Penguins European prospect season review

By Jason Seidling

The Pittsburgh Penguins had nine prospects playing overseas in 2006-07.

Patrick Ehelechner, G — Duisburg (German Elite League)
HT: 6’2 WT: 176
Catches: Left
Age: 22
Drafted: 2003 (5th round, 139th overall by San Jose)
Acquired: From San Jose with Nils Ekman for a 2007 2nd round pick on 7/20/06

After being acquired from the San Jose Sharks over the summer, Ehelechner attended training camp with the parent club. His play during that period was mediocre at best, giving up a goal from center ice during his lone appearance in the club’s mini-tournament. Ehelechner, who originally signed an NHL contract with San Jose during the 2005 offseason, had a pre-arranged deal with GM Ray Shero to return to his German League team in 2006-07.

Ehelechner appeared in 22 games this past season for Duisburg. His goals-against average and save percentage left much to be desired. He did post solid numbers for Duisburg in 2005-06, which suggests there is talent there that just needs honing. Unfortunately for Ehelechner, top college backstops Bobby Goepfert and David Brown have graduated and will be providing competition for the openings in Wilkes-Barre next year.

Tommi Leinonen, D
— Karpat (Finnish Elite League)
HT: 6’2 WT: 185
Shoots: Left
Age: 19
Drafted: 2005 (4th round, 125th overall)

Tommi Leinonen had a busy year in 2006-07 as he was a member of the Finnish League regular season champion Karpat squad, spent some time with Karpat’s junior league team and also appeared in his second consecutive World Junior Championship.

Leinonen appeared in 13 contests for the Karpat squad, going scoreless on the season, but he was often the odd man out of the team’s defensive picture, as Karpat featured a veteran back line that was led by former Pen Ross Lupaschuck. A tour of duty for Karpat’s junior team did not provide Leinonen with the competition that he needed to improve individually.

Ranked as Pittsburgh’s 15th-best prospect by Hockey’s Future, Leinonen was part of the disappointing Finnish entry into the World Junior Championship. He was part of an experienced pairing with Mikael Kurki, but the pairing struggled against the top competition. Although he went scoreless in six contests, and posted a minus-3 rating, Leinonen did improve his physicality from the previous year.

Leinonen is a very good outlet passer, one of the key characteristics for defensemen in the new NHL. As shown in Pittsburgh’s struggle against Ottawa in the first round of the NHL playoffs, getting the puck up quickly to their star forwards is a glaring weakness for the team. If Leinonen can learn to play more like he did in the Under-20 tournament this past season, where he scored three goals in seven games and was an even player, he has a chance.

Timo Seppanen, D
— HPK Hameenlinna (Finnish Elite League)
HT: 6’1 WT: 209
Shoots: Left
Age: 19
Drafted: 2006 (7th round, 185th overall)

Timo Seppanen also spent the 2006-07 campaign wearing the uniform of three different teams. Seppanen began the year playing for his hometown team, HIFK Helsinki, where he went scoreless with 10 penalty minutes in 12 contests. From there he moved on to HPK Hameenlinna, and his production increased to a goal and two assists in 16 games, with 10 more penalty minutes.

At the WJC, where he was making his second consecutive appearance, Seppanen was again paired with Nashville draft pick Teemu Laakso on a tandem that was supposed to provide Finland with some much needed experience. While he did record three assists and post a solid plus-2 rating, Seppanen was prone to defensive lapses and took several bad penalties that cost the Finns. Seppanen needs to clean up his own and cut down on the unnecessary penalties.

Michal Sersen, D — Bratislava (Slovak Republic Extraleague)
HT: 6’1 WT: 200
Shoots: Left
Age: 21
Drafted: 2004 (5th round, 130th overall)

The Penguins had high hopes for Sidney Crosby’s former teammate in Rimouski following a 2005-06 season that saw Michal Sersen score 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists) in 63 regular season games for the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL. Those statistics, along with 21 more points in 23 playoff games earned him spots on the Memorial Cup All-Star team, second-team QMJHL for the regular season and the 2005-06 QMJHL Plus-Minus championship.

Sersen attended training camp this season and did not look too out of place with the big squad. He was eventually assigned to Wilkes-Barre, where he played in several exhibition games. The Slovak product did not come to terms with the Pens and instead returned to his homeland where he dressed in 42 games for Bratislava. Sersen scored a goal and four assists during the regular season, and posted a plus-7 rating. He also added an assist and was plus-1 in 14 postseason contests.

With Wilkes-Barre ending their joint affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers next year, the Penguins might be looking to sign more of their own prospects to fill out the Baby Pens lineup. This could result in Sersen coming back to North America. In camp, Sersen showed good mobility and the ability to get low, hard shots on the net, especially during power-play drills. And, as a bonus, he does have prior experience playing with Crosby, which is never a bad thing in the organization.

Daniel Fernholm, D — Djurgarden IF Stockholm (Swedish Elite League)
HT: 6’5 WT: 225
Shoots: Left
Age: 23
Drafted: 2002 (4th round, 101st overall)

The North American experience did not go as planned for either Daniel Fernholm or the Pittsburgh Penguins. After splitting his first season between Wilkes-Barre of the AHL and Wheeling of the ECHL, Fernholm began the 2006-07 year back with Wheeling. He recorded three assists in 12 games for the Nailers before packing his bags and heading home to Sweden where he played 32 games for Djurgarden, posting respectable statistics of four goals and 12 assists.

Fernholm is on the roster for Sweden’s entry into the 2007 World Championship. He will be looking to contribute his good size, aggressive play and solid offensive skills to that squad.

A one-time projected top-ten pick, Fernholm has battled injuries throughout his career, including two broken kneecaps, which dropped his stock and gave Pittsburgh the opportunity to select him later than it was thought he would go in the 2002 entry draft. After already failing in North America he might be inclined to finish out his career in his native Sweden, but his size and overall skill package makes Fernholm a prospect to continue watching.

Lukas Bolf, D — HC Ceske Budejovice (Czech Extraleague)
HT: 6’0 WT: 209
Shoots: Left
Age: 22
Drafted: 2003 (6th round, 169th overall)

Bolf split the 2006-07 campaign with Vsetin and Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Extraleague. He struggled mightily in 24 games with Vsetin, going minus-11 and recording just one goal, to go along with 26 penalty minutes. His statistics improved when he moved on to Ceske Budejovice as in 11 games he scored twice, added an assist and was plus-2.

This was the second consecutive campaign where Bolf struggled in the Czech League after posting back-to-back solid campaigns with the Barrie Colts. Bolf also displayed tremendous potential at the 2005 World Juniors when he led the Czech team and was second overall with a plus-8 rating.

Another down season for Bolf means that he will now fall even further down a growing defensive depth chart. Names such as Letang, Goligoski, Sneep and Strait have since passed up Bolf, and the result is he will need to pick his game up dramatically if he wants to ever catch Pittsburgh’s attention.

Johannes Salmonsson, W — Brynas IF Gavle (Swedish Elite League)
HT: 6’2 WT: 183
Shoots: Left
Age: 21
Drafted: 2004 (2nd round, 31st overall)

Salmonsson has seen his stock drop off after being considered one of the steals of the 2004 draft. The Uppsala, Sweden native returned to his homeland in 2006-07 after a disappointing 2005-06 season in North America with a weak Spokane Chiefs team. In 45 games with Brynas he lit the lamp eight times and contributed three assists. Salmonsson also spent a couple of games in the lesser league, where he dominated weaker competition.

The Pens 12th-ranked prospect according to Hockey’s Future, despite his struggles in North America, Salmonsson still possesses great speed, can skate very well, and is a deft passer. In addition, Salmonsson has posted great numbers against top competition in past WJCs, leading Sweden with six goals in 2004.

Salmonsson should not be written off at this point. His ability to find the back of the net could prove worthy. Shero did offer Salmonsson a contract in the summer of 2006, so watch for another offer again this summer with Pittsburgh looking to boost their scoring depth on the wing.

Patrick Bartschi, W — Bern (Swiss League)
HT: 5’10 WT: 191
Shoots: Left
Age: 22
Drafted: 2002 (7th round, 202nd overall)

A prospect who once showed tremendous upside, Bartschi again found his stride in 2006-07 after a move from Kloten to Bern. In 44 regular season games, Bartschi scored 22 times with 17 helpers. He also produced three goals and three assists in 13 playoff games for Bern.

Bartschi’s 2006-07 stats were a return to the big numbers he put up for Kloten in 2002-03 and 2003-04 when he was considered a rising prospect in Pittsburgh’s system. Back-to-back down campaigns saw his stock fall, however. Bartschi has also starred in three previous World Junior appearances with 11 goals and 11 assists in just 19 contests.

The knock on Bartschi is his defensive play and his lack of explosive speed. He is not part of Switzerland’s entry into the 2007 World Championships. Bartschi appears to be a player who will spend his entire career posting solid seasons in Europe, but with his goal scoring touch there is a chance he could one day surface in North America.

Sergei Anshakov, W
— Sibir Novosibirsk (Russian Super League)
HT: 6’4 WT: 196
Shoots: Left
Age: 23
Drafted: 2002 (2nd round, 50th overall by Los Angeles)
Acquired: From Los Angeles with Martin Strbak for Martin Straka on 11/30/03

Sergei Anshakov’s stock continued to plummet in 2006-07 after he again wore multiple uniforms in the same season. He began the year with CSKA Moscow where he had two goals and three assists in 29 games before being released. Anshakov finished the year with Novosibirsk, where he contributed two goals and four assists in 17 contests.

Despite another underachieving season, Anshakov did improve from his previous one where he spent time on three Russian League squads and also served a suspension. He has had a history of off-ice issues, although his coaches in 2006-07 said that he had a great attitude this season, he just did not produce enough on the score sheet.

A pure speed demon, Anshakov will need a monstrous season in 2007-08 to even get consideration in the Pittsburgh organization. Shero was quoted in his first summer on the job as saying that Anshakov would not be signed, although the lack of a transfer agreement with Russia has allowed him to remain Penguins’ property. Anshakov could return to Pittsburgh’s radar if he can again learn to find the net.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.