By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
The 2020-21 pro hockey seasons in North America continue to be in a holding pattern with the questions of “if” and “when” return-to-play scenarios will actually happen. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, with numbers spiking upward as we’re in the early stages of the cold and flu seasons. With the top pro leagues in North America (AHL, ECHL, & NHL) reliant on fan attendance to sustain business operations, the idea of a tentative start time of early December has now been deemed an unrealistic target with increased deaths and positive cases.
Several hockey teams have opted out of 2020-21 season. One league has two different opening days based on COVID restrictions. Another is considering moving teams to Canada.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 27, 2020
Inside AHL, ECHL and SPHL plans for next season (and what they mean for the NHL): https://t.co/COHp1FVU14
These quotes from AHL League President Scott Howson below came from the fantastic article from ESPN.com Senior Writer Greg Wyshynski in an article published on October 27th, 2020. In the ESPN article above, ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin is working alongside Howson and a return to play task force, including Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney.
AHL League President Scott Howson Quote:
“We’re getting close to Dec. 4, and there’s been minimal improvement as far as fan capacity. The virus seems to be getting worse right now. The borders are still closed,” he said. “Maybe Dec. 4 isn’t realistic, that our teams aren’t ready to do that.”
ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin Quote:
“I mean, facts are at a premium these days, but what’s become evident to me is if there was a reasonable and responsible way to return to play in 2020-21, our ownership wanted to do it, the players certainly want to get back to playing, and the fans have shown their desire to have ECHL hockey in their market. Is COVID gone? Absolutely not. Is it something we’re going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future? Absolutely. But the more you work through it, the more you learn. I think you can reasonably and responsibly return to play.”
And even National Hockey Leagues Deputy Commissioner Bid Daily quoted on the thoughts of the upcoming 2020-21 regular season:
“We certainly have a regular dialogue with other hockey leagues and organizations both here in North America and in Europe,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN. “We have made it a point to share everything we have developed with other hockey organizations. We are all in this together, and we are pulling the same direction.”
With pro hockey on hold in Canada and the United States, some fortunate prospects who belong to National Hockey League organizations were eligible to be loaned to pro teams overseas. Either these players below were already heading to a European team after accepting a qualifying offer or able to be loaned for continued development, these Boston Bruins prospects have made significant contributions and deserve mentions. With over a dozen Boston prospects playing overseas this season with Covid-19 numbers down elsewhere in the world, these five players are the ones making the most noise.
The former seventh-round selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was slated to start his first North American minor-pro season with Providence but was loaned to his native countries Lulea HF club in the Swedish Hockey League. So far, in ten games, the 21-year-old right-shooting defenseman is off to a great start offensively with 2-6-8 numbers on familiar bigger sheets of ice.
The 6′-0″ 181-pound blueliner is a mobile defenseman either on the power play or during an end-to-end rush offensively. Victor reminds me of a Torey Krug type of player with his lower-body strength and how he gets low to the ice using his stride accelerating on or off the puck. As seen above and like traditional smaller-framed defensemen, Berglund has a cannon of a shot with an uncanny ability to get pucks to the crease for tips or secondary opportunities for his teams forwards, causing havoc out front.
Of course, Berglund has a lot to learn as he continues to develop, but I’m really excited about his play overseas as he gets ready for the smaller rinks when able to return to North America. The Providence Bruins defense is certainly lining up to be a strong one on paper with the 2020-21 addition of Victor and players such as Jack Ahcan, Brady Lyle, and Nick Wolff, to name a few. With Victor’s mobility, I have a feeling AHL Bruins Head Coach Jay Leach, when able to get back to work, will put him in the most successful areas to accelerate his development.
Peter is an interesting player for me, and his recent “words” about playing time in the NHL more or less directed at Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy have me curious about his future with the Boston organization. Cehlarik earned audition time with 40 NHL games posting 5-6-11 numbers, but those games with the NHL Bruins were spread over four years of service.
The 6′-2″ 203-pound versatile forward has spent the last seven years in the Bruins organization, being a third-round draft selection in 2013. He came to North America after signing an entry-level deal with Boston in early June of 2016 and had a solid AHL career with Providence posting 59-77-136 numbers in 185 games with the top minor-pro affiliate of the Bruins. Although he tried hard with ample opportunities, Peter didn’t exactly show enough for a permanent NHL position and was repeatedly sent down. In his last AHL demotion (October 2019), the now 25-year-old needed waivers to complete the Providence trip.
After leaving the Bruins organization before the pro leagues shutting down for the regular season operations, Cehlarik had some disgruntled words about how he was used, and immediate rumors started to fly. After a Providence season that saw him post 16-21-37 numbers in 48 games in 2019-20, Peter hinted to a Slovak Reporter about not re-signing and heading overseas for the 2020/21 campaign. What’s strange to me is he accepted his qualifying offer to remain under the NHL Bruins organization umbrella until he turns 27-year-old when his rights are up and becomes a free agent. For someone who wasn’t happy and permanent NHL vision unclear, accepting to remain with the Bruins team was a bit surprising from both sides.
Since his arrival overseas in the Swedish Hockey League with the Leksands IF club, Cehlarik continues to work hard to prove the doubters wrong as he’s posted 8-6-14 numbers in 12 games thus far. Peter is playing in the SHL, which is commonly known as the fourth to the fifth-ranked league globally, but it’s also below the AHL, so it’s really not shocking a player who excelled at one level is having success in a league lower. Looking at players’ who tend to “open their mouths” with self-entitlement, The NHL Bruins could be hanging onto Cehlarik as a trade chip or to sweeten a package deal for a Bruins team needing a few assets if and when they get back to work. I think Peter is a solid player, but with the landscape of the depth in front of him, full-time NHL duties might come with another franchise either free agency in the near future or via trade, unfortunately.
Joona has been with the Bruins organization since 2016, when he was selected in the fifth round. The 22-year-old 6′-5″ 192-pound forward joined the Providence club full-time during the 2018-19 season and only produced 2-0-2 numbers in 45 games. His second full season in North America didn’t exactly go as planned, and these are the ups and downs of pro hockey development.
Koppanen started the 2019-21 regular season for Providence getting limited game time (two of 11 games) as a revolving forward on the fourth line, often healthy scratched. Jay Leach didn’t have an option anymore to give Joona playing time and was sent to the ECHL “AA” minor-pro Atlanta Gladiators affiliate. In Koppanen’s short time in Atlanta where he produced 1-4-5 numbers in five games and really took his demotion, and given ice time opportunity at the lower level very seriously.
When he arrived back in Providence in early November after his short stint in Atlanta, Koppanen was absolutely driven not to be sent back down. He definitely earned Jay Leach and Providence coaching staff trust to be more of a regular, often bouncing around on the third and fourth line. In his first game back, he scored a goal in a 2-0 Bruins win over the Utica Comest on November 1st, 2019. He would go onto being a solid member of Leach’s bottom 12 forwards who continuously ground it out during the last season’s remaining schedule before Covid ruined the finale. He finished the AHL season with 9-9-18 numbers in 43 games, which aren’t explosive, but those are good contributions for a player who puts it all on the line to stay at a certain level and respect the role given.
Bruins prospect Joona Koppanen moving to Ilves in Finland’s top league. Had been playing for KOOVEE in the 2nd league— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) October 28, 2020
Joona has been loaned to his Finnish home countries Koovee club in the Mestis league. Koppanen has been an absolute monster returning home, posting 6-11-17 numbers in his first ten games. With his outstanding play recently, per New England Hockey Journal’s Mark Divver above has been loaned to the higher better-skilled llves club playing in the top Finnish Pro Liiga League. His first game this season in the higher league could be this coming Friday, October 30th, 2020, vs. the Vassan Sport club.
One of the sneakingly good middle-depth signings, in my opinion. Not quite ready for the NHL but kept in the mix of developing forwards with low-risk, high reward. Lantosi was brought into Boston to get a complete evaluation as an invite to the Bruins annual development camp in the summer of 2018 after a successful World Championships with Team Slovakia and his countries International roster the same year.
If you’re watching Can/SVK, keep an eye on Slovakian forward #16 Robert Lantosi. He’s drawing NHL interest.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 13, 2019
Having a solid development camp was huge for Robert because it really started the trend of gauging his progression in his first year of North American pro hockey. After a full 2019-20 regular season signed as a minor-pro player with Providence, the quick and skilled Lantosi really impressed me and others with how fast he was able to adapt to the system while having so many years of international training. At the close of the 2019-20 campaign, Robert contributed 11-20-31 numbers in 50 games as an AHL rookie.
Check out my new prospect season review on Robert Lantosi! He's one to keep an eye on! #Providence #AHLBruins #AHL #NHLBruins #BruinsProspects #BruinsAffiliate #AHL #NHL— Timothy (@TimARichardson) September 16, 2020
Boston Bruins Prospect Season Review: Robert Lantosi https://t.co/tIBsNxEn1z via @TimARichardson
This season, while on loan with the Slovak HK Nitra club, the undrafted forward has contributed 1-4-5 numbers in five games played. Lantosi and his HK Nitra team get back to work on Friday, October 30, 2020, against the HC Slovan Bratislava club.
After having a career year overseas playing for his home countries Swedish Hockey League Farjestad BK during the 2018-19 season, posting 17-20-37 numbers in 46 games, the 22-year-old was clearly ready to start his pro career in North American. Steen, a 5′-9″ 190-pound center/right-wing, signed his three-year, entry-level contract in early May of 2019 and was placed in Providence to play his rookie season in the AHL.
Last season in Providence and his first full year of North American ice, I thought Steen adjusted well to his new surroundings and a Head Coach Jay Leach system. Oskar is a fast forward and has an uncanny ability to create positive things in tight areas, sometimes under double coverage. With the AHL Bruins team last season, the shifty forward posted 7-16-23 numbers in 60 games played.
Steen is currently on loan playing in the HockeyAllsvenskan League with the IF Bjorkloven club, where he’s contributed 5-0-5 numbers in nine games. The Bjorkloven team is currently on a nine-game winning streak to start the 2020-21 regular season. The next game for Steen and his Bjorkloven club is Friday, October 30th, 2020, as the team looks to make it ten in a row against the ninth-place The White Horse club.
Regardless of when the North American pro leagues get started, all Bruins players mentioned above will return to the Boston organization for training camp. The AHL looking at an early February return would give these players more opportunity to continue development and be ready above other B’s prospects who don’t have the option of skating with the Covid-19 pandemic still around.