Summer is officially over, and while pro camps in North America are just around the corner, pre-season overseas is well underway.
The first stop on the European pre-season tour was the Nordic Trophy, billed as ‘Europe’s most prestigious ice-hockey pre-season tournament’. An intriguing commodity at the 2009 Draft table, Atlanta 2nd round selection Carl Klingberg got his season started right, netting five goals in seven games for the Frölunda Indians.
Although Edmonton received the devastating news that 2009 fourth round pick Toni Rajala will miss both Finnish and WHL camp with an ankle injury, another trio of European talent has so far delivered. Linus Omark continued his domination of the international game with a goal and an assist in the opening game of the Czech Hockey Games, the first stop on the Euro Tour.
In Finland, bruising winger Teemu Hartikainen is proving to everyone that his historical rookie season in the SM-Liiga was not a fluke. Already a near-PPG player in pre-season action, Hartikainen has continued his scoring ways at the U20 4 Nations Tournament. Hosted by Finland this year and featuring entries from Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic, Hartikainen and Team Finland opened the tourney in style on home ice with a 4-2 win over the Czechs. For his part, the 6’2 forward scored the game-winner and added an assist.
Over in Sweden, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson has more important things to worry about than a tournament for junior-aged players. Participating in the SCA Cup, a warm-up tourney for Elitserien clubs, Paajarvi debuted on the top line for Timra. Playing alongside journeyman center Daniel Corso, Paajarvi exploded for two goals in a 4-1 victory over Brynas. While his second was an absolute gift from Corso, Paajarvi showed off his immense gifts on the 1-1 goal. Cutting down the wing, Paajarvi drove wide and effortlessly ripped off a wicked snapshot that surprised the goalie with its velocity. Paajarvi had two other great chances, being robbed of the hat-trick on two separate occasions by a glove and a toe.
In Russia, Alexander Avtsyn saw his KHL career begin yesterday with Dynamo Moscow. Although he showed flashes of his enormous potential- including a couple great drives to the net with speed and authority- the 2009 fourth rounder was mostly harmless when pressured byCSKA’s defense. Avtsyn showed that there is still a lot of work to be done before he can be mentioned in the same breath as other young Russian power forwards likeArtem Anisimov.
However, Montreal has had better early returns elsewhere in Europe. Signed as free agent just a month ago, 21 year-old Swedish center Andreas Engqvist was the MVP as his team went on to win the Nordic Trophy. Although he finished third on Djurgårdens in scoring with 1-5-6 in seven games, Engqvist won the Reebok Three Stars Award with seven points.
The Devils also received an unexpected surprise during the Nordic Trophy. While no one would have been shocked to see one of NJ’s Swedish first rounders lead a major exhibition tournament in points, it was who it was- and how the other has performed- that’s been an eye-opener. While 2007 first round pick Mattias Tedenby netted just a lone goal in six games for HV71 while playing for the Nordic Trophy, 2009 top pick Jacob Josefson lead the ENTIRE TOURNAMENT in goals and points. Shifted to the wing on Djurgårdens, the two-way forward potted five goals and nine points in just seven game.
New York Islanders
Severely weakened by Elitserien pre-season action, the Swedes nevertheless opened the 4 Nations Tournament with a solid 4-2 victory over Russia. In net for Sweden was the mammoth Anders Nilsson. The 62nd selection- and oddly enough, the smallest goalie selected by the Isles in 2009, Nilsson stopped 30 of 32 shots.
Meanwhile, the top offensive star for Tre Kronor came off the blueline. Dominant at Phoenix’s rookie camp, 6th overall pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson carried that momentum into the opening game of the tournament with 1-1-2.
On the wrong end of Sweden’s terrific game was Russian netminder and surprise 2008 fifth round pick Alexander Pechurskiy. Although Pechurskiy faced 44 shots in the 4-2 loss, he is a 19 year-old playing in a tournament with many under-agers. He’ll need to show better for a squad missing some of its biggest weapons up front.
Finally, although it’s not a Euro league news item, much-maligned forward Richard Panik is making a huge splash in North America. The 2009 second round selection compiled 2-2-4 in his very first OHL pre-season game, a 5-3 victory over Sarnia by the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires. Also looking good was Cam Fowler, who seemed to have immediate chemistry feeding pucks north-south to Panik. If there was any doubt that the Spits are favorites to repeat as Memorial Cup champs, this showing by their rooks should erase that.