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European Prospect Report: Joni Ikonen leads the way with three goals in two games

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Ikonen has returned with a vengeance, while Alexander Romanov finally gets his first KHL point.

Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland

In the week’s first game, against Tappara, Joni Ikonen took a puck to the face just before the first intermission, but was back when play resumed in the second period. Against one of the top teams in Liiga, he featured for just short of 14 minutes, his lowest time on ice since his return.

The centre did step up in a good way, showing a lot of skill and drive. His shot locations were very good, most of them taken from within the home-plate area and two of them from the high-danger area just outside the crease. Ikonen mostly drove play from his own end to the Tappara end through the game, and it looked to be a more driven, strong, and mature centre who stood up well against the second-best team on the Liiga table.

The Tappara game was just an indication of what was to come, because when KalPa played Jukurit a few days later, Ikonen took it upon himself to showcase his return with a highlight-reel goal:

At first glance it looks like Ikonen puts the puck short-side, but from another angle you can see that he goes across the goalkeeper and nets the puck far-side; an incredible amount of skill from the angle he has that close to the goal.

Jukurit stayed for a back-to-back meeting, and although the visitors had two leads in the game, with Ikonen on the power play (together with Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Alexandre Texier) KalPa managed to draw level both times, the final goal taking the game to overtime.

Leaving Ikonen with this much space is a bad idea, and it was clear that Ikonen really wanted the puck to come to him, as he tapped his stick to the ice a few times even before the video starts.

The setup pass from Texier is fantastic, but the goal is the work of Ikonen. He even had time to aim before ripping loose with his shot.

His second goal of the night, and KalPa’s third, was also a power-play goal. This time Ikonen passed over to Texier and when the shot was saved Ikonen jumped on the rebound and buried it with pace.

With three goals in 24 hours, Ikonen really announced his return to top-level ice hockey. More importantly, the added weight and improved balance seem to have added confidence, and he seems to understand the game better. The recovery process seems to have given Ikonen a better focus and character, deepening his understanding of the role he needs to play to succeed.

KalPa waited for him to return to his best form before he hit the ice this season. Even with a team struggling to make the playoffs, it was Ikonen’s personal development that the team put first, and it might actually help them in their push for the playoffs.

Ikonen is averaging over 17 minutes a game. He plays in his natural centre position, and when looking at the underlying numbers, even if it is a small sample size, he’s driving play for a team that needs another playmaker. He moves the puck forward even against tougher opposition. With KalPa in the hunt for the playoffs, Ikonen himself says he will be an integral part of that challenge, and he will give the team a very good chance to succeed.

Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland

In some ways it’s a tough situation for Ylönen. He plays well after the World Juniors and he scores a few points here and there, but this week he ends up in the shadow of his compatriot in the prospect pool.

Ylönen’s quick release was on display this week, proving you should not forget to cover him in a situation like this. He took the chance and scored with ease.

His most important play, with regard to his development, came later on in the same game when he hunted down and picked the pocket of a defender. While he lost control of the puck, he went forward and took the other defender out of the play to stay open for a pass. He then made the pass to Vartiainen for a goal.

Ylönen performs well in Liiga, but comparing his draft-plus-one production historically with others who’ve made the NHL, his 0.43 points per game is behind Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, who had 0.70 and 0.63 PPG, respectively. Kasperi Kapanen didn’t have a very successful draft-plus-one year either, so there shouldn’t be too much of a concern based solely on that production.

Ylönen’s underlying numbers have improved in some ways. He is not as sheltered in the team as he used to be. His Corsi-for percentage is better than the team’s, but not significantly higher.

Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia

In his 33rd game of the season, Alexander Romanov finally got the first point of his professional career. Since his previous assist was redacted a day after, it should mean that this assist will stand.

It was like looking at a replay of his World Juniors performance; the fluid movement and attacking style was back, and it is good to see Romanov using these skills That got him the attention of the other KHL teams’ scouts and the average fan during the WJC.

With CSKA having already qualified for the playoffs, I expect Romanov to get more time the longer the regular season goes on. However, with Jokerit and SKA Saint Petersburg lining up their own playoff runs, I am not sure how much we will see Romanov in the post-season. He has performed well against quality opposition during league play, but the playoffs are a bit different in both intensity and scrutiny.

Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden

It must be tough for Olofsson; his team is stuck at the bottom of the table and he is being used in a tough role, as was expected prior to the season. He isn’t getting the bounces but continues to work hard, never taking a shift off.

He is laying the foundation as a centre who can play at both ends of the ice. His vision is good, but he is still struggling a bit with the physicality and tempo of the game.

It is a testing time for the young prospect, but the real test might come in the relegation series: a best-of-seven where the winner stays in the SHL. Last year, Olofsson was on the winning end of such a series. This year, Timrå has a lot more to lose, and it will mean more pressure on Olofsson on the team if they end up in the series this time around.