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European Prospect Report: Jesse Ylönen’s up-and-down tournament, and Alexander Romanov’s Canadian tour

The Canadiens’ prospects ventured out into the world for pre-WJC experience.

NHLI via Getty Images

Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland

Playing on the third line for Finland in the U20 tournament in Hodonin, Czech Republic, it was a mixed tournament for Ylönen, starting off with a Finnish 4-1 win against Russia where he wasn’t registered for anything in the match report. It was followed up by a 4-0 thrashing of Jacob Olofsson’s Team Sweden in which Ylönen had two power-play assists. While the first came on a cleanly won faceoff, the second was a thing of beauty:

Finland finished with a 7-2 win against the host nation, and Ylönen provided another assist, this time at 5-on-5.

But he also left the tournament with a bitter aftertaste, as he went from hero to villain in about 40 seconds. The quality of the video is bad, but it looks like Ylönen, coming in second into the situation, braces for impact when there is a collision right in front of him, and he hits the Czech player badly. It was deemed a hit to the head/neck area, and Ylönen received a five-minute major and an automatic game misconduct. (I am happy to say that the Czech player could continue to play).

Jacob Olofsson, Timrå, SHL, Sweden

Ylönen had success in the scoring department but left nothing for Olofsson in the same tournament. Sweden really had an atrocious event, finishing in last place. Sweden lost 5-1 to the Czechs, 4-0 to the Finns, and 5-1 to the Russians.

With this in mind, it is interesting that Olofsson finished the tournament with only a minus-two rating. He was also named “Best Swedish Player” after the game against Russia.

Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia

Romanov was over in North America participating in the Canada/Russia Series as one of the all-star team’s defenders. He has played all three of games so far in the six-game tournament, and fared well overall for a player playing on a new team, and on a smaller surface.

The defenceman’s game is suited to the North American Ice, arguably more than the European one. His physical edge is given more opportunity to shine with less room for opponents to escape his territory.

That said, the immediate transition was far from smooth for Romanov. He played quite poorly in the first Russia vs. WHL matchup, being directly responsible for a couple of very dangerous turnovers on plays where he underestimated the opponents and mishandled the puck.

In the second and third games, Romanov was making a positive impact for the Russian team. He was back to his old self. His attention to details in the defensive zone was effective in limiting the chances of the CHL offences, and his surprising strength and physicality helping him make short work of opposing players in one-on-one situations.

This ability that Romanov has to separate players from the puck with great body positioning and stick use seems second-to-none in the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool.

There is an aura of mystery around the defender that still seems to persist (for those who don’t read these weekly reports...). Romanov is not an offensive defencemen as it was said on the broadcast of the tournament. He has a big shot, but is not very creative with the puck on the offensive blue line.

Instead, he has the identity of a tenacious and hard-working player. Those qualities, combined with a smooth skating ability, could help him emerge as a solid puck-mover with experience and refinement.

There were a few sequences where the Habs’ second-rounder made zone exits happen for his team while being stuck in close quarters with an opponent. He managed to prevent the opposing player’s access to the puck, and get the last touch on it himself to slide it over to a teammate. More often than not he did that by using the boards, but on a few occasions went right up the middle of the ice to his centre waiting for the pass, allowing his offence to skate the other way.

Take a look at this sequence below. (Romanov wears #3 in white.)

Romanov didn’t skate directly to the puck. He first got in front of the OHL forward on the retrieval. Then, he glued the puck to the boards using his stick, and turning his back to the forechecking opponent, acted as a shield for the puck. This manoeuvre attracted a second OHL forward, looking to prey on a difficult situation for Romanov.

With two players now on him, the defenceman knew that a teammate was now open in the middle of the ice. This is where he aimed a quick pass before being overwhelmed by pressure. The Russians were able to exit the zone cleanly ... or almost at least.

Despite that great play, Romanov remains very reliant on system play for breakouts. He simply won’t attempt anything riskier — even if it could be more effective — unless he has to. But he has the necessary skills to do more, to advance the play in controlled ways regularly, and he has been showing it at times in the tournament.

These are encouraging signs that, with more confidence, the prospect might flourish in the puck-moving aspect of his game. It will be what gives Romanov a unique identity: one of a small but hard-to-play-against defenceman that can be a positive factor in transitions. It’s a somewhat rare combination that would give him his place on any NHL team.

Romanov plays the OHL all-star team again tonight, and will face the QMJHL’s later this week.

Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland

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