Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia
In a busy week Montreal’s Tsar-in-waiting, Romanov played three games for two different teams: one with CSKA in the KHL and two internationals with the Russian Olympic (development) Team, which met Belarus and Slovakia for the Kaufland Cup in Bratislava. Impressively for the young defender, he got an assist in each of the three games to finish this week with a three-point haul.
In the KHL, Romanov stepped up to release a shot that led to the goal after his teammate Popov sent the puck to Shalunov. Romanov created the chance himself as he entered the zone and let his shot go. You can see the confidence, and trust, he has gained as he stays forward and is essentially playing wing, getting ready to pounce on another rebound from the goalkeeper.
#TheTsar added another assist in todays game against Dinamo Minsk. Romanov started the play, got his shot off, stood up against a hit and got ready to pounce on the rebound if necessary. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/n2cQQ7fDcV— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 4, 2019
In a similar situation against Belarus, Romanov went quite high offensively and controlled the puck to set up the game-winning goal. Again, the position Romanov went for was much higher up the ice compared to where he usually positioned himself before the WJC. It is clear that he has gotten more confidence and it also seems that coaches at all levels seem to appreciate his offensive game as well, as he is deployed to use his skills to a higher degree after a World Juniors where he really shone offensively.
Romanov pinches high, controls the puck along the left wall and draws the defender close before passing it up to the blue line, to set up the goal. #TheTsar #Habs pic.twitter.com/Cdne9tTIYZ— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 10, 2019
In the only loss of the week, 5-1 against the best players that Slovakia can field out of the European leagues, Romanov still used his defensive game, finished the game with an even rating, but was still able to make an offensive impact. The Russian stayed up high along the wall and got the shot on net to force the puck down in the zone.
#TheTsar Alexander Romanov with a second assist in as many games with the Russian Olympic (development) team in Kaufland Cup. Russia lost to Slovakia 5-1 today. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/p0C0Ay24Ef— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 9, 2019
All three plays here show how much higher Romanov plays in the offensive zone since the World Juniors, and it is clear that the coaches trust him with that role. It’s another step that the young Russian player has taken this year that experts might not have expected him to at a higher level. It speaks volumes about the hockey IQ that the defender possesses, and that development will most likely continue. The most anonymous player on draft day has in recent weeks become one of the most known players in the Montreal system.
Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland
With only one game on the schedule this week, a 6-2 loss to JYP, Ylönen still did his best to impress. A late counterattack gave him the chance to score his 10th goal of the season. While he has taken a step offensively, he still hovers at a 0.44 points-per-game pace. He has gotten better at going toward the net, but still chooses his times carefully when to attack, and it is not uncommon to see him avoid the hard areas on the ice. This might be due to the size difference, but Ylönen should be getting used to the more physical play of Liiga compared to Mestis.
#Habs prospect Jesse Ylönen scored his 10th goal of the season on this tap in from a deflection of the defender. Pelicans lost the game 6-2. #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/sNdgqz4XUr— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 6, 2019
The Flying Finn still displays his fantastic speed and hands faster than light in games, but even if he has a high ceiling there is a lot of work to be done before he is ready for a bigger league. It will be interesting to see how he handles himself after a full off-season when he can build up muscle properly.
This off-season is a fair bit away as the Pelicans look set to go deep in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they also look set to end up on Kärpät’s half of the draw, and that’s a team that looks poised for a repeat as champions, currently leading Liiga by over 20 points.
Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga Finland
After having returned from his injury, Ikonen logs heavy minutes and continues to accumulate points on the power play in a deadly combination with Alexandre Texier. What speaks volumes is that his time on ice keeps going up and is trusted by Coach Kapanen to be a difference-maker.
Ikonen’s game has improved in many ways, but especially in the defensive zone where his naiveté from last year is gone. Ikonen positions himself well, being open for an exit pass or coming down to collect the puck, and will (if necessary) take the easy play to get the puck out even if most of the time he’s creating good zone exits and entries. This was something that he struggled with last year and it seems that the added weight and studying the game from afar have benefited the technical centre.
Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden.
Because of the international break, including the Champions Hockey League Final which Frölunda won for the third time in five years, there were no games for Olofsson this week.