Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland
After an injury in late May, Joni Ikonen finally returned to Liiga play on Saturday. The Finnish centre was raring to go and looking better than expected after such a long time away from the game.
Ikonen had clearly built up some muscle and looked a fair bit taller as well. He centred the third line for KalPa and played an astonishing 17 minutes during his first game in over seven months. He was used to run the second power-play unit, usually as a player down by the net in a 2-3 formation, as KalPa plays that unit with two players next to the goal (as illustrated below from a 5-on-3 situation, Ikonen to the left of the net from our view).
While the game finished in an overtime loss, it was an exited Ikonen who spoke with Eyes On The Prize the day after the game.
“It feels great to be back playing games, finally. It was a tough loss for sure ... but otherwise, it felt pretty good. It was fun to play yesterday, really fun. We still have some tough games ahead of us before the playoffs starts this season.”
While KalPa is currently standing outside looking in at the playoffs, there is no doubt what is on Ikonen’s mind, and like a foal with loads of built-up energy, Ikonen says, “I am already looking forward to the next game.”
The centre looked very good in his return. More solid and robust in his work ethic and his added muscle stood out, especially along the boards. He was a bit tired in the overtime period, but that was to be expected. His first stride was explosive, but overall his speed is not there yet, something KalPa coach Sami Kapanen agrees with.
“It was a solid start for Joni,” Kapanen said. “He played good and we’ve got high hopes he’ll only get better. He is a little bit bigger and stronger than before, as you point out. Conditioning is also good and now he just needs a few games to get his timing right.”
Joni Ikonen's knee seems to be holding up.Looks stronger along the boards as well compared to last season. Great to see the talented Finn back on the ice and play with confidence. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/hVZ3QJPD40— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) January 19, 2019
Ikonen had 50% Corsi for the game, slightly above KalPa’s season mark of 49%, while the shot attempts for the game were split 50.5-49.5 between the teams. However, Ikonen was not sheltered at all. Two out of three zone starts were in the defensive zone, and while it is a very small sample size, it seems that KalPa will use Ikonen to drive play up the ice, something that was his strength when he played with Frölunda in Sweden’s Junior league.
Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland
There was only one game for the World Juniors champion this week, and it ended with a comfortable 3-0 win for the Pelicans. Ylönen played slightly under his season average, though even if he didn’t get any points, he was involved in the play. On the Pelicans’ first goal against TPS, Ylönen drew a defender away and the Pelicans used the advantage to score.
The Pelicans’ second goal came on a delayed penalty call drawn by Ylönen. It certainly seemed like the defenders have taken notice of the skills that the American-born winger possesses as he drew a bit more attention on the ice after the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia
A lot of expectations have been thrust upon the defender recently, but the exposure and comments from North America didn’t seem to affect him as he faced two of the top teams from the KHL’s Eastern Division: Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg. Romanov finished those games with a couple of hits and a +2 rating, continuing to be his normal self at the KHL level — stable in defence and letting others run the offence. One of the hits was a good old hip-check that made the Avtomobilist attack stop before it even really got started.
Romanov still plays third-paring minutes, and while his time on ice is increasing slowly, he usually plays around 13 to 14 minutes a game depending on the opposition.
Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden
In the only game of the week, Olofsson got his third goal of the season. He took a shot on the power play, bouncing the puck off a defender to get the go-ahead goal that Timrå needed. Unfortunately for Timrå, they lost the game in overtime.
Olofsson is getting a little bit less ice time after the World Juniors. With Timrå more or less certain to go to the relegation series, it might be Coach Andersson’s way of saving his team in order to be ready for more important games at the end of the campaign.