The Champions Hockey League started last week. Even though it’s supposed to be this amazingly interesting league where the top teams from different European leagues play against each other to see which one is the best, it’s not super popular even in Europe. But regardless of that, it’s a great scouting opportunity because there are a lot of interesting prospects playing there, and all the games are streamed on Youtube. The group stage games continue again on Thursday but here are some of my thoughts from the first week of games.
Bokk, who was drafted 25th overall this summer, was pretty good in the first game and fine in the second game. But I was expecting more from him because he can be magical with the puck. His usage was pretty good – he played on the second line and played the left half-wall role on Växjö’s second power play unit. He played almost 15 minutes in the first game but his ice time was down to 11 minutes in the second game.
Växjö is not as strong as it was last season when they had Elias Pettersson leading the charge but it’s still a very good team, so Bokk will need to show more to keep getting the type of ice time he needs. Bokk didn’t get any points in the two games they played but he got some good opportunities, especially in the first game.
Even though these two have played just a few games together, they’re having incredible chemistry already now. Kupari, who was drafted 20th overall this summer, is the center on Kärpät’s second line. Heponiemi, who was drafted 40th overall in 2017, is playing right wing. They also play together on the power play. Even though it’s the second power play unit on paper, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being the better of the two units.
Both guys are making clean entries to the zone with great speed and puck-handling. They’re making crisp tape-to-tape passes. It looks like they’re constantly finding each other no matter where they are. They were basically skating circles around their opposition because they were constantly moving and passing the puck between themselves. And they’re constantly creating offense. These two will have a really good season in the Liiga, and they could post similar numbers we saw from Kristian Vesalainen last season and Sebastian Aho a couple of years ago.
Here are a couple of clips of them. In this first one, it’s Heponiemi making a great entry and Kupari getting the primary assist on the goal.
And in this second clip you can see the chemistry they’ve built. Great passing on the power play that leads to a scoring chance for Kupari.
Kaapo Kakko – 2019 NHL Entry Draft
There are a couple of ways to look at Kakko’s situation right now. First, he’s getting great usage – he’s playing on the top line and top power play, so you can’t really ask for more. He played about 14 and 17 minutes in the two games they played. On the other hand, his TPS team is a hot mess right now. They lost both games they played, and the entire team seems to be out of sync right now.
But on a positive note, Kakko showed he can play at this level, and there were flashes of greatness as well. He’s just a 17-year-old kid, so it’s too much to ask for him to turn his team around. Hopefully they figure out what’s wrong so that Kakko can have a good season in the Liiga. On paper, TPS should be a much better team than what they showed in these two games.
Anttoni Honka – 2019 NHL Entry Draft
Another interesting Finnish prospect for next summer’s draft is Anttoni Honka. The younger brother of Stars’ first-rounder Julius is a pretty similar as his older brother as he’s also a small defenseman with right-handed shot and some issues with his defensive game. But Anttoni may even be more talented than his older brother. Hopefully he can show some improvements with his defensive play this season. He’s an older player for the 2019 draft with his October birthday.
Berggren, who was drafted 33rd overall this summer, played two games for Skellefteå but was held pointless in them. Most of us see Berggren as a winger but Skellefteå used him at center and gave him good middle-six minutes, about 16 and 14 minutes in the two games they played. I was expecting a more active Berggren like we’re used to seeing but he was a bit invisible at times. There were flashes where he looked great, especially on the power play. But it may take him a while to get used to playing center at the pro level.
Eriksson, who was drafted 44th overall this summer, was getting a regular shift on Skellefteå’s team which is pretty good because it’s a great team. His line was the first line in their first game but they only played about 10 minutes. In the second game, that line was already fourth in their rotation and Eriksson played about 12 minutes there. There were some short flashes where he looked pretty good driving to the net and protecting the puck but I’d like to see him be more active and use his size more. He was held pointless but almost scored a goal in the second game – the defender saved the goal from the goal line. It was a nice drive to the net but unfortunately I couldn’t get video of it.
Lindström, who was drafted 38th overall in 2017, played more than 20 minutes in each of the games the Frölunda Indians played. He led the team in ice time in the first game and was second among defensemen in their second game. He’s a right-handed shot defenseman with good size (6-2, 187). He has some offensive talent but most importantly plays a reliable two-way game. He scored this nice power play goal in the second game.
Filip Berglund – Edmonton Oilers
Berglund, who was drafted in the third round in 2016, had a goal and an assist in the first game and then another goal in the second game. He played over 20 minutes in the first game but a bit less than 15 minutes in the second. Berglund really opened some eyes here in these two games with his activity in the offensive zone. He has good size at 6-foot-3 and he has that coveted right-handed shot from the blue line. He played on Skellefteå’s top power play unit, and if he keeps his spot there, he’ll have a great season in the SHL.
Linus Lindström – Calgary Flames
Lindström, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2016, got a great opportunity to play with Oscar Möller and Joakim Lindström on his wings. For those of you not familiar with the SHL, that’s the spot where Pär Lindholm played last season before signing a contract with the Maple Leafs. Lindström played about 14 minutes in the first game and scored a goal. His ice time climbed up to over 17 minutes in the second game but he was held pointless there.
I don’t believe that there’d be a lot of offensive upside in his game but I think he could eventually become a good bottom-six center for the Flames. He’s a reliable defensive player who can kill penalties really well, and I think there’s enough skill to play in the NHL at some point.
Högberg, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2016, played about 15 minutes in the first game and 13 minutes in the second game. I wasn’t following him too closely but he seemed to be fine. He plays a safe style that doesn’t get noticed very easily, so I’ll need to watch him more closely at some point. But below is one clip where he definitely caught my eye.
Pontus Holmberg – Toronto Maple Leafs
Holmberg is an interesting case. He was drafted in the sixth round this summer as an overager. He played for the third-tier league in Sweden and didn’t dominate. But now he’s playing for the reigning SHL champion and looking pretty good as well. He played about 10 minutes in the first game and 13 minutes in the second game. He’s not big but was the net-front guy on Växjö’s second power play unit. He was completely off my radar until this tournament but now I’m curious to see how he does this season.
And that’s all for now. Feel free to add comments below. Follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Images used on the main collage courtesy of Sportsnet.ca, NHL.com and mtv.fi