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Prospect Snapshot: The European Leagues

Get caught up with quick hits on all Flyers prospects playing in Europe

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

The Flyers currently have eight prospects playing in Europe: five in Sweden and three in Russia. The organization's European prospect pool consists of two forwards, three defensemen and three goalies. 

There is often confusion among fans about how long NHL teams hold the rights to players after they are drafted. The rules are a little more complicated with players drafted from European leagues. A player's NHL rights duration after the draft depend on which country's national federation governs the league from which the player is drafted and whether that country's federation has a transfer agreement with the National Hockey League.

In the case of players drafted from Sweden, there is a four-year signing window for NHL teams. For players selected from Russian teams, there is an indefinite hold on the player's NHL rights due to the lack of a transfer agreement. By mutual agreement, however, NHL clubs and Russian teams cannot sign players currently under contract in each other's leagues. They must either wait until the contract expires or the player must negotiate the early termination of his contract before signing overseas.

SWEDISH HOCKEY LEAGUE (SHL)

Felix Sandstrom (G, Brynäs IF Gävle, age 20): Winner of the Best Goaltender award at last year's World Junior Championships, Sandstrom (or more accurately rendered, Sandström) has aged out of eligibility for the tournament. He will turn 21 on January 12. Drafted by the Flyers in the third round (70th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, the team retains his rights until June 1, 2019.

Sandstrom got off to an excellent statistical start this season for a Brynäs club that fell one Game 7 overtime loss short of the SHL championship in 2016-17. Although the athletically gifted 6-foot-2 netminder technically remained in a 1A/1B time-sharing split with veteran goaltender David Rautio, Sandstrom was the markedly better goalie early in the season and began to see more back-to-back starting assignments.

Brynäs is not as good of a team as it was last season. The departure of players such as SHL Forward of the Year winner Oskar Lindblom (now with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms) has been felt. The team, including Sandstrom, hit a rough spell in the latter portion of October. Sandström had a subpar outing against Rögle BK on Oct. 19 (31 saves on 36 shots) in his last full-game start. 

In an Oct. 26 game against Färjestads BK, Sandström (9 saves on 11 shots) left the game early due to injury. He has been unavailable for the team's last three games. With Rautio also injured, Brynäs has had to try to patch things together with young callup goalies.

For the season to date, Sandstrom has posted a 2.87 goals against average and .905 save percentage in eight outings. 

Linus Hogberg (D, Växjö Lakers, age 19): One of the youngest players in the 2016 NHL Draft, Hogberg (Högberg in Swedish) was born Sept. 4, 1998; making the birthdate cutoff for last year's draft by just 11 days. Despite his tender age, he is in his second full season as a regular starter in the Swedish Hockey League; the top professional circuit in his home country. The Flyers, who selected him as a then under-the-radar prospect in the fifth round (139th overall) of the 2016 Draft, hold his rights until June 1, 2020.

The Flyers organization is excited by Hogberg's upside. He is a mobile puck-mover with good two-way hockey instincts and a 6-foot-1 frame. Although not known as an offensive defenseman, he has good passing skills and a sneaky quick shot when the opportunity arises. 

At the SHL level, Hogberg is still being eased into an expanded role for Växjö. As is typical for teenaged SHL players who have advanced beyond the competition level of the top Swedish junior level (J20 SuperElit) but are still learning how to play against adult pros, Hogberg spent much of last season and the early part of this season playing limited minutes. Of late, however, he has begun to see more playing time as Hogberg has earned more trust from Lakers' head coach Sam Hallam.

Through 12 games, he has posted two assists, a plus-one rating (+5, -4) at even strength, and six blocked shots. He ranks in the league's top five in the puck possession analytics category of shot-attempt differentials when he's on the ice. Even before the season, Hogberg was considered a likely candidate to play for Sweden at the 2017-18 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY. He's solidified that status over the last few months.

David Kase (W, Mora IK, age 20): The younger brother of Anaheim Ducks forwad Ondrej Kase, David was drafted by the Flyers in the fifth round, 128th overall, of the 2015 NHL Draft. The Flyers hold his NHL signing rights until June 1, 2019. 

For the first two seasons after he was drafted by the Flyers, Kase (Kaše in Czech, pronounced KASH-eh) played sparingly in his home country in the Czech Extraliga while serving as a team leader on the national under-20 squad. He has now aged out of eligibility for the World Junior Championships. 

This season, Kase signed to play with Swedish club, Mora IK. He has had a promising start to his career, seeing more ice time in a top-six role than he received while apprenticing in Extraliga his first season and a half after being drafted by the Flyers.

Stylistically, Kase is somewhat reminiscent of retired Flyers alum winger Sami Kapanen. Both have a non-stop motor, tireless work ethic and, despite lacking size, fearless about doing battle with larger players. Kase doesn't quite have the same blazing speed or the same finishing ability that future two-time NHL All-Star selection Kapanen showed in Europe at the same age, but their level of heart and head for the game are comparable. Kase is also skilled with the puck and willing to take a hit to make a play.

Through his first 16 games in the SHL, Kase has posted eight points (three goals, five assists). In a far more limited role last season for Czech team Chomutov Pirates, he had three goals and nine points in 32 games.

David Bernhardt (D, Djurgårdens IF, age 19): An offensive-minded defenseman in the junior levels who has been evolving into more of a well-rounded player, Bernhardt will turn 20 years old on Dec. 1. The Flyers selected him in the seventh round (199th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft and retain his rights until June 1, 2020.

Bernhardt was a member of Team Sweden's blueline corps at last year's World Junior Championships but will age out of eligibility for the future WJC participation before the next under-20 tournament begins. Last year, he made progress toward becoming less of an offensive specialist (he has a very heavy lefthanded point shot and is not shy about firing the puck when he has it on his stick) and markedly improved his play away from the puck. 

The 6-foot-3 Bernhardt still has work to do in improving his feet; an area where smooth-skating countryman Hogberg has an advantage. Overall, though, Bernhardt's game has been trending in the right direction as he's been gaining experience at the SHL level.

In 15 regular season games to date for Stockholm-based Djurgården, Bernhardt has posted two assists, a plus-seven rating (+9, -2), four blocked shots, two credited hits and 10 shots on goal while averaging 13:07 of ice time. His points have come in each of the team's last two games (a home-and-home set with Färjestad). Berhardt played 16:39, his season high to date, in DIF's 2-1 road loss to Färjestad on Oct. 4.

Olle Lycksell (C/W, Linköpings HC, age 18): Drafted by the Flyers in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Lycksell created a bit of buzz for himself among attending fans on the final day of the of the Flyers Development Camp in July. Before heading back home to Sweden, he scored five goals in the 3-on-3 half-rink tournament that concluded the annual camp.

While Lycksell has skill, some fans on Flyers social media perhaps got the wrong impression about the player's strengths based on what they saw on the last day of Development Camp. If he develops as hoped, Lycksell's stock in trade is likely to be as a heady and versatile two-way forward and not as a sniper. 

Lycksell is not big (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) but he is deceptively strong and competitive for someone deemed an undersized forward. He primarily still plays at the J20 SuperElit level for Linköping's top junior team but has appeared, albeit briefly (4:24 TOI), in a pair of SHL games. Despite seeing few shifts for the senior team, Lycksell packed three shots on goal and a blocked shot into his brief time on the ice.

At the J20 level this season, Lycksell has posted 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 17 games. He works hard to be a responsible player and has the versatility to play in different situations. Lycksell is a shifty and clever passer, and has a quick shot release. 

Lycksell has appeared in three games for the Swedish national under-20 team so far this season. While he has an uphill climb to play in the World Junior Championships this year, it appears that he has a good chance at making it as a 19-year-old come next season. 

KONTINENTAL HOCKEY LEAGUE (KHL)

Kirill Ustimenko (G, MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg (MHL), age 18): While the most advanced and highly touted goalie prospects in the Flyers farm system (excluding current Lehigh Valley Phantoms goalies Alex Lyon and the injured Anthony Stolarz) are WHL goaltender Carter Hart and Swedish netminder Sandstrom, Ustimenko's stock has been rising very rapidly during the 2017 calendar year.

After a standout performance for Team Russia at the 2016-17 IIHF Under-18 World Championships and good assessments from Flyers scouts including Russia-based scout Ken Hoodikoff, Philadelphia selected the 6-foot-2, 210-pound netminder in the third round (80th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. While the organization was already deep in goalie prospects, Ustimenko was too much of a high-upside pick to pass on at that stage of the Draft. Besides, there is no such thing as having excessive depth at any position in the farm system but especially at the position that is the hardest to project development from junior to pro. 

Ustimenko, who was born in Belarus but represents Russia internationally, is still plying his trade at the MHL (Russian junior level) rather than the pro level. This is by far better for his development in the short term because he's playing regularly rather than sitting as a backup or third-string goalie in favor of more experienced goalies. 

The teenage goalie's MHL season stats to date are phenomenal (1.71 GAA, .921 SV%) but two caveats are in order: 1) there are two dominant teams in the MHL and Ustimenko's MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg club is one of them; there are often games where he only sees about 12 to 15 shots on goal, and 2) Russian hockey, even at the junior level, tends to be lower-scoring than comparable North American junior and minor leagues.

That said, Ustimenko has been quite strong overall this season. He's only had a couple of rough outings (one early season game in particular) among his 20 games to date. When tested on tough chances, he's often answered the bell and he's also made the routine saves.  

Ustimenko is being groomed for a potential starting role for Russia in the 2018-19 World Junior Championships. He could be the third goalie on the Russian roster for this year's WJC, as he served in the understudy role for the national under-20 team in preseason international tournaments. This is often a lead-in to being tabbed for WJC playing time as a 19-year old. Born January 29, 1999, Ustimenko will still be eligible for WJC play come next season.

Ivan Fedotov (G, Toros Neftekhamsk (VHL), age 21): Flyers general manager Ron Hextall admits that the selection of Fedotov in the seventh round (188th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft was simply a low-risk roll of the dice on a huge-framed (6-foot-6) athlete who may or may not refine his raw athleticism down the line. In the meantime, the Flyers hold his NHL rights in case things eventually click in place. 

Fedotov plays at the VHL - Russian minor league - level for Toros but his KHL rights are held by Salavat Yulaev Ufa, for whom he has sporadically backed up over the past few years and has appeared in one KHL game this season. With Toros, he's appeared in 12 games this season (2.81 GAA, .891 SV%).

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