Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, SHL, Sweden
It can’t be easy to play on the team that is located at the bottom of the table. Timrå was expected to be tethered to the bottom, but a good start had many dreaming of avoiding the relegation battle that they now seem set for in a few weeks’ time.
Olofsson works hard and he has gotten better compared to last season. He is much more aware and reads the game better, even if the tempo is higher and the opposition better. Neither TImrå nor Olofsson is earning anything for it though, except bounces that go against them. It’s been a long, tough season for the centre, but he has never backed down or taken a shift off.
With no goals or assists, Olofsson ended up in the news for other reasons. With the season going into the final weeks, there are heaps of rumours surrounding players. Norrans Hockeyblogg, which is usually very reliable when it comes to Skellefteå, mentioned that Olofsson is a target for the local SHL team for next season. It would be an interesting move for Olofsson as Skellefteå is used to playing with speed and puck control, much as Timrå did last season and, in a way, similar to what the Montreal Canadiens do now.
I am very much in favour of such a move for Olofsson’s development. For him personally, it would mean that he moves back north and will be closer to his family, something that could benefit his development as well. With his contract running out, it remains to be seen where in the SHL he will play next year.
.@Hockeyblogg reveals that Jacob Olofsson might be on Skellefteå AIK's roster next year. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/GgOBmBaAHs— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 12, 2019
Alexander Romanov, CSKA, KHL, Russia
With Romanov having returned from the Russian Olympic development squad, where he played two games back to back, Coach Nikitin of CSKA was careful not to overwork his young adept. In the first game, against Slovan in Bratislava, Romanov got six minutes on the ice. In his second game, a close-fought match against AK Bars, he got eight minutes, but in the last game of the week at home in Moscow and with some rest, he played a season high of almost 20 minutes.
Romanov came away with an assist this week. While he passed the puck to Kirill Kaprizov for the assist, it was the way Romanov faked the shot while Kaprizov looked for the pass that made the play. While the opposition looked at Romanov, they forgot Linden Vey, who scored a nice goal.
Finlay got a chance to show the secondary assist by Romanov in todays game against Slovan.— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 15, 2019
He passes Kaprizov, and thanks to his good movement and shot Kaprizov uses #TheTsar as a fake before handing over to Linden Vey who scores the game winner. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/vkKZAjw7eY
While the season has been a success, it will be necessary to temper the expectations for the playoffs. The trend from Coach Nikitin is still that in tight games he doesn’t rely on Romanov to the same extent. Looking at a potential conference semifinal, CSKA would now play Jokerit, while SKA Saintt Petersburg would face Lokomotiv.
Romanov has smashed expectations already this year, and while I expect him to play less than the 11 minutes he has averaged in the regular season, we better remember that The Tsar will not listen to expectations and will want to play as much as possible. He will doubtless make it very hard for Nikitin to play him less than normal.
Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans, Liiga, Finland
Jesse Ylönen open his scoring account today with this delicacy. Thats the #habs prospect 11th goal of the season. #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/TuO7BAcRcz— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 15, 2019
While many will highlight the deft hands and skill on display when Ylönen scored his first goal on Friday night, I think what really stands out this week is the work Ylönen put in on his assist. The work ethic and speed was on full display when he got the puck free from the defender and goalkeeper to set up the Pelicans’ second goal of the night.
The assist by Jesse Ylönen today showed off his work ethic but especially his excellent skating. Ylönen out paces everyone on the counter attack and goes hard towards the goalie to keep the puck in the OZone and set up the goal. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/tUnG53Gbhj— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 15, 2019
This is something that he needs to do more often. More often than not, he breaks away from the goal to keep the puck in the zone rather than going for a drive toward the net to finish. Ylönen has started to do this more, but it’s still not often enough.
With the playoffs looming, he certainly will need to battle hard to finish with a medal, even if it looks like it’s Kärpät’s title to lose when they are 20 points ahead of the next team in the standings. The Pelicans are in the race to avoid the wild-card games and go directly to the playoffs proper. It’s a tight race and it remains to be seen where the team ends up.
Joni Ikonen, KalPa, Liiga, Finland.
It’s been a truly amazing return to ice hockey after an eight-month hiatus due to a knee injury. Every time it looks like Ikonen will slow down, he shifts gear to take his game up a notch.
On Friday night, Ikonen had two goals — a breakaway and a power-play goal — both very good in their different ways. But as with Ylönen, I chose to highlight his skill and confidence since his return to the ice with an assist.
Finnish #Habs prospect Joni Ikonen with another assist in todays game against JYP.— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 16, 2019
Good steal and masterful action to draw in the defenders before threading a pass into the slot area. #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/3CCHvP8HfL
In this situation, Ikonen steals the puck and gets three defenders to chase him below the extended goal line. There is so much with this clip that I haven’t seen Ikonen do since his time in Frölunda’s Junior team. The confidence he has when going toward the net, then moving his hands as if he would go in front of the net before pulling the puck to go behind is something unexpected for a player jumping into action late in the season. He then sells the wraparound, but with his quick feet he stops and looks up. This is the key, as last year he looked down, unable to see where the defenders were.
The defender furthest away has a long way to go because of the early stop, and Ikonen then uses a teammate and the opposing centre to screen away the defender he pilfered the puck from. It is a play that oozes confidence, and it it great to see Ikonen having that poise again.
Ikonen’s play is completely different since his return to the ice compared to last year’s performance. It is still too early to say, but he has returned as a force, and KalPa will need it as they are currently two points away from a playoff berth.