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European Prospect Report: Joni Ikonen plays his first game in nearly two years

The Finnish forward got into the Ilves lineup for the first time on Saturday.

NHL: JUL 04 Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Joni Ikonen, Ilves, Liiga, Finland

After almost two years away from the competitive ice, the injury-hampered forward made his return, with a new team. Ikonen was used sparingly, by European standards, on the fourth line. While he was rusty, he also created some good chances for his teammates, showcasing his vision and touch.

He also worked hard in the defensive zone, blocking shots in some instances, but mainly carrying the puck out with control.

While he was written up as a winger on the lineup, he was used as a centre in many situations, and he finished his first game with a 50% success rate in the faceoff circle.

While speaking with Eyes On The Prize on Sunday afternoon, Ikonen confirmed that he was feeling the butterflies ahead of his debut. “Yeah, I was a little nervous before the game started, but once the puck hit the ice it felt pretty much like a normal game.” More importantly his knee and thigh held up to the scrutiny of a league game. “The knee felt good, and also solid.”

In regards to his usage, Ikonen wasn’t sure on what the future holds. “I don’t really know [if I will continue at centre]. That’s up for the coaches to decide. But I felt good in the faceoffs and overall it felt good playing hockey again.”

The next game for Ilves is on Friday, against Ässät.

Mattias Norlinder, Frölunda, SHL, Sweden

Another Montreal prospect who made his return to the ice was Mattias Norlinder, who had been sidelined for a few games with what has been described as sore hamstrings.

Norlinder played 12-and-a-half minutes in a strange game. Frölunda led in shots 41-20, but lost the game 3-0 as an effective Örebro got breakaways left, right, and centre. Norlinder played a decent game upon his return, and didn’t feature in any of the goals against, nor any of the breakaways. As he was used as a seventh defender while being eased back into the team, he took a cautious approach and played with a layer of security in his game.

Norlinder should have time to get into a strong position as Frölunda will have a full week of practice before the team lines up against Brynäs on Saturday.

Jacob Olofsson, Timrå IK, HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden

A player that has found his grove, albeit in a lower league, is Jacob Olofsson. He had four points last week. Timrå continues to steamroll the opposition in HockeyAllsvenskan, and it has led to a boost of confidence for the struggling centre. He is back to playing in the middle and he uses his big body well to cover the puck, and seems to have regained his vision and delivers good passes.

It remains to be seen if he can do this at a higher level, and the next step will come in the promotion/relegation series that Timrå should be part of. It is there where we will be able to judge Olofsson more fairly both in regard to the level of play and to his real confidence level.

Alexander Gordin, SKA 1946, MHL, Russia.

Gordin continues his goal-scoring feast with a five-goal week in the MHL. He has the skills in some areas, his hands mainly, whereas he really needs to work on his skating. The big ice also helps him avoid defenders, especially on the power play. There are instances where Gordin falls down, tangled up in his own legs, but give him a route to the net and these struggles seem to be forgotten.

It is somewhat surprising that he can’t stick to the VHL when he gets the chance to play at that level, but with the emphasis that Russian coaches has on skating it is clear where he needs to improve. The question remains: will he work on his skating in Russia, or could it become Joël Bouchard’s mission to fix that in Laval?