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European Report: playoffs and postponements

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It’s spring time hockey in a pandemic. The playoffs are on, this time, but so are the cancellations.

Kontinental Hockey League: Ak Bars Kazan 4 - 1 Salavat Yulaev Ufa
The friendly green rivals will meet in the playoffs.
Photo by Yegor Aleyev\TASS via Getty Images

More of the Maple Leafs prospects are heading to playoffs or heading home with the season over, while Rodion Amirov is facing a tough second-round opponent in today’s report.

The KHL playoffs move to the second round on Wednesday, and they have the same format as the NHL playoffs in a normal season. Two conferences go from eight teams to one who then meet to play off for the cup. The difference is the KHL is lacking the parity the NHL has, so the first round matches are almost all four of five games long. The second round is sometimes as lopsided, and things don’t get real until the conference finals.

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 primarily in the KHL

Salavat Yulaev easily bounced opponent Traktor from the first round in the KHL playoffs, winning four games to one and shutting out their opponents twice. Salavat scored 14 goals in the series, and the top line had nine of them. Which is a long way of saying that Amirov, on the third line and playing 11 minutes a game has zero points so far.

The next round will be dramatically harder for Salavat Yulaev, as they face the top team in the east, Ak Bars Kazan. These two teams are as geographically close as it gets in the vast east of Russia, and they are traditional rivals who play in the “green derby” every year. They hate each other. And the chances that Ak Bars loses are really small.

Playoffs at 19 are good experience, no matter how they end, so it’s all good from a development point of view, but Amirov will likely be done playing around the end of March, and then he, his agent, Salavat’s management and the Leafs all have contract issues to talk over once they have the time. Don’t expect news on that front in a hurry.

Roni Hirvonen

C - 19 years old - shoots left - second pro year in Liiga

With less a month to go to the end of the regular season, the Liiga has been hit with Coronavirus outbreaks again, and has two teams under quarantine. How this will affect the start of playoffs isn’t clear at the moment, but the season is supposed to wrap up on April 13. The switch to points percentage as a rankings criteria was made immediately, signalling that some of the regular season simply won’t be played.

Ässät is out of a playoff spot right now, so the end of Hirvonen’s season might come sooner than he wants. He’s got six goals and 12 assists so far in 43 games, which is not very exciting on its face, but is second best in points per game for U19 players.

When his season is over, he also has contract decisions looming.

Topi Niemelä

D - 18 years old - shoots right - second year primarily in the Liiga

Topi Niemelä remains sidelined with an injury, and for him a delay in playoff start time, should that happen, could mean he can come back and play. He is under contract in Finland for another year.

Mikko Kokkonen

D - 20 years old - shoots left - fourth year pro, third in Liiga

Jukurit have no hope of playoffs, so Kokkonen is just playing out the season at this point. He has seven assists in 41 games. At 20, and with so much pro experience behind him, it feels like this is the year he either gets a Leafs contract or he doesn’t. There’s really not much left for him to prove in the Liiga.

Axel Rindell

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

After missing two weeks with either an injury or a quarantine post the Euro Hockey Tour event in February, Rindell is back at work. Like teammat Kokkonen, he is playing out the remaining games of his season and has no new points in his recent games. He’s at six goals and 16 assists in 38 games played.

Unlike Kokkonen, he is under contract for next year.

Filip Hållander

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

The SHL is a lot closer to playoffs than the Liiga, so Hållander has only four more games to play. There’s two scheduled for April 1 in two different places, and that seems like a catch-all for some needed make-up games due to a recent Coronavirus outbreak on another team. The playoffs will begin about a week later than originally set if all goes well for the next two weeks of league play.

Luleå is in the playoffs, not at the top of the standings where they like to be, but they have a chance to make up for their slow start with a good finish. Hållander has 12 goals and 10 assist in 47 games played which is eighth in the SHL for U21 players.

Already under NHL contract (he was signed by the Penguins), Hållander can be brought to the NHL at anytime. His SHL contract runs for two more years, so he has all his options open to him. I expect him to be at the next Leafs training camp, but Kyle Dubas said yesterday he may join the team this spring. The AHL regular season ends on May 16, and there is still no word on any form of divisional playoffs, so it’s a tight fit ont ime.

Artur Akhtyamov

G - 19 years old - catches left - first pro year in KHL/VHL, will play some MHL

Akhtyamov is in the playoffs of the MHL (junior league) right now, and he’s had some wild swings in results: a shutout, a .871, and a .941. His team lead their series two games to one in the round of 16.

Anyway you look at it, his season has been a success with good results in some pro games, and he’ll continue in the Ak Bars Kazan club for a few more years while we watch from afar.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov

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

With his season fully over, and no playoffs to be had, Ovchinnikov finished with the third highest TOI/GP of any skater in the MHL who played at least 20 games. Including defencemen. So much time on ice makes his points per game look very impressive, and he finished third by that measure in the same set of players.

He has 20 goals and 31 assists in 40 games played, which is very, very good.

Adjusting for TOI isn’t going to help him look better than that, but it’s more realistic a measure. By that calculation he is 31st in the MHL. But only 10 of the players ahead of him are his age or younger, so he’s in an obviously elite group.

The proof for Ovchinnikov is how he transitions out of the MHL next season, but asking for more from him this year would be unreasonable. He’s had one of the best post-draft seasons for a late-round pick I’ve seen in some time.


Now we come to some of the lesser prospects, and if they’re done for the season, I’m removing them, and they might stay gone next season in some cases. Just because rights to Russian players are indefinite doesn’t mean we have to follow them through 5 years of VHL hockey.

Kalle Loponen

D - 19 years old - shoots right - in Finnish U20 after one OHL season

Loponen has played the entire season in junior hockey with one game remaining. He’s very good, too good for junior, and it remains to be seen if he gets called up to Kärpät (Niemelä’s team) for the playoffs.

Eemeli Räsänen

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

I’m holding on with Räsänen this season just to see if he gets a point. So far he’s zeroes in 26 games in Liiga.

Pontus Holmberg

W/C - 22 years old - shoots left - third SHL season

Holmberg is up to 20 points in 40 games, well above his career SHL average, so he’s having a very good year. With an SHL contract for another year, he feels a little like the prospect who just faded from view. He would need to be playing a role more like Hållander’s to be taken seriously as an NHL prospect, and he hasn’t really ever moved off the bottom six to second line in a pinch level in the SHL so far. And since he just turned 22, there should be no expectation of big changes, only small ones from now on.

Vladislav Kara

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

Kara was called up to Spartak Moscow, his latest club, for the playoffs where he appeared in limited minutes in four games and had zero points. Spartak was swept very easily by CSKA, so their season is over. He played two games with his VHL team who are still active, so he might get in games there.

Signed to NHL Contract and Loaned to European Team

Filip Král

D - 21 years old - shoots left - first pro season after three in WHL, loaned to the first Czech league

Král is doing very well points-wise in the Czech league, producing at a rate similar to Jakub Zboril had. He is 24, and currently with the Bruins. But points don’t make the defenceman entirely. Král would easily get some minutes on the Marlies as it turns out, but Dubas could hardly be expected to have guessed the injury to Rasmus Sandin would open things up.

Král has one goal and two assists in the playoffs so far, which is also very good. His team is tied up at two games all in the first round, so if they advance, he’s also not likely to hit the Marlies this spring. If they get beat out, the possibility exists he could do the quarantine and be in time for some of the AHL season.

No matter what happens, he needs a tour of the AHL — a much harder league than the Czech league — for us to get a handle on him. Given the challenges of this season, however, his has gone great.

Denis Malgin

F - 24 years old - 5 years in NHL, loaned to Lausanne of NL

Now at 32 points in 35 games in the Swiss league, Malgin keeps rolling on, looking like an NHL-level player for some team. Maybe not the Leafs, although Dubas did mention it was possible he would join the Leafs when the Swiss season is over.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev

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

The Athletic reported that Der-Arguchintsev was on his way to Toronto last week to quarantine ahead of joining the Marlies, so that’s excellent, and he comes off this list now.


And that’s the update so far. In a very short period of time, everyone’s season will be over, and we’ll need to wait for the draft for more prospect news outside North America.