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European Prospect Report: Pre-season impressions and future expectations for the Canadiens players

The pool of prospects playing overseas has grown substantially this off-season, with many of them ramping up for the new year.

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With a new season at the door, and with players in new leagues, it is important to know what would be realistic to expect from the European prospects. Our colleagues over at Pension Plan Puppets took a look into the European leagues from a prospect evaluation perspective that could be worth reading as a refresher before the season.

Alexander Romanov, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, MHL, Russia

CSKA is a team with a great connection to the Montreal Canadiens. The best of the best played each other in an epic game in the Forum on New Year’s Eve in 1975. CSKA is still to a degree the same organization, steeped in the same history as Les Glorieux, but with more recent success with regard to reaching the championship final (in 2016 and 2018) and going deep into the playoffs every year except 2011.

It is against that that we will judge Alexander Romanov’s progress this season. Having played almost a full season in the MHL (the KHL’s junior league) already, it would be easy to expect him to take the step up to the KHL, but I don’t think that is something to be expected. Looking at the CSKA team that is primed for a deep playoff run once more, any game played in the KHL by The Tsar should be taken as a win.

Romanov was part of the CSKA team that played in ‘The Mayor of Moscow’ Cup, where he looked solid in the game against Vityaz. It is an impressive thing to be part of CSKA so deep into the pre-season, and it will be interesting to see where Romanov ends up.

While the Russian coaches usually prefer older players in the World Junior Hockey Championship, Romanov should be challenging for a role on the team if he is progressing like he has this off-season.

Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland

The injury to Joni Ikonen’s knee at the start of June will be a big influence of his season evaluation; with a return scheduled sometime around mid-December, almost half the season will be gone before he steps on the ice in a competitive game.

Counting him in for the Finnish WJC squad should not be expected, as you would assume that he needs a few competitive games before going to a tournament like that. If he makes the team, it should be considered a bonus.

If Ikonen comes back and plays more than the average of 12:20 of ice time he saw in Liiga this past season, it should be considered a strong year for the unlucky Finn.

Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland

Ylönen will play for Lahti’s Pelicans, and it is important to remember that the team finished 10th in Liiga last season, sneaking into the playoffs by a slim margin. The Pelicans will be in the same region of the table this year.

Ylönen’s speed and skill should be one of the strengths of the team. If they can utilize him to his potential, it’s possible he could best his goal record from last season in Mestis (14 goals). He will be one of the youngest players on the team, and it would be expected that he joins the WJC squad for Finland come December.

In the two pre-season games Ylönen has participated in after returning from an injury, he has mustered eight shots, with an assist and a shootout goal, and has been played on the second line.

As the Pelicans will try for the playoffs, Ylönen’s speed and goal-scoring will be an integral part of their fight to make it into the wild-card games.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ässät, Liiga, Finland

All eyes have been on the prize that is the third overall pick of the NHL Draft, and Ässät has moved Kotkaniemi into the centre position to progress with the transition to the position in a profesional league.

In the four games that Kotkaniemi has played, he’s averaged 13:46 of ice time. He’s scoring at a 1.25 points-per-game rate with one goal and a +1 rating. However, it is important to know that all games have been played against teams that finished in a lower position than Ässät did last season, and while it has been an impressive performance from the young Finnish centre, he hasn’t had his big test yet.

Out of Kotkaniemi’s 19 shots, 18 have come from outside the low slot. The only shot from within the hash marks resulted in a goal.

Kotkaniemi will lead the charge for Finland in the U20s, but it will not be a team that I can see standing up to the Big Four in the WJC. I also foresee Kotkaniemi going back to Liiga sooner rather than later after camp in Montreal to develop in known surroundings and in a league that has been known to produce great players lately.

Ässät will most likely fight for the sixth place in Liiga this season, with or without Kotkaniemi. The big clubs — Tappara, Kärpät, HIFK, TPS, and JYP — look set to challenge for the top five positions, and in the next tier teams like KalPa, SaiPa, Ässät, and Lukko will push for the last quarter-final spot without going though the wild-card games.

Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden

Jacob Olofsson got a great review from Swedish U20 coach Tomas Montén after the tournament in North America, and it was a reason why he wasn’t part of the Four Nations tournament in Örnsköldsvik this past weekend, where Sweden fielded a B-team while finishing second behind Russia.

Coach Montén told Eyes On The Prize that “Jacob has had a calming presence all over the ice. He played in all situations and he has been one of the standout players on the team. While he hasn’t produced a lot of points, he has been solid in his role as centre on the team.”

With those words and the role Olofsson played for Sweden in the World Junior Showcase, it seems he is destined for another trip to British Columbia come December.

Olofsson has only played one pre-season game with Timrå, lining up as the third-line centre. He was used in all situations and was on the ice for two of Timrå’s five goals but registered no points.

Timrå will be struggling in this year’s SHL; most experts have them as the last-placed team. With this in mind, Olofsson will have his work cut out for him.

Arvid Henrikson, Sweden

As of now, we have no information on Arvid Henrikson’s status for the upcoming season.