Hockey: European Hockey Rundown

FLYING HIGH: Claude Giroux has had no problem applying his trade in Germany, where he has been a dominant force since arriving

BY JEFF ANGUS

Last month, as we headed deeper into the NHL lockout,  I previewed the top hockey leagues in Europe – the KHL in Russia, the SM-liiga in Finland, the DEL in Germany, the NLA in Switzerland, and the Elitserien in Sweden. I figured it was time for an update. Not all of the leagues received the same level of talent infusion from the NHL. Most of the top North American stars have flocked to Switzerland, while the Russians have returned home to play in the KHL. Some players have gone to Finland, Germany, and Sweden, but not as many as the other two leagues.

If you haven’t watched any of the European hockey leagues yet, I’d highly recommend it. The KHL is the best hockey I have seen among the European leagues – it has some structure, but for the most part the game is much more wide open and there are more scoring chances than in the NHL

SM-liiga
There are no stars among the top scorers in Finland’s best hockey league, but there are some names you may recognize. Stephen Dixon is a former Canadian World Junior player, and he is second in the league in scoring with 25 points in 20 games. Former Calgary Flame Ville Nieminen is also in the top 10 in scoring, as is Long Island prospect Jesse Joensuu.

KHL
In the Western Conference, Dynamo Moscow is alone at the top of the standings, led by Alex Ovechkin and his Washington linemate Nicklas Backstrom. Lokomotiv trails Dynamo by four points – an impressive showing for a team that had to be rebuilt from scratch following last season’s tragic plane crash.

In the East, Traktor is tied for the conference lead with Evgeni Malkin’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk team. Malkin has been dominant this season on a line with Toronto winger Nikolai Kulemin.

Alex Radulov leads the league in scoring with 31 points, and he is closely pursued by a couple of very recognizable names –Malkin (28 points) and Ilya Kovalchuk (26 points). Radulov is also second in the entire KHL in penalty minutes – too bad there aren’t many KHL fantasy leagues, as he would be very valuable with his contributions to a number of statistical categories.

Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been fantastic for Lokomotiv in limited action, which bodes well for Colorado’s chances at a playoff spot if and when the NHL returns. Ilya Bryzgalov, however, has struggled in goal for CSKA Moscow – his save percentage is below .900, and his goals-against-average is just shy of the 3.00 mark. For goaltenders, the key during the lockout isn’t to dominate (although that is a nice bonus), but to avoid getting rusty and letting bad habits creep into their games. Bryzgalov had a very disappointing debut with the Flyers last year, and the fact that he continues to struggle this year does not bode well for Philadelphia.

DEL
Kolner Haie is currently at the top of the standings through 18 games. They have no NHL players on their roster, but the two teams behind them in the standings do. Second place Adler Mannheim features a pair of Germans from the NHL – defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and forward Marcel Goc. And in third place is Hamburg, who have welcomed Dallas’s Jamie Benn with open arms. Benn has been dominant for the Freezers (he has 12 points through 11 games), showing the skill and size that have made him one of the best young forwards in the NHL.

Flyers forward Claude Giroux is fourth in scoring with 19 points, and he has done it in less than half of the games (eight) than most of his competitors (17 and above). Giroux is playing in Berlin along with Flyers teammate Danny Briere – their team is in fifth place right now.

The German league may feature some of the coolest team names and logos among any professional hockey league in the world. Check them out if you don’t believe me.

Here are the extended highlights from Giroux and Briere’s DEL debut:

NLA
The top Swiss league is littered with NHL talent – who wouldn’t want to play in Switzerland? With great food, beautiful cities, and attractive citizens, Switzerland seems like the place to be for locked-out NHL stars.

Geneva is at the top of the standings with 46 points – nine more than their closest competition (Zurich). Geneva has been led by San Jose forward Logan Couture, who has 21 points in 15 games. Detroit Red Wing forwards Damien Brunner and Henrik Zetterberg have quickly formed chemistry skating on a line together for EV Zug – Brunner is a player to watch for once the NHL is back. Tyler Seguin has been great for EHC Biel, and he was recently joined there by Patrick Kane.

The top 20 in scoring also features Patrice Bergeron, who is playing for HC Lugano. Several former NHL players are also in the mix, including Dan Fritsche, Byron Ritche, Simon Gamache, and Jason Williams.

Elitserien
Los Angeles prospect Bud Holloway continues his dominance of Sweden. He is currently tied for the lead in scoring with 24 points in 20 games, narrowly outpacing Carl Soderberg and Henrik Lundqvist’s twin brother Joel. The Elitserien (or SEL) doesn’t have the star power during the lockout of Russia or Switzerland (or even Germany, for that matter) – the SEL didn’t want to bring a bunch of NHL players over only to lose them if the NHL were to start back up. Matt Duchene is one of only a few NHL players in the SEL right now – he is skating for Frolunda, who are currently seventh in the league.