Canadiens European prospects 2009-10 review

By Ian Bross

The Canadiens have seven prospects who spent their 2009-10 campaigns in Europe – four forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender. Four of the seven were selected in the 2009 draft.

Joonas Nattinen, C – Espoo Blues (SM-Liiga)
6’2 183 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall, 2009

Nattinen isn’t yet ready to hold down a full-time job in the SM-Liiga. The 19-year-old split the 2009-10 season between the Espoo Blues and Hokki of Mestis, Finland‘s second-tier professional league. Though initially loaned to Hokki in January to play a handful of games, Nattinen remained through the month of February. He registered four points in 10 games. Upon his return to Espoo, he saw sporadic playing time, ending up with three assists in 23 games.

Nattinen was also a participant in the 2010 WJC for Finland, registering five assists in six games. Nattinen’s professional career in Europe is still in its infancy. He has two years left on his contract with Espoo to establish himself.

Andreas Engqvist, C – Djurgardens IF (SEL)

6’4 199 lbs
Acquired: Free Agent (2009)

Signed by the Canadiens to a free-agent contract last July, Engqvist had a hot and cold 2009-10 season in the SEL. It was the 23-year-old’s fourth year as a regular for Djurgardens, but he spent it in different areas of the lineup, line combinations, and positions. Early in the year, Engqvist seemed to click with Jacob Josefson (NJ) and Marcus Kruger (CHI), but the combination didn’t last long.

Still, with all said and done, Engqvist managed new career highs in each offensive category. He had 14 goals and 17 assists for 26 points. For Engqvist, it would not be unexpected if he undergoes a change of scenery in the fall.

Alexander Avtsin, RW – Moscow Dynamo (KHL)
6’2 198 lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2009

The highly gifted Avtsin picked apart the competition in the Russian junior hockey league last year, the MHL. The 2009 draft pick attempted to make the transition to the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo this year, but was ultimately taken out of commission by injury. A broken wrist has since healed, allowing the 19-year-old to prepare for play with the Russian junior national team in mid April.

As a teenager, Avtsin skated in 30 games in with Dynamo and held his own. He had three goals and six assists. Avtsin’s agent claims the winger has his sights set on an NHL job. Though talented and possessing the upside of a top-six forward, Avtsin has room to grow away from the offensive game.

Maxim Trunev, RW – Severstal Cherepovets (KHL)

5’11 176 lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2008

Trunev had an unremarkable 2009-10 season. He divided his time with Severstal and Almaz Cherepovets of the MHL. While producing well at the MHL level with 24 points in 14 games, Trunev’s numbers in the KHL with Severstal have remained more or less the same as a year ago. An offensively oriented player, Trunev scored three goals and two assists. His five points in 30 games tied his total from 2008-09. Though talented, Trunev’s ability to produce is crucial to his prospect status. The 19-year-old’s contract concludes at the end of the month.

Alexei Yemelin, D – AK Bars Kazan (KHL)
6’0 187 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2004

Yemelin re-signed with the KHL’s Kazan AK Bars this offseason. He played out the first of two years under his new contract in 2009-10. Yemelin reprised his role as a gritty defensive defenseman. He is not a risk taker, playing a simple game and bringing an edge, though not physically overpowering.

Yemelin is not one to produce much offensively, with an average seasonal point total in the single digits. This year, Yemelin recorded a goal and six assists. He also was credited with a total of 50 penalty minutes – a career low. Historically, Yemelin has been known to accumulate high penalty minute totals, but he is not an extraordinarily undisciplined player by NHL playing standards.

Niklas Torp, D – HV 71 (SEL)

5’11 196 lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 163rd overall, 2007

Torp is in his second season with HV 71 in the Elitserien. Logging occasional special teams minutes while skating primarily on the team’s bottom pairing, the soon-to-be 21-year-old has scored a goal and five assists on the year. He has also logged 93 penalty minutes.

Torp has a reputation for aggressive play. This propensity to be physical comes at the expense of his positioning. Torp often leaves his defensive assignment to engage his opposition, sometimes resulting in chances against. A smaller, feisty defender with a hard shot, Torp’s skill set is comparable to Francis Bouillon.

Petteri Simila, G – KalPa Junior A (SM-Liiga)
6’6 189 lbs
Acquired: 7th Round, 211th overall, 2009

Simila started the year in North America, a member of the OHL‘s Niagara IceDogs. The transition was not kind to him, however, and after 11 games that saw him post a 4.14 goals-against average, he was traded. Rather than remain with Barrie, the team that acquired him, he returned home to Finland. Simila agreed to a two-year deal with KalPa Kuopio.

The move seemed to pay off initially. Simila won his first five contests for the organization’s Junior A team in impressive fashion. In his brief regular season, seven games, he had a 1.55 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. Simila and his team were quickly eliminated in postseason play shortly thereafter. The rangy goaltender’s development is just getting underway.