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European Prospect Report: Joni Ikonen is a question mark

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A weekly update on the Montreal Canadiens prospects playing overseas.

Johan Rylander

Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga (Finland)

When Johan Rylander and Eyes on the Prize broke the news that Joni Ikonen was leaving Frölunda for his native Finland and Liiga team KalPa, it was assumed that he would be able to play pro hockey and make a bigger impact than if he had stayed in the SHL.

With almost half the season done, it is obvious that the plan backfired for Ikonen. In 25 games, he has earned just two points, both assists.

One can make a comparison between Ikonen and Alexandre Texier. They play for the same team, were drafted 13 places apart (Texier 45th by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ikonen 58th by the Montreal Canadiens), are of similar size (though Texier has a slight advantage), and are both capable of playing the centre position. But looking at the stat lines for both, it is clear that one player is outperforming the other.

While Texier played senior hockey last season with Grenoble in France, and might have adjusted to bigger players there, the French league isn’t really known for prospect development. It is clear that Texier is way ahead of Ikonen at the moment, and developing at a much higher rate.

Ikonen showed what he can do at the junior level last season with Frölunda, but he hasn’t been able to transition to the pro level with the same ease that he unlocked junior defences last season.

Even comparing Ikonen among his peers, he still doesn’t stand out, and that should be cause for concern as he was one of the most highly touted Montreal prospects this summer.

Ikonen is 20th on KalPa’s scoring list, behind everyone else who has played at least 10 games. Along with the reports from Russia after the pre-WJC tournament that he was “unnoticeable,” you have to start second guessing his development and if it was a smart move to join the team this summer.

Or is it down to Ikonen’s own drive that makes him falter at a higher level?

I won’t say his development would have been better in Frölunda, or on another team, but it is time to be realistic about Montreal’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft: right now, expectations should not be high.

Lukas Vejdemo, Djurgården, SHL (Sweden)

Vejdemo continues his unheralded season, logging plenty of time on the ice but now back on a shutdown line. He still ranks fifth in scoring in a powerful Djurgården team, but he’s falling off the pace while not getting the chance to play as offensive a role as he can.

Both he and his coach are happy with his progress and they both have the same goal in the long run: to make Vejdemo an NHL player.

Arvid Henrikson, Örebro U-20, SuperElite South, (Sweden)

Arvid Henrikson said himself that playing time was what really mattered for his development, and so Henrikson wouldn;t have minded his demotion to spend the last week with the U20 team after recently seeing his SHL debut. In the two games played this week, Henrikson had a -1 rating.

Henrikson is eligible for the World Juniors in Buffalo in December, but with the number of strong defenders the Swedish team has to choose from, I don’t see Henrikson making the squad, even if Coach Montén has said there will be some surprises.

Max Friberg, Frölunda, SHL (Sweden)

Friberg says he isn’t bothered by the lack of goals in SHL play so far, but it is clear when you watch a game that he feels the pressure. Friberg added two assists in this week’s three games.

Frölunda does seem to have turned a corner, and the addition of former NHL player Mike Weber has added stability on the back end.

Toronto’s prospect Carl Grundström had an operation on his knee this past Thursday, and first reports have it as a successful procedure, meaning Grundström might return around Christmas.

Sportsnet had a team over for two games to make a feature on Rasmus Dahlin before the WJC.

Another eligible player for the under-20 tournament has started to rev up in Frölunda: New York Rangers prospect Lias Andersson. After a slow start, Andersson said “It feels better; I haven’t been worried about my play at all,” when speaking with EOTP after Frölunda’s game against Rögle.