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European Report: A champion is crowned

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Pontus Holmberg with the best end to a prospect’s season so far.

Slovakia v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship

With the majority of the play in Europe finished, and the World Championships not yet begun, most of the European prospects are done for the season. Worlds for the Men begins on May 21, and the last segment of the Euro Hockey Tour is right before that on May 12-15 to help teams set rosters. Some of the Leafs prospects will be going to Czechia for the EHT, but Worlds is still up in the air.

I’ve removed a few more of the players on indefinite rights that the organization hasn’t shown any interest in, and this (likely) last edition of the report includes next year’s contract status and draft rights expiry information.

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

Signed to an ELC by the Leafs that begins in 2021-2022.

Also re-signed by Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL, Rodion Amirov is all set for another KHL season. He is said to be already in or coming to Toronto to train, and it seems certain the Leafs will have some plans for the prospects over the summer before he returns to Russia.

There was some talk Amirov might skate with the Marlies. They have seven games left between now and May 20.

Roni Hirvonen

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

Rights expire in 2024.

There is a report that Hirvonen will move teams in the Liiga next year to HIFK. They won their bronze medal game, and are expected to be a strong team next year. The Liiga makes the semifinal losers play a one game decider for third place, so that’s what the bronze medal is for.

This seems like a good move for Hirvonen to a more challenging environment.

Topi Niemelä

D - 19 years old - shoots right - second year primarily in the Liiga

Rights expire in 2024.

Niemelä will stay with Kärpät next season, and should get a bigger role.

Mikko Kokkonen

Rights expire in 2023.

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

Kokkonen is moving to a new Liiga team next season, since his current club never makes the playoffs. He’s currently on the Marlies on a PTO, and after a game or two to settle in, he looks like himself. He’s getting power play time, something he hasn’t done much for years, so that’s interesting. He is an experienced and effective PK defender, but doesn’t really have a shot that makes you think power play.

Filip Hållander

Signed to an ELC by the Penguins, it has slid twice and will take effect next season no matter where he plays.

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

Hållander is still on the Swedish national team and will play in the Euro Hockey Tour. It’s an open question if he sticks with the team to go to Worlds. If Sweden is going to add in NHL players, he almost certainly will be cut. If they simply move from Czechia to Latvia with the team they have, he’ll likely stay. If he is cut, he might come to Toronto.

Artur Akhtyamov

Rights are indefinite.

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

Akhtyamov re-signed with Ak Bars Kazan, and should do the KHL to VHL shuffle to get starts next season.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov

Rights are indefinite.

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

Ovchinnikov is staying with Sibir Novosibirsk for another year. Will he get KHL time? He almost has to at least get a tryout for a few games right at the beginning of the season, considering his spectacular junior season.

Axel Rindell

Rights expire in 2022.

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

Rindell re-signed with Jukurit for one more year, and is currently on the Finnish national team for the Euro Hockey Tour. He will almost certainly be cut before Worlds as more players become available.

Kalle Loponen

Rights expire in 2023.

D - 20 years old - shoots right - in Finnish U20 after one OHL season

Loponen, who got stuck in junior hockey on a deep team, has moved to Liiga team KooKoo on a two-year contract with an option for more.

Pontus Holmberg

Rights expire in 2022.

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

In the Swedish tradition of painting some lucky members of the championship team gold, I give you a video and the final photo of Pontus Holmberg and team captain Erik Josefesson getting the gold treatment:

Holmberg had a career best season, right at the perfect time. Formerly a very good structural player seemingly lacking in some skills, he scored a lot of goals this season. Why? Partly luck, of course. Partly better linemates, but also, and crucially, better players in front of him. On the third line with some imports brought in to beef up the top six, he didn’t have to spend every game grinding out defensive zone shifts where no one could transition the play. He actually got offensive zone time, employed his excellent read of the play and positioning, along with the same grind mentality, and the greasy goals piled up.

What’s next? He may play out his career in the SHL, but if the Leafs can’t tempt him to try the AHL, the KHL is sure to call him up. He’s under contract with Växjö for one more season.

Filip Král

Signed to an ELC that took effect this season. It expires in 2023, when he will be 23.

D - 21 years old - shoots left - first pro season after three in WHL, played mostly in the top Czech league

Král has been with the Marlies for a few weeks now, and has played in five games. He didn’t need any time to get used to small ice, having played for years in the WHL, but the Czech league doesn’t seem to have prepared him for the speed of pro hockey in the AHL. The gulf between him and Kokkonen is very obvious and very large at the moment. His offensive game is there, but nothing else is yet.

Denis Malgin

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

Denis Malgin returned to Toronto and is on the Marlies roster and now the Taxi Squad, but hasn’t played yet. He is in an interesting position where he could stay on the squad (it converts to the “black aces” when the NHL season ends and there is no cap), and he might get in NHL games if there’s injuries.

He also expires as an RFA this summer, so the Leafs still hold his rights. If he wants an NHL job, he likely needs to work with the Leafs to get himself onto a team that will play him, and that may be in Toronto again. He can have a job in the Swiss league for the asking, so his backup plan is secure. He likely would have been named to the Swiss national team if he hadn’t chosen this route, so he seems to be planning on an NHL future.


And that’s the report for the strangest season in European hockey since the war, I would think. Here’s hoping next year sees more players playing, and fewer sitting around hoping.