The European regular seasons are either finished or nearly complete. Here’s the latest on Flyers players in Europe, as the playoffs and World Championships loom.
Joni Pitkänen : As most Flyers fans are now aware, Pitkänen has been out of the Kärpät Oulu lineup since the start of February after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus and is expected back for the playoffs. Pitkänen, who made the Finnish roster for the Sweden Hockey Games, may make the Finnish team for the World Championships, although his playing time would likely depend on the number of NHL defensemen available for the Finns.
Prior to the injury, Pitkänen, who had defensive problems for much of the first half of the Finnish season built upon his outstanding World Junior Championship performance with some of the best two-way hockey of his young career. Continued movement toward defensive maturity and, of course, good health are the main issues to look out for as the five-tool prospect moves toward his NHL rookie season in 2003-2004.
Jussi Timonen : Timonen has yet to make an impact for TPS Turku’s blueline but the first year SM-Liiga player starts regularly and also made the Finnish WJC team. He has had defensive problems because he gets thrown aside by bigger forwards and still gets caught looking at the puck. Although he has shown flashes of offensive skills, they have not shown up in the point column. At the WJC, he had mixed results. He played better in the pre-tournament games than the actual tourney.
All in all, Timonen’s SM-Liiga rookie season cannot be characterized as a rousing success. It is somewhat disappointing that he’s not markedly better now than he was at the start of the season. That said, it’s not a failure either. He’s a starter in a top European league and he made the national team at the most important prospect tournament. For now, that’s good enough.
TPS Turku, traditionally a league powerhouse, is tenuously holding onto the last playoff spot in Finland, one point ahead of Lukko with 3 games remaining. From the Flyers’ perspective, it would be nice if Timonen can get some playoff experience under his belt this year, although it’s doubtful that this TPS club could upset HPK in the first round.
Marko Kauppinen : Timonen’s TPS teammate Kauppinen is an “offensive defenseman” who still doesn’t produce regular offense and still struggles defensively when he goes up against skill forwards. Kauppinen has always had good raw skills but he’s basically the same player now he was with Jokerit and with JyP before that, plus he’s undersized. Indecision is still a killer for Kauppinen. This can be overlooked for a young player but Kaupppinen is a veteran now. He will turn 24 next month.
David Printz : Printz is still a project player who has not made much progess. The 6-foot-4 back is strictly a spare part on a good team and has been no better than most of the other players on a very weak Ilves team. His season will end next week as Ilves is mired in last place and the Finnish league no longer has a relegation round for the bottom two SM-Liiga teams and top Division One clubs.
Roman Malek : Malek has been so great all season that some people in the Czech Republic now seem to expect perfection out of him. There were a few recent whispers that Malek may be burning out a bit from playing so many consecutive games.
That seems largely based on Malek’s subpar game against Slavia archrival Sparta, in which the keeper gave up two goals before he knew what hit him and four in all. However, not only was this just one game — it there were also very unusual circumstances around the game.
According to a report from the Czech Republic, Malek seemed be settling back to his accustomed form in the game. And then, for the second time in a month a Czech league game was halted due to a bomb threat. The building, with over 13,750 fans in attendence, had to be evacuated. After three and a half hours, the game was finally completed.
Malek had a so-so outing his next time out, giving up two goals, one of which was on a shot that handcuffed him. Any talk that Malek was stumbling late in the season, though has been put to rest with his last two outings, including a 39 save on 40 shot performance against Karlovy Vary.
With three games left, Malek still have a GAA (1.55) almost 4/10 of a goal per game lower than the next best goalie in the Czech league and a save percentage (.950) almost a full percentage point higher. He was also the top ranked goalie in the Sweden Hockey Games although he failed to win a game, due to non-existent goal support. Slavia’s playoff hopes are largely steeped on their goaltender’s shoulders. Malek is very likely to make the Czech roster for the World Championships. His agent Peter Svoboda reportedly will advise him to pursue a North American career this offseason if there is interest from the Flyers.
Pavel Kasparik : Kasparik may have worked his way back into the Flyers plans with a decent second half of the season. Although his Liberac production totals have been just ok, he’s reportedly regained much of the confidence he showed last season with Sparta.
Milan Kopecky : Kopecky is now a regular on Malek’s Slavia team and has shown he belongs at the top level of Czech hockey. Next season will be a crucial year for the player, who turns 22 in May.
Alexander Drozdetsky : After a lengthy slump, the streaky Drozdetsky was on a mini-roll (4 goals, 6 points in 6 games) when he was waylayed by a bout of the flu. He’s been struggling to get back in gear since returning. The Russian season still has 6 games left. CSKA is not a playoff time, so all that’s left to play for is a strong finish. Drozdetsky should be brought over to play for the Phantoms next season if he is willing. He is not NHL ready but it’s time to find out if he can get adjusted to the North American game. It’s unknown whether or not the Flyers will offer a contract to Drozdetsky this offseason.
Konstantin Baranov : Baranov, who also plays on CSKA, has benefitted from a stretch on the same line as top 2003 draft prospect Nikolai Zherdev. The 21-year-old is a good skater and has shown several flashes of offensive ability.
Konstantin Rudenko : The injury-plagued forward has not played a game for Yaroslavl in several months. He lost almost all of last season with a shoulder injury.
David Nyström : The same old story with Nyström still holds true — he’s an above-average Allsvenskan player but, at this point, is iffy as an Elitserien player, much less an NHL prospect. He was good during the fall portion of the schedule this year, although Halmstad is not a good club. He struggled in the spring Allsvenskan bracket, even with the top teams having moved up to the Super Allsvenskan (a higher tournament to determine who plays for the right to try earn the two Elitserien spots up for grabs).