THW’s Montreal Canadiens’ midseason prospect review continues with the European prospects. The high level of competition in the fast European leagues is often overlooked or forgotten. These leagues are excellent for prospect development, and for most, allowing them to play there until they are ready to graduate and acclimatize to NANorth American-sized rinks is best for their long-term development.
The Habs have selected several European prospects in the last four drafts scattered among some of the top leagues on the continent. Here is their midseason review.
Dmitri Kostenko, D – Khimik (VHL)
The little-known, right-handed defenceman Dmitri Kostenko, drafted in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft, is playing in the VHL — the Russian version of the American Hockey League (AHL) — in Spartak Moscow’s system. He has six points in 22 games, and the young, puck-moving defender has only been on the ice for one goal against this season, demonstrating that he can defend as well as create in transition.
Also, he was added to the camp for the Russian under-20 (U20) national team for the Four Nations Cup, an indication that he is likely to be included in the upcoming World Junior Championships (WJC). However, he suffered an injury that has sidelined him and will hurt his chances of making the squad.
Oliver Kapanen, C/RW – KalPa (Liiga)
The Canadiens’ 2021 second-round pick, Oliver Kapanen, has an NHL bloodline; his uncle Sami Kapanen last played in the league in 2008, and his cousin Kasperi Kapanen plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. His style is built on speed; he loves breaking into the zone and using his speed and direction changes to open passing and shooting lanes, which works well on the larger ice surface.
“Kapanen is a skilled and shifty player who packs offensive punch. A fluid skater with quick acceleration, he constantly keeps his feet in motion. He moves well and plays a fast-paced game.”– Marco Bombino, Finnish Junior Hockey
Kapanen graduated from the U20 KalPa program with seven points in six games and is now with KalPa playing in Liiga, the highest professional league in Finland. In 11 games with the club, he has one goal and two points in sparing ice time, which is normal for an 18-year-old in that league. He has been named to the Team Finland roster and will now get to play against the best in his age group at the WJC.
Alexander Gordin, RW/C – HK Sochi (KHL)
Alexander Gordin was the Canadiens’ sixth-round pick in 2020. He has a big frame at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, and his best skill is his shot. It’s accurate, heavy and his release is quick and deceptive, which causes goaltenders problems. His skating is still a work in progress, however.
This season, Gordin graduated from the MHL (Russian junior league), where he had six goals and eight points in 12 games, to Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League where he has one goal in six games. He has been used for only a few minutes per game in a bottom-line role, however, this is normal for young players when they graduate to the top league.
Jacob Olofsson, C/LW – Tiimra (SHL)
Jacob Olofsson was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft. The Canadiens were looking for a big two-way center, and the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Swede fit that description. He started the season at center with Tiimra of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), scoring one goal and five points in 16 games, but was loaned to one of the top SHL teams in Frolunda, where he was shifted to left-wing for seven games and scored one goal.
The young center has dealt with injuries that have slowed his progression, and as a 2018 pick, the Canadiens have until June 1, 2022, to sign Olofsson or lose his NHL rights.
Frederik Dichow, G – Kristianstad IK, (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Frederik Dichow was selected by the Canadiens in the fifth round in 2019. The Danish goaltender was set to join the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League before the Covid-19 pandemic; however, that never happened. Instead, he played sparingly in his home country. This season, Dichow has signed with Kristianstad in Sweden’s second-tier professional league, and he has been impressive.
He has an 8-5-0 record with one shutout and a .921 save percentage as the team’s starting goaltender, placing them in a playoff position at sixth place.
While this season may be painful for Canadiens fans, the upside is they can look to the success of their young draft picks and hope for the future.