Oilers European prospects update

By Guy Flaming

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A handful of Edmonton Oiler scouts
recently ventured to Sweden for a two-week stint in order to evaluate this
year’s crop of draft eligible players and also to check on the progress of
prospects already in their stable.  The
troupe of scouts, about half a dozen of them, spent most of their time in
Sweden watching the Five Nations U-19 tournament that had teams from Finland,
Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and obviously, the host nation Sweden.

 

Hockey’s Future spoke with Oilers VP of
Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast and long time scout Chris McCarthy in
regards to the status of several key European prospects of interest to fans of
the team.

 

Jonas Almtorp (C)

 

Playing for style='mso-bidi-font-size:8.0pt'>Sundsvall in the Swedish Tier II league this
season, Almtorp has amassed 18 points in 32 games.  Projected as a good two-way forward in North America, Almtorp is
known more as a scorer in his homeland.

 

“I didn’t see him on this trip but Kent
(Nilsson) has seen him recently,” admitted Prendergast. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“He is what he is, a defensive forward who’s
good on faceoffs, and he’s good at killing penalties.  He’s still working his way in that system trying to get
better.  We might entertain the thought
of bringing him over in about two years because that would give him an
opportunity to play in the SEL first and establish himself more.”

 

                                                 TEAM style="mso-spacerun: yes">                         League style="mso-spacerun: yes">                GP    G    A style="mso-spacerun: yes">     PTS   
PIM


2003-2004

Sundsvall

Swe-2

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Misha Joukov (C)

 

Now that his citizenship paperwork has
been completed, Joukov can concentrate totally on playing hockey again. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
Known as Misha in Sweden and Mikhail (Zukov)
in Russia, the center is looking to really make a name playing for lang=EN-CA style='mso-bidi-font-size:8.0pt'>Västerås IK Ungdom this season in
the Swedish Tier II league where he has recorded 17 points in 44 games.

 

Joukov
is a strong skater and handles the puck very well.  The upside on the 19-year-old is very high indeed but needs to
mature mentally and physically.  Joukov
is 6’3” and 200 lbs but doesn’t use his size as effectively as the Oilers would
like and mentally, it has been a trying year for the new Swede. style="mso-spacerun: yes">    

 

lang=EN-CA style='mso-bidi-font-weight:bold'>His citizenship issues are finally
settled…maybe now he’ll play!” remarked Prendergast.  “He got off to a good start, again he’s a kid on a good team, he
was sent down and he didn’t like where they sent him and it upset him some and
I think he sulked a bit.” 

 

“He’s
back playing again and Kent just saw him last week and said he played a good
game.  In his case, he’s not playing for
his dad now, he’s playing for a different coach and he has to just focus on
playing the game.  It’s not a race, you
just need to finish and I think he has the basic tools to get there.”

 

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   League style="mso-spacerun: yes">           GP 
G   A      PTS  PIM


2003-04

HV 71

SEL

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Västerås IK Ungdom

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Fredrik
Johansson (C)

 

Johansson
was one of the few bright spots for Sweden at this year’s WJC in Finland. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
The lanky middleman scored four points in
the six games his country played and that made him the third highest scorer on
the team.

 

lang=EN-CA>He’s one of those kids that you look at and think that he doesn’t
skate very well and there’s not much to him but at the end of the day he’s a
plus player and he’s got some points,” Prendergast complimented.

 

“His skating still needs some work,
specifically on his foot speed, but he’s a tenacious competitor and he plays
hard and he’s got some skill,” added McCarthy. 
“You have to really watch him to notice him but at the end of the night,
when you look at the score sheet, he’s created offensive chances that resulted
in a positive impact for his team.  You
can’t say enough about that.”

 

“He’s not the most heralded guy and he
won’t be the most prolific scorer but he’s always going to show up and
contribute.”

 

Johansson has played 48 games for lang=EN-CA style='mso-bidi-font-size:8.0pt'>Frölunda in the SEL this season
earning him just 4 points but a lot of experience.  He celebrated his 20th birthday at the end of
February.

 

“In order for him to come over here his
skating is going to have to improve and he’s going to have to get stronger, but
he’s got offensive talent and there’s guys playing in the NHL who aren’t great
skaters who get the job done,” reasoned Prendergast.  “We’ll be watching him over the next couple of years and see if
it warrants bringing him to the AHL and then we’ll make a decision from there.”

                                   Team                                                      League style="mso-spacerun: yes">                  GP   G   A PT


2003-2004

Frölunda

SEL

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Frölunda J20

SuperElit

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Halmstad

Swe-2

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Ivan Koltsov (D)

 

The brief report on Koltsov is not a good
one.  After a disappointing tour with
the Russian Select team that played half a dozen games against OHL, QMJHL, and
WHL squads in November, Koltsov has done nothing to turn the Oilers on this
year.

 

I
think he’s taken a step backwards,” sighed Prendergast. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“He played well at the end of last year but
this year, after a few games in the big league, I think he’s in a bit of a
sulking mood in that he’s not happy with where he is.  We’d like to see him get into a position where he can play
regularly in the elite league.”

 

At last
report, Koltsov was still playing for Severstal in Russia.

 

Alexei
Mikhnov (LW)

 

Now
tipping the scales at 225 lbs, the big Ukrainian is back playing for Sibir
Novosibirsk after a minor shoulder injury had kept him from playing during the
Oiler scouts’ trip.

 

“When
you’re a team in our situation with our money standards, going up to
Novosibirsk and spending eight hours on a plane out of Moscow when he isn’t
even going to play is a tough situation,” Prendergast explained when asked why
no one made the trek out to meet up with Mikhnov this time. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“It would be easier for us to being him over
here for two or three weeks and help him get acclimatized.”

 

Bringing
him over?  Reports recently seemed to
indicate that it was clear the 21-year-old had decided to stay in Russia for
another year didn’t they?

 

“I
talked to his agent (last Tuesday) for a long time because we’d like him to
come over here when his season is over just so he can, if our team is in the
playoffs or if Toronto is, so he can skate with them and see what it’s like to
be over here and what the players are like and then mutually we could decide
what we want to do,” countered Prendergast. 

 

“He’s
sort of confused but like he told his agent, I think it’s time for him to come
over.”

 

So then
the earlier reports out of Russia were simply incorrect?

 

lang=EN-CA>You have to take that with a grain of salt because who’s Mikhnov
getting his info from?  What does he
know or read over there which would indicate anything other than that he should
stay in Russia?” pointed out McCarthy. 

 

“I’m sure he doesn’t know (much) about
the NHL or where he even stands prospect wise on our depth chart or what we
think of him or his potential,” continued the 11-year scout. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“The players are so sheltered over there,
they don’t have access to anything.”

 

“I just don’t think he really knows and
that’s not a knock against him but it’s more to do with his environment. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
Nobody there is going to say to him ‘Gee,
you should go over to the NHL or to the AHL’ because they don’t want any
of their players leaving.  Even if we
talk to his coaches or managers and tell them that we’d like him to come over,
they’re not going to tell him that because they want to keep him.”

 

“Development wise, he would be much better off here
where we could keep our thumb on him but it’s probably more of a matter of
logistics and trying to pry him out of there,” concluded McCarthy. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“I saw that thread on the HF forum (about
the Russian report) and I understand what everybody is saying and how it can
be interpreted, but I would suggest it’s a bit of naivety (on Mikhnov’s part).”

 

                                             Team style="mso-spacerun: yes">                                        
League          GP style="mso-spacerun: yes">     G     
A    PTS


2003-2004

Sibir Novosibirsk

Russia

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Jesse Niinimaki (C)

 

Obviously Niinimaki’s season ended extremely
early this year when his shoulder was basically destroyed in just the tenth
game of the Ilves Tampere schedule. 
Niinimaki spent some weeks in Edmonton before Christmas to become
familiarized with the working of the team and to witness life in the City of
Champions.

 

“I had dinner with (Jesse) while I was
over there and bringing him over here, like what we want to do with Mikhnov, he
was around some of our injured players and got to see how hard they train and
what they went through to get here,” said Prendergast. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

 

“He knows he has the skill to play here but that he
has to put meat on him so he’s hired himself a personal trainer, which
surprised me,” Prendergast said sounding both pleasantly surprised and
impressed at the Finn’s initiative. 
“When you get hurt over there you’re basically off the team and they
don’t train or rehab you.  You’re
basically on your own and the team doesn’t help look after you at all.”

 

“The pin in his shoulder is able to give him some
mobility now so he’s going to start working out this week and he says the
shoulder is feeling a lot better than it did,” he concluded. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“Once he’s back to 90-95 percent we’re going
to bring him back to train with Darryl Duke (strength and conditioning consultant)
who’ll sort of push him and we might consider having him over here next year.”

 

Kalle Olsson (C)

 

If there is an emerging player from
Sweden that up to now Oiler fans hadn’t heard much about to get them excited,
it’s Kalle Olsson.  Sweden finished
second at the U-19 Tournament and Kalle Olsson was that country’s leading
scorer collecting four points in as many games.

 

“Olsson played very well at the Five Nations
Tournament,” stated Prendergast.  “He
used his speed, he has great acceleration and has a great wrist shot too.”

 

“He’s one of those kids who is in a system where it’s
very hard for him to play in a situation that’s best for him,” he
explained.  “He’s an offensive player
and right now he’s playing in a checking system.  We’ve got time on our side and we’ll wait for him to get into a
system where he can play on the first or second line and get PP time. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
He’s not ready to come over to North America
now, he’s got to get stronger because he’s still only 181 lbs, but he’s got all
the basic tools.”

 

Playing with style='font-size:10.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:8.0pt;font-family:Arial'>Frölunda’s
junior team, 19-year-old Olsson has 25 points in 29 games this season. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

 

                               TEAM                                  LEAGUE                  GP     
G        A style="mso-spacerun: yes">     
PTS  
PIM


2003-04

Frölunda

SEL

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Frölunda J20

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Mikael Svensk (D)

 

Skating this season for Halmstad in the
Swedish Tier II league, Svensk has made a name for himself as one of the
tougher players in the country.  The
6’3”, 205 lbs blueliner plays a style of game much more in line with North American
players than the stereotypical Swedish method.

 

Mikael’s
situation is that he’s a tough Swede and that doesn’t always go over too well
at home,” smiled Prendergast.  “He
spends a lot of time in the penalty box and he doesn’t get to play much because
of it.”

 

“Tough
players have a hard time playing in those leagues, they just don’t like
penalties in those leagues and the refereeing is very tight so if you run into
a guy it’s a penalty, but that’s the way he has to play to be successful. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
He’s not a finesse player although his
skating is good, he just has trouble playing their system.” style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

 

“He’s
one of the players who we’ll look to at the end of this year and see what our
team will look like in Toronto next year,” Prendergast said. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  
“But maybe it’s time to start
talking to Mikael to see whether he wants to come over and play here next
year.”

 

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TEAM                            
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A   PTS  PIM


2003-2004

Halmstad

Swe-2

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Dragan
Umicevic (LW)

 

At the
midway point of this year it did not sound as though there was much for Oiler
fans to be hopeful for in regards to Umicevic. 
Reports were that the Swede was not fitting in with his teams, of which
he had already suited up for three different ones.  As the season has progressed though, it would appear that
Umicevic might be coming back to the path the Oilers want him to be on.

 

“He’s
playing for one of the best teams in the league so he’s either got to get
himself to another team or he’s got to play himself through this to put himself
into a position where we think he can come over here,” Prendergast commented.

 

“He’s
not playing as much as we’d like him to play,” he continued. “He’s struggled
basically for the last two years and that’s why we were able to get him as late
as we did in the draft but from the blueline in he’s a great hockey player
because he can skate and he can score.”

 

“He
needs to work on his skating a little bit and his speed because I think he’d
worked out and got a little heavy for his foot speed,” added McCarthy. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

 

He has
the tools to get the job done and apparently he has the attitude best described
as ‘confident bordering on cocky’.

 

“I
walked into the rink with Kent Nilsson and (Umicevic) was just coming off from
warm ups,” recalled McCarthy from the night he watched the prospect play. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
“Kent obviously knows him well and when we
went over and talked to him he looked at Kent and said something to him in
Swedish.  I asked Kent what he said and
he told me that he said, ‘How many do you want me to get tonight?’”

 

“He’s
got really good hands and he’s a little cocky, like he knows he’s a player –
which can be good,” laughed McCarthy. “I kind of like that attitude!” style="mso-spacerun: yes">   

 

“He’s
big, plays gritty and dirty and doesn’t mind paying the price, he smacks guys
with his stick to let them know where he is, he would probably do a lot better
in the AHL than he would by spending a lot more time over there,” said
McCarthy. 

 

“You
look at him, especially with the name and how he plays, and I had to ask Kent
if he really was a Swede!” joked McCarthy. 
“He plays more like a North American or a Czech or a Finn because he’s
got a lot of grit to his game.”

 

Umicevic
has a total of 16 points in 21 games for
style='mso-bidi-font-size:8.0pt'>Björklöven in the Swedish Tier II league but
has also played in the SEL and junior league for Södertälje as well this year.

 

lang=EN-CA style='mso-bidi-font-weight:bold'>We thought he was going to get a
better opportunity with the team he is playing with but he’s slowly getting an
opportunity,” Prendergast summed up.  “I
talked to him when I was over there and told him that we don’t expect him to
come over next year and play in the NHL but we do expect him to improve and
Kent said the next time he saw him play he played very well.” style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

 

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PIM


2003-04

Södertälje

SEL

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Björklöven

Swe-2

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Södertälje J20

SuperElit

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Future Trips

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This was the second European sojourn for
most of the scouts who were previously over to attend the World Junior
Championships in Finland.  The entire
scouting staff will be back overseas again in May when the World U-18
Championships are held in Minsk, Belarus. 
That competition will feature an enormous number of draft eligible
players for this summer’s ceremonies and will be the last major event leading
up to the NHL Entry Draft in June.

 

lang=EN-CA style='color:black'>Comment on this interview lang=EN-CA style='mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>at the Oilers section of the href="http://www.hfboards.com/forumdisplay.php?forumid=38">Hockey’s Future
Message Boards.

 

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