Champions Hockey League Final: Players to Watch

On February 9th, Finnish team Karpat Oulu and Swedish Frolunda Gothenburg are battling for the Champions Hockey League title, the crown of Europe. Frolunda has eliminated current Swiss Champion HC Davos in the semi-final with ease and will make it to the final the second straight year. Frolunda has therefore been in every CHL final since the tournament was launched two years ago.

The team from Gothenburg is considered to be one of the top organizations throughout Europe in the past years and has produced a lot of great hockey players such as Erik Karlsson, Alexander Steen, John Klingberg and Daniel Alfredsson. Frolunda will probably be the favourite as the team really impressed in the semi-finals. The team of coach Roger Ronnberg was very close to win the trophy in last year’s final as they were leading Swedish team Lulea after two periods 2-0 but allowed four unanswered goals and lost 2-4 in the end.

Karpat is looking to take vengeance for last year’s semi-final overtime loss against Frolunda. Karpat is the team to beat in the Finnish Liiga as they have won six titles in the past 12 seasons, including the last two straight seasons. They will most probably have another shot at the league title this year as they are currently tied for the second place and have the two top prospects Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho on the roster among other strong players. Karpat is the youth team of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and was the team of former NHLer Tim Thomas before he joined the Boston Bruins organization.

In case you want to catch he game, it will be aired on TSN for Canadian viewers or on One World Sports for the U.S. I came up with some players you have to keep an eye on for this final game:

Jacob Larsson (D, Frolunda, 27th overall 2015 by Anaheim Ducks)

18-year-old Jacob Larsson was selected in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in the past draft. I have seen Larsson play at the U18 World Championship last year in Switzerland where Sweden didn’t play very well, especially the defence around Larsson and Blue Jackets prospect Gabriel Carlsson disappointed me. I have seen him again in the semi-final against Davos where he was outstanding and scored two goals while displaying his good hands and puckhandling skills. I also had the impression that Larsson added strength and extra muscle compared to my last viewing.

Larsson is in his second professional season with Frolunda and is a competitive two-way defender who shows strong plays at both ends of the rink. He will need to continue to add some strength and get more involved in the physical part of the game.

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Artturi Lehkonen (RW, Frolunda, 55th overall 2013 by Montreal Canadiens)

Although Artturi Lehkonen is only listed at 5’11 he seems taller to me, maybe because he uses a long stick and makes plays using all of his reach. Lehkonen is a speedy and offensive winger who possesses a good wrist shot and plays with a good energy level. He can protect the puck well and has a nose for the net. He is in his second season with Frolunda and has almost doubled his 16 points from last season already. Lehkonen is tied to be Frolunda’s second best scorer in the CHL.

The 20-year-old winger was selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL-Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. After five seasons playing pro in the Finnish and Swedish league, Lehkonen seems ready to move to North America and could join St. John’s for the next season.

Andreas Johnson (LW, Frolunda, 202nd overall 2013 by Toronto Maple Leafs)

Smallish winger Andreas Johnson was the second best scorer of the CHL last season and his 11 goals were the top mark last year. This season, he is again an important part of Frolunda’s offence as he combined for 10 points in 12 games. Johnson was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the seventh round back in 2013 and the Leafs have signed him to an entry-level contract last spring.

Johnson will probably make the move to North America for the next season but it seems to me that he is not made for the NHL, could be a point productive AHLer though. There are a lot of valid concerns about his lack of strength and size. Listed at only 5’10, he does not possess enough strength to win a lot of puck battles, but still has first rate scoring skills and is a dynamic skater. He is good at creating scoring chances and could become a solid player for the Toronto Marlies.

Sebastian Aho (C, Karpat, 35th overall 2015 by Carolina Hurricanes)

18-year-old Caroline Hurricanes prospect Aho is one of the most productive scorer for Karpat this season. He really picked up the pace in the past half-year. He missed most of the U18 Worlds but came up big at the WJC and built the top line of the tournament together with Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi.

All odds are speaking for a great pickup by the Hurricanes at 35th overall and it doesn’t look like the “Canes” have to wait for too long until they can bring Aho over. Surely, he will need at least one year in the AHL to work on his strength and add extra muscle, but Hurricanes fans should definitely not miss watching the CHL final to have a first glance at their prospect to see him compete against another European top team.

Aho is an above average offensive player and has a high level of creativity with the puck. He excels best when using his hockey smarts in the offensive zone and is a dangerous scorer when given too much space.

Jesse Pujujarvi/Antti Kalapudas (both Karpat and prospects for 2016 Draft)

Both Puljujarvi and Kalapudas are eligible for the upcoming draft. While Puljujarvi will most probably go within the top five, Kalapudas remained undrafted last year. Both have shown good performances at the World Junior Championship for their home country. I won’t go into too many details with both prospects as there has been quite some coverage on this page.

Whose Stock Has Risen, Fallen at WJC?

Finland’s Firepower Goes Beyond Puljujarvi, Laine

I see Frolunda slightly better than Karpat, especially the depth of the Swedes is much more remarkable than what Karpat can offer, although the Finns have dynamic prospects in Puljujarvi and Aho. Frolunda has the better secondary scoring and that could make the difference in this final. My prediction is a 4-2 victory for Frolunda, but it should definitely be an entertaining game.