Alex Appleyard provides weekly updates of Flyers prospects in Europe here at Sons of Penn. You can find him on Twitter at @avappleyard for live updates and conversation regarding the young guns overseas and the big club here at home in Philadelphia.
This week has been a good one for the Flyers forward prospects plying their trade in Europe. There have really been no negative occurrences or trends apart from minor setbacks, and most of the prospects have either had great weeks or seen their roles expand.
Oskar Lindblom (forward)
I am becoming increasingly convinced that there are actually no superlatives for the Gävle native’s play this season. With only eight regular season games left he is still on track for one of the greatest SHL seasons in the competitions history by a player of his age or younger. Despite a January where his linemates went dry and the team as a whole struggled to score, and a team power play whose results do not match the talent on ice, and limited ice time to start the season – Lindblom has ploughed on through, and is still sitting in third in the SHL scoring race with seasons end a stones throw away.
The last time a forward his age finished top three in league scoring was Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg in 1992-93. The only other times that feat has been achieved were by two-time Olympian Michael Hjälm in 1983-84, Winnipeg Jets legend Tom Steen in 1980-81, NHL All-Star Mats Näslund in 1979-80 and one of the best player not to have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame – Kent Nilsson. Becoming the sixth member of that select group would be extremely impressive. All five of those players grew into stars in their own right after their impressive SHL outlays at a young age. The chance of a scoring title may well have evaporated in the last few weeks – with ex-NHLer Joakim Lindström now running away with the title, mainly due to his sides dominant power-play – but nevertheless Lindblom’s season has been something special.
But onto how Lindblom performed over the last week or so. I bet you already know anyway. Yep, he was once again great. After missing the last round of the National teams European Hockey Tour with an undisclosed minor lower-body injury – which cynicists would say was simply to rest him up for the final stretch – the powerful winger was back in action last Tuesday without missing any SHL action. He and his line did not miss a beat, they were dominant in a 6-5 over-time win. Lindblom featured in five of the six goals, but staggeringly only picked up one point.
The first goal of the game he drew a defenseman on a 3v2, and linemate Clark buried a beauty of a shot top corner. The second Brynäs goal of the game Lindblom was initially given an assist on, he tipped a point shot just wide of the net, before Clark pinged the puck back into somewhat of a goal-mouth scramble. Eventually the puck rolled onto his center Jensen’s stick, who deposited it into a gaping net. Both assists on the goal were rescinded an hour after the fact. The SHL ruled that the opposition defenseman possessed the puck, despite him seemingly never having full control.
But two minutes later the scorers could not deprive Lindblom of a point. On a two-on-one he steamed up ice, created separation from the opposition players and rammed home a gorgeous pass from Jensen. On the goal Lindblom showed just how far his skating has come over the last few years.
Late in the third period with his side a goal down the Flyers prospect once again helped carve out a goal with no credit on the scoreboard. After some great work behind the net he handed the puck off to Jensen, who laid it up to the point, the defenseman switched the puck across ice and Blackhawks prospect Lucas Carlsson buried it to send the game into over-time.
I bet you are sensing a theme to this game. And it continued in overtime. Right off the draw Lindblom out-battled his man and seemingly got the puck across to Jensen, who went down ice and scored only six seconds into the extra period to win the game. Yet no assists were credited. It seemed that Lindblom bounced the puck of a defensemans stick to Jensen – yet there was no argument of the Djurgården player having any possession of the puck. Still, despite arguably having two assists taken from him the future Flyer was more than key in an important win for his side.
Two nights later against arch-rivals Leksand Lindblom was not as dominant, but he still influenced the game heavily. In a 4-0 win Lindblom scored a great goal on a rush. After Jensen had entered the offensive zone Lindblom picked up the puck and fired a howitzer of a wrist-shot right into the far side top corner. There would likely not be a goalie in the world who would have been equal to it. In stride the deceptive, hard shot gave Atte Engren no chance.
The SHL MVP contender could have picked up another goal too. He narrowly missed high from the right circle at one point, and also set up both his line-mates – Jensen and Clark – alone in-front of net. Clark could not find a gap in the goalies pads on his chance, and Jensen was denied by a glorious block from a defenseman at the edge of the crease with an empty net lurking behind him.
The final game Lindblom played over the last week was on Saturday against Malmö. A solid game from Lindblom was not rewarded with any points though. He was denied three times, all with dangerous shots, and on a 2v1 the puck jumped over his stick with a gaping net after a nice rush from him and Clark. On the defensive end he had a fantastic game, causing several turnovers and showing how much he has coach Berglund’s trust by skating three of the last four shifts with a one goal lead – including penalty-kill minutes – to ice the game. He blocked a big point-shot with five seconds left in the game and before that had helped set up team-mates twice for empty-net looks that would not go.
While the SHL point-lead now seems out of grasp – he is eight points behind, albeit with a game in hand, with eight games left – Lindblom is firmly in contention for the SHL’s Rocket Richard equivalent. He is only one goal of line-mate Clark’s league leading 19 goals, and with the way Lindblom is playing it would not be a big surprise if he passed his Canadian team-mate by seasons end.
SHL: 44 games, 18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points, +17
Mikhail Vorobyov (forward)
It may seem crazy to the North American hockey fan – but Vorobyov’s KHL regular season finished this week. All is now between him and a potential move to North America is the KHL playoffs, which start on Tuesday and will pit Bashkortostan based Salavat against AK Bars, from the neighboring republic of Tatarstan in a match-up usually known as ‘the Big Green Derby’.
After his playoffs end Vorobyov would be free to join the Phantoms on an amateur tryout if he chose to, and with his contract up at the end of April he could then sign an entry-level contract with the Flyers on the first day of May if he so wished. Every day the broad center goes without signing a new KHL deal the odds of him moving across the Atlantic increases.
The last few months have been frustrating for Vorobyov. Deprived of WJC and early season linemate Kaprizov, and buried on the fourth line, he was not afforded much chance to provide help for his side in the offensive zone. However, with Salavat having tied up a playoff spot going into the last game of the season the two-way center was allowed of his leash. He played over eleven minutes and looked dangerous throughout. Vorobyov got the puck on net three times and also got an assist – his first KHL point since late October – on a nice cycle play which resulted in his firing a hard shot from the top of the right circle, after which his line-mate rammed home a rebound.
Hopefully Salavat took note of the great game he had and deploy him in a similar manner come the first round of the play-offs. In the early season and the World Juniors he more than showed he could provide value not just in his own end, but in every zone.
KHL: 44gp, 3g, 8a, 11pts, +0
David Kaše (forward)
While Kaše has been splitting his time recently between the first and second tier of Czech mens hockey – being loaned out on ‘off’ days to play in hometown club SK Kadaň’s games as well as suiting up for Piráti Chomutov – there have been inclinations over the last week that he might be back in the Extraliga full-time to end the season.
He only played once in the WSM Liga over the last ten days – picking up an assist while seeing heavy first line usage – and Piráti did not loan him back to Kadaň for an important relegation play-out game on Saturday. The club he grew up at won 3-0 without him, but it was one of the few games he has missed for them in recent weeks.
Further context to this is that Kaše played last game in the top-nine for his Extraliga side. Despite being listed to start the game at 4C it was immediately apparent in Sunday’s game against HC Olomouc that the feisty forward would see heavy usage on the right wing with more skilled players along-side him in addition to his recent 4th line center role. The game ended in a 1-0 loss, but the versatile youngster saw over 12 minutes of ice time, and veteran forward Marek Tomica – an ex-Czech international player – was relegated to fourth line minutes with the young Flyers prospect favored over him.
There are only four games left in the Extraliga season now, and Piráti are in a close battle for the all important sixth spot in the table. They are currently in seventh place, one point behind HC Kometa Brno – with the Extraliga structure only six teams automatically qualify for the play-offs ‘proper’ with seventh to tenth facing off in five game elimination series for the right to enter the quarter-finals.
Let us hope that Kaše is afforded the role he was last game going forward as the season winds down. He more than showed earlier in the season he was a capable second line winger at the Extraliga level, and brings a tenacity in addition to his skill that few in the league can match. Like Vorobyov, Kaše has still not signed a new deal in Europe for next year. The Phantoms could be getting even more stacked than they in the very near future if the two young European forwards come to Allentown upon the conclusion of their respective seasons.
Extraliga: 28gp, 3g, 6a, 9p, +0
WSM Liga: 8gp, 4g, 3a, 7p, -1
Stay tuned for the second half of the weekly update focusing on the defensemen and goalies.
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