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European Prospect Report: Jacob Olofsson shines in his return from injury

The Swedish centre has his best games of the year, while Alexander Romanov has some difficulty in a busy week.

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Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden

After having spent two weeks on the sidelines, it was a pumped-up Jacob Olofsson who took to the ice. There was no sign of any lingering effects from the hit into the boards that put him out of commission, as in his first game back he put up two assists.

Henrik Törnqvist had an awful lot to do, but it was Olofsson’s vision and pass that really opened up the ice before the goal. It was Olofsson’s first SHL point, and he wasn’t satisfied.

Again thanks to his vision, he looks for the puck even before it is passed to him and he knows exactly what to do with it as he passes it to Ludvig Rensfeldt, who has an open net. Timrå went on to win the game 4-3.

In Saturday’s contest with Mora, Olofsson nailed the puck down in the offensive zone with a heavy forecheck that led to the opening goal of the game.

Three points on his first two games upon his return is a good result, especially considering that two of them are primary points. What is even more interesting is that his play was much more mature in the games compared to those before the injury occurred. He looked secure and confident, and part of it is probably down to Timrå’s start to the season. They have taken the SHL by surprise, and currently sit fifth in the standings. Even observing the team from the stands should have lifted his confidence.

One of the main complaints about Olofsson before the draft was that he could disappear from games. It will be up to him to show his doubters that he has learned to stay in the game and perform over the 60 minutes rather than when it is convenient.

Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia

It has been a rollercoaster of a ride during the Siberian road trip for Alexander Romanov. With the play and progress that the defender has made in KHL so far this season, this week of four games in seven days has been revealing some of his flaws, but also some issues with Coach Nikitin’s usage.

In the games against Barys Astana and Sibir there were a lot of penalties, and it left Romanov on the bench for long stretches. Especially in the game against Sibir (which I think was Romanov’s worst game in KHL so far), it was obvious to see that either the long trips of the KHL or the play in the professional ranks was getting to him. Romanov was pulled out of position quite a few times, read the play wrong, and committed to pucks where he should have stayed back, and didn’t commit when it was needed. He was also using his stick up high a lot, and in the end he got a two-minute minor because he hit an opposing player in the face.

The young defender looked tired and tried to commit early and use his arms and stick a lot more than usual. Still, if I had said before the season that a game like this was the worst game of a 15-match KHL career, we would have been ecstatic, and it is a sign of how the expectations have changed.

The bounce-back in Sunday’s game against Avangard Omsk was impressive, because in a way Romanov played at the level I am now used to. He was sharp, made no obvious mistakes, and kept up with the game without any problems. He didn’t over-commit, and with fewer special teams situations, Romanov’s ice time went up. I can’t say if this was due to getting more time or an adjustment to the time zone, but these are things to consider going forward.

It will be interesting to see when Romanov starts to get some time on special teams. Power-play minutes will be difficult as CSKA runs a 1-4 setting, but with games against the minor KHL teams coming up, it will be beneficial for him to get some penalty-killing time in order to improve in his defensive game even more.

Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland

Injured in the off-season, he is expected to return at the end of December or early January.

Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland

The struggles continue for the Finnish forward, and the most concerning thing is that his ice time is falling rapidly. He only played 8:36 in the last game of the week, having played over 11 minutes in every game beforehand.

With limited time, the shot frequency falls as well, and Ylönen only recorded four shots in three games. It feels a bit like Ikonen’s development last year, where he wasn’t up physically to match the players at a higher level. Interestingly enough, it also comes after a long summer with travel back and forth to North America, something a few coaches have mentioned as a reason why prospects can struggle after the draft.

Ylönen had a big chance to win the game for the Pelicans in the dying seconds of overtime against Sport, but after a long change it was a tired effort from both the passer and Ylönen.

The Pelicans are doing better than I expected, and are currently residing in seventh place on the Liiga table, so it is up to Ylönen himself to force a change in the lineup.