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Photo Credit: Ofsimnupi/Wikimedia Commons

The season ahead for the Flames’ European prospects

While Calgary Flames prospects gear up for the preseason, a certain section of them are getting ready for their real season to begin. Yes, we’re talking about those Europeans.

Absent from rookie camp and main camp, the European contingent of the Flames organization are just about, or already are, in the thick of things: the Russian season has already begun, and the Swedes will drop the puck this weekend.

What’s in store for them this season?

Carl-Johan Lerby

The setting

The Flames’ spring scouting trip in Europe mostly focused on Russian prospects, bringing Alexander Yelesin and Artyom Zagidulin over, but they couldn’t help but take a trip to Sweden to add to their collection. While much was made of eventual Oiler Joakim Nygaard, the Flames found a potential NHLer in the 21 year old Lerby, a lefty defenceman for Malmo.

Up until last season, it was easy to overlook Lerby. He was a typical European prospect, slowly working his way up the hockey ladder through junior leagues and development leagues until finally arriving at the top level.

But he arrived with a bang, making his name as a top pairing defender for the Redhawks after only occasionally factoring in for them the season before. With 21 points in 47 games, he lead all Malmo blueliners and finished top 10 in U21 defenceman scoring. He became a minutes muncher, seeing time on both sides of special teams and tasked with major matchups.

The plot

Lerby is back with Malmo, technically. He’s actually a Calgary Flame now, just on loan to the only team he’s ever played for.

He’ll be asked to prove that his breakout season was the real thing and not just a fluke. The situation will be the same: first pairing, heavy minutes, both sides of special teams, the whole shebang. If he can do it all again and then some, he could ascend to being one of the best defenders in the entire SHL. Not bad for a UFA.

The finale

The plan for Lerby was always to spend a season in the SHL and then jump over to the AHL. With a defensive dearth left after the big name graduations, Lerby is essentially guaranteed a big spot on the farm team’s blueline, and will be asked to bring his stellar Swedish performances with him.

Linus Lindstrom

The setting

A 2016 fourth rounder, Lindstrom was selected for his strong defensive showings in Superelit combined with his emerging offensive side. Certainly not an all-star, but definitely worth a shot.

It’s been bumpy since. Lindstrom looked extremely promising from the outset, skipping the various Swedish development leagues and landing immediately in the SHL as an 18 year old in a bottom six role. He struggled in the early goings, but just being there was a major endorsement of his potential.

The downside being that he’s stayed there for all three seasons since, with his most recent season being his largest setback to date. Initially trusted in the middle six for the beginning of the season, he was pushed back into his usual fourth line role. When things really didn’t go well, he was loaned to an Allsvenskan team to get a bit of ice time.

The plot

Well, he’s still with Skelleftea, and he’s been given a slightly expanded role thus far. He has a goal in four Champions League games, playing (from Skelleftea’s notes) on the top line, interestingly enough on the right wing. He’s also bounced around from top six to bottom six thus far in those games, so it’s not really any indication what his role will be for the SHL.

Skelleftea still believes in him. They’re going to give him the opportunity to embrace a bigger role with the club, but they don’t have to be patient with him. If things don’t work out, back to the fourth line for Lindstrom.

The finale

It’s Lindstrom’s last season on the Flames’ reserve list, so this is do or die for his potential NHL career.

And if there’s no significant growth, a contract just isn’t likely. By July 2020, it will have been four years since Lindstrom was drafted, and those drafted after him have shown much more growth in a smaller time frame. The SHL is tougher than the AHL, but if you’re just hanging on in the former, it doesn’t suggest you’ll be great in the latter.

I think Lindstrom will put together his best SHL season, but how much it actually matters will be the bigger question.

Filip Sveningsson

The setting

A 2017 seventh rounder, Sveningsson was likely going to be one to forget. Not necessarily a knock on him, that’s just the life of a seventh rounder.

Sveningsson quickly dismissed that notion with his sensational play in the Swedish Superelit league, leading HV71 in scoring and playing a major role in their championship win. He then doubled down on that performance, moving to IK Oskarshamn in the Allsvenskan, one league below the SHL.

With Oskarhsamn, he followed a similar script: outdo expectations, win a title. Although he began the season quietly, Sveningsson eventually worked his way into the top spot for U20 scoring, providing a helpful boost to Oskarshamn in their quest for SHL promotion.

The plot

Well, now he’s in the SHL. Another year, another challenge.

The SHL isn’t very friendly to recently promoted Allsvenskan teams, with most of them either dropping back down after one campaign or just barely surviving. The talent gap between the two leagues is very apparent in how

It’ll be Sveningsson’s toughest challenge to date, but he’s risen to every other occasion thus far in his young career. He’ll play the same role as he did last season: middle six offensive winger with powerplay time. Ideally, he takes a step forward and can establish himself as a top six regular, and also improve on his sketchy defensive game.

If he can take another step forward and find more consistency in his game, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with as an SHL rookie.

The finale

I don’t think Sveningsson will contend for a title this time around, but he is likely going to finish the season with some great scoring numbers for a young player.

It’s hard to see a situation where the Flames don’t bring Sveningsson over to the AHL after this year. He’s established himself as a quick learner who is handy in the offensive zone, the type of player every team could use. Add in his quick rise from the seventh round, and that’s a story everyone can love.

Lucas Feuk

The setting

The Flames’ most recent Swedish addition (they really like those guys), Feuk was a fourth round pick in the 2019 draft. Known as a hard-nosed offensive player, he caught the Flames’ eye for his unrelenting style of play. He’s part skills and part strength, a promising package in the middle of the draft.

The plot

Although he’s got a senior contract from Södertälje, he’ll likely be bouncing around from the Superelit to the Allsvenskan. The preseason has seen him jump between the two squads, his status depending on who the senior team cuts loose before the season actually begins. He’s currently listed on the senior team’s roster, for what it’s worth.

That’s likely where he plays the bulk of the season. His 2018-19 season didn’t leave that many questions unanswered about his Superelit talent, and with a spot open in a tougher league, it’s his for the taking. Feuk will have to work his way up, and likely won’t have the same impact as he did last season, though jumping to Swedish pro after one year is always a good sign.

The finale

Like all Flames Swede prospects, especially those drafted later on, he’s going to be staying in Sweden for quite some time. Ideally, he can make a case to take on more responsibilities for the 2020-21 season. Anything more than that is just gravy.

Ilya Nikolayev

The setting

The first and only non-Swede on this list, Nikolayev was drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft. Known for his strong two-way ability, speed, and crisp passes, he has all the makings of a future NHL centre but lacks some of the success that those who do become future NHL centres see early in their career.

The plot

Nikolayev’s season has actually already begun: he has zero points in two games played on Loko’s top line.

That’s probably where he’ll be all season. He’s very good for the level he’s at, but he hasn’t shown enough to move up to the KHL, or even the VHL full time. He’ll get his chances here and there, but there’s nothing so far forcing the club’s hand. Perhaps that changes down the line, as KHL teams are generally more flexible with shuffling players up and down, but I don’t foresee any extended stays in higher leagues.

The finale

He’ll still be with Loko at the end of the year and the year after. Nikolayev’s stated intention was that he would see out his Russian contract and then jump to North America at the first chance he can get.

This will hopefully be his final year of junior. There’s a lot to like about Nikolayev’s game, but if he wants to follow the career trajectory he imagines, the ball has to get rolling sooner rather than later. It’s pretty rare for Russian prospects to not make any noise in their home system to suddenly do the opposite of that when they get to North America.

The Flames hold his rights indefinitely (there’s no transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Federation), so there’s no rush on their part.