost entirely offensively. He has a dreadful PDO, however, and it’s his on-ice shooting % that’s making him look bad in the points department, but his on-ice save % is really, really bad. Sometimes that can make coaches decide it’s the player, not just the twists of fate, but on a team with a decent starter, it’s hard to believe it’s him and not chance. Well, impossible, if you don’t like blaming players for their own bad luck.

Artur Akhtyamov

G - 18 years old - catches left - first pro year in KHL/VHL, will play some MHL

Akhtyamov hasn’t played in the KHL since the end of October, but he did go to the Karjala Cup where he got to watch Yaroslav Askarov be brilliant, and he’ll go to the Russian junior camp in a few days and do the same thing through to mid-January.

He’s had a couple of more VHL starts since we last checked in, and his stats are still very impressive. Ak Bars, his KHL team, is surely a playoff team with a lot of goalies of a more senior ranking. Akhtyamov’s job when he comes back from the WJC might be to play as Bars Kazan’s starter in the VHL.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov

F - 18 years old - shoots L - MHL, with some KHL appearances

After ripping up the ice in the MHL for the Sibir organization (he has 9G, 14A in 16GP) Ovchinnikov was called up to the KHL and played in three KHL games after playing in a few back in September.

I say played, but his TOI was: 0:00, 0:45 and 0:25. He’s sitting in the middle of the bench, gradually getting the KHL experience. Needless to say, his two shifts have netted him zero KHL points so far. Never, ever trust points per game for very young players in the KHL. They might not have played at all in many of those games.

In the MHL, his PPG rate is fourth for all players with at least 10 games played. He is 16th in points on 9-10 games fewer than most of the players ahead of him. He’s doing fine.

Axel Rindell

D - 20 years old - shoots R - second year pro in Liiga

Rindell is a bigger puzzle to me than Kokkonen. He’s got the same Corsi, sometimes plays on the same pair, and has been getting a few more points. He has one goal and six assists, in 14 games played, and other than the fact he plays more power play (hence the points) he’s one year older than Kokkonen, and undrafted until now. I can’t see a huge difference here. But maybe Rindell is mostly that power play ability, and not much else.

Semyon Kizimov

RW - 20 years old - shoots left - first year in the KHL after two in VHL

After a rough year last year in the VHL, Kizimov, who is back there, seems to be on track again, but if he stays there all year, which it seems he will, he’s found his peak very young.

He has zero points in four KHL games and seven in 10 VHL games.

Kalle Loponen

D - 19 years old - shoots right - first full pro year in Liiga after one OHL season

After a good season in the OHL last year, Loponen has landed in junior not the Liiga. At least so far. He seems overqualified with 15 points in 20 games, five of then goals. As a defender, that’s usually a sign for a promotion, but Kärpät is fully booked, at least until the WJC steals some players. He’s doing fine, but isn’t in the same class as the other Leafs defenders in Finnish hockey.

Eemeli Räsänen

D - 21 years old - shoots right - first year in Liiga after two in KHL

Pointless in 11 games so far, the only thing you need to know beyond that is that his team is so bad, they’ve only won two games. Even Jukurit has managed four.

Pontus Holmberg

W/C - 21 years old - shoots left - third SHL season

Injured in a training session for the Karjala Cup, Holmberg hasn’t played since. His early season shooting percentage spike will have to carry him in people’s hearts a little longer. His seven points in 12 games still has him seventh on his team for points.

Vladislav Kara

Winger/C - 22 years old - shoots left - fourth pro season, first full KHL season

Kara has been sent back to the VHL again, after failing to impress much in 17 KHL games. Three points won’t cut it. He, like Kizimov who he resembles in may ways, is definitely hitting his early developmental peak. I think the time to dream on him is well past.

Yegor Korshkov

RW/LW - 24 years old - shoots left - sixth year in pro hockey KHL/AHL

Korshkov is the oldest of these prospects, and our expectations for him, at 24, should be that he’s having his best-ever season. That’s what you’re meant to be doing at that age. Players hitting it big at age 24 to 26 can often fool you into thinking they’re late bloomers, when all you’re seeing is their peak performance on peak effort at the age at which most players experience their best ever results.

The trick is maintaining it, and that’s what makes an NHLer.

With top line play and power play time on a good team, Korshkov has 10 goals (his best ever in a KHL season) and nine assists in 27 games. He is running down his KHL points record and should break that soon.

Signed to NHL Contract and Loaned to European Team

Filip Král

D - 20 years old - shoots left - first pro season after three in WHL, loaned to Prerov, Czech2/Kometa Brno, Czech

Since last time, when the Czech league was on temporary shutdown, Král has moved up to the senior league and has one goal and two assists in eight games. Not bad for a guy out of the WHL last year.

Mikko Lehtonen

D - 26 years old - shoots left - second year in KHL

Lehtonen has been recalled by the Leafs, and his KHL loan is over.

Denis Malgin

F - 23 years old - 5 years in NHL, loaned to Lausanne of NL

Swiss teams are struggling to get games in around COVID-19 cases and, once, a blocked mountain pass. Malgin has only played once since we last checked in on him. He’s got six goals and three assists in nine games, and seems like star material in the Swiss league.

Kristians Rubins

D - 22 years old - shoots left - 2 years in AHL, loaned to Frederikshavn, Denmark

Somehow Elite Prospects figured out the horrible Danish website, so I can tell you that Rubins has two goals and two assists in 12 games.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev

C - 20 years old - shoots right - first pro year after 4 in OHL, loaned to Torpedo, KHL

In his first-ever KHL season, Der-Arguchintsev has one goal and three assists for Torpedo. He has moved up to 15 - 20 minutes a game as well, so he’s making his mark there. I find that very interesting, considering the number of people who have said he’s too small for pro hockey.

Mac Hollowell

D - 22 years old - shoots right - first experience in Europe after one pro year in the AHL/ECHL

Mac Hollowell is proving something about himself playing in the Mestis: He’s likely too good for the Mestis. He has five points in five games, two of them goals, and both goals were scored while he was “activated” and looked remarkably like a forward.

Oh, and I finally figured out how Hollowell ended up there. The top scorer on the team is one Matias Lehtonen, a 25-year-old forward who’s never quite cut it in the Liiga. Guess who his big brother is?

Joe Thornton

Mr. Thornton has had to go into isolation in Davos after several members of that team tested positive for COVID-19. He last played on November 14, so might be back in action in early December if he’s not recalled to Toronto before then.

He’s sitting at two goals and four assists in six games played.

He also did an interview with a Swiss paper (paywalled and in German) where he said he’s considering this season on the Leafs as likely his last in the NHL, and that he would always consider a return to Davos.

The situation in Switzerland was financially dire for teams, as the permission to sell tickets to limited numbers of fans was rescinded when the second wave of the pandemic hit that country hard. The government has agreed to subsidize teams with some conditions. One is they’re not allowed to cut their women’s or kid’s programs. The other is highly paid staff and players have to take a pay cut.

Davos will survive, but I do wonder if the deferred salary Thornton is said to have agreed to might arrive in the form of shares in the team.

That’s all for this edition. If anyone does anything exciting before the WJC gets going, I might visit these players again, but otherwise, we’ll leave them to it until January.