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Asplund, Davidsson among European prospects starting up

by Kris Baker @SabresProspects / SabresProspects.com

Rasmus Asplund (2016, second round) got his Swedish Hockey League season off to a hot start Saturday, scoring a goal and an assist as Färjestad BK earned a 3-2 shootout victory over Linköping HC.

At 8:21 of the opening frame, Asplund took the puck down the right wing and sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass to the slot to set up Michael Lindqvist for the game's opening goal.

Just over two minutes later, Asplund emerged from a group of bodies on the left side and found space in the left circle to quickly release a shot for his first goal of the season to put his team ahead 2-0.

Asplund rounded out the effort with two shots on goal, a plus-2 rating, and an impressive 10 wins in 12 tries at the faceoff circle for an 83.3 per cent success rate. The savvy two-way pivot earned a healthy 19:10 of ice time in the victory.

If the first game is any indication, Asplund, who finished last season ranked third in the Swedish Hockey League for junior-aged scorers with six goals and 19 points in 39 appearances, is already on a nice track towards achieving the 30-point benchmark he stated as a goal for himself in July when in Buffalo for development camp.

Elsewhere in Saturday SHL action, Victor Olofsson (2014, seventh round) opened the season as the third-line left-winger, contributing one shot on goal and a plus-1 rating as Frölunda HC got past Mora IK 3-2 in overtime.

The leading producer for a struggling MODO club in 2015-16 with 14 goals and 29 points, Olofsson had to work his way into a firm role when transferring to Frölunda last season. He didn't provide the same goal-scoring knack as the year before, potting just nine goals in 51 games, but he did hit his stride in the final month of the season to grind out 27 total points, which was good for fourth on the team.

Following the acquisition of veteran winger Rene Bourque, Djurgården IF has sent Marcus Davidsson (2017, second round) to the J20 squad to begin the season. 

A dominant figure at the junior level last year with six goals and 10 points in nine games, Davidsson again proved over the weekend that he is a force better suited playing in the top men's league as opposed to his peer group.

On Saturday, Davidsson opened the season with one goal on three shots while owning the faceoff circle with 13 wins in 14 draws as Djurgården J20 dropped a 4-1 road decision to MODO.

The 18-year-old kept it going Sunday, notching his second goal in as many games and winning 10 of his 14 faceoffs as Djurgården J20 posted a 2-0 shutout victory over Timra IK.

After spending his rookie SHL season as a fourth-line left-winger, Davidsson has been skating at his natural center position through the early stages of the preseason. 

Davidsson, who does his best work in the corners, in the trenches from the hash marks down, and on the penalty kill, scored five goals and nine points in 45 top league games last season. 

It remains to be seen how long how long his J20 assignment will last, but for now he's making the most of his minutes as he targets a role on Sweden's national junior team that will take part in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship later this winter in Buffalo. 

 

Finland

In Finland, Oskari Laaksonen (2017, third round) scored his first goal of the season Saturday as Ilves U20 fell to Jukurit 2-1 in overtime. Laaksonen logged his usual load of minutes, skating for 23:40 in the victory. 

Laaksonen returned to work Sunday, again piling up the all-situations ice time with 29:45 of work as Ilves U20 earned a 5-4 overtime victory over Sport.

Laaksonen, who spent the summer training with higher-end Finnish prospects like Henri Jokijarju (CHI) and Juuso Valimaki (CGY) in preparation for what he hopes is a breakout season, has collected four points (1+3) through eight games while logging an average of 24:45 of work per game.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, second round) remains under contract with Finnish club HPK, but instead of dominating against junior-aged shooters has been placed on a full-season loan to LeKi of the second professional league, Mestis, where the 6-foot-4 goaltender can play at a high level as he readies himself for the test of getting Finland back into medal contention at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Luukkonen has won two of his three exhibition starts, including one shutout, with LeKi, who begins Mestis regular season play Sept. 29 versus Pelitat.

For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).

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