The 2014 Euro Hockey Tour season will come to an end this weekend with the Channel One Cup in Sochi, Russia and Prague, Czech Republic. At the Karjala Cup tournament back in November, Sweden defeated Finland to grab the gold, while Russia took down the Czech Republic for the final medal spot. All four teams have won the COC in the past five years, with Russia (previously the Soviet Union) holding 30 gold medals, the most out of any team. The country with the most points at the end of the two tournaments will be crowned the champion, with Sweden currently leading the way with seven points after three games.
To prepare for the tournament, here are five players to keep an eye on this weekend. The tournament is set to take place from Dec. 18-21, with all teams having a day off on the 19th.
5. Ville Leino, F (Finland): Leino has had a tough couple of seasons despite a strong start to his NHL career. He was bought out of his contract by the Buffalo Sabres this past off-season and then was released a couple of weeks ago by the Boston Bruins following an unsuccessful training camp contract. Despite holding a six year, $27M contract prior to his buyout, Leino wasn’t able to score a single goal in 53 games with Buffalo during the 2013-14 season. With nobody in North America willing to give the 31-year-old a chance, Leino found himself replacing former NHLer Anthony Stewart on Medvescak Zagreb, a Croatian team participating in the KHL. Leino has had a good start to the season, recording seven points in the first 11 games of the season. Leino has been held without a single point in 18 previous Euro Hockey Tour games, but a lot has changed since 2007. Will the disgruntled forward prove himself this time around? Regardless, this will likely act as a warm-up to the Spengler Cup, as Leino will represent Medvescak at the legendary tournament from December 26th-December 31st.
4. Linus Omark, F (Sweden): Just like Leino, Omark’s NHL career went down the drain just as quickly as it began. But Omark, who has a high array of highlight reel goals to his credit, has played well internationally in the past for Sweden. Omark wasn’t on the team during the Karjala Cup last month, but he does have a point in four previous EHT games. At the World Championships, which he hasn’t participated in since 2010, Omark has 14 points in 18 career games to go along with 39 points in 56 additional international contests. Omark had eight goals and 32 points in 79 career NHL contests, but his KHL career has already taken off, posting 34 points in 35 games this year with Jokerit. Also like Veino, who was Omark’s teammate for a brief period of time with Buffalo last season, Omark will participate in the Spengler Cup later this month, acting as one of Jokerit’s top players in the short tournament. But first, he will look to help defend Sweden’s EHT gold from November, something the country has struggled to do in recent years despite their usual success at every other level.
3. Atte Engren, G (Finland): Many people had forgotten about Engren since his AHL days with the Milwaukee Admirals a few seasons back, but the Finnish national team surely hasn’t. He isn’t up to par with guys like Pekka Rinnem Tuukka Rask or Kari Lehtonen, but he’s good enough to be the starter during Euro Hockey Tour events. Engren was drafted as 204th overall by the Nashville Predators at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but due to a log jam between the pipes, Engren was never given a chance to perform in the NHL. Last season, Engren joined the KHL’s HC Lev Praha for his first crack at hockey in the Russian league, but the team folded prior to the current season. As a result, Engren signed with Atlant Mytishchi, where he has played in nearly every game to date. Engren had the best stats of all goalies that played in at least two games at the Karjala Cup tournament back in November, and he’s destined to do that again this time around. Will Finland rebound from their silver medal last month due to the play of Engren? Only time will tell.
2. Vladimír Sobotka, F (Czech Republic): After not coming to terms on a new deal with the St. Louis Blues, Sobotka signed with KHL club Omsk this past off-season in pursuit of more money. However, there has been talk recently that Sobotka could have his rights traded elsewhere and given a chance with a team willing to spend more on the Czech forward. As Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reported earlier this month, Sobtka has a one-month window after the KHL season in which he can opt out of his three-year deal and return to the NHL. Sobotka, who had 33 points and 72 penalty minutes in 61 games in 2013-14, participated in his first World Championship tournament last year, recording six points in nine games. Prior to that, Sobotka hadn’t suited up for the country since the 2007 World Juniors, where he was named one of the top three players on the Czech team. A good performance at this tournament could give the Blues more to dangle if they do intend on trading his rights at some point, but a poor performance could do the exact opposite.
1. Alex Radulov, F (Russia): Scumbag. Superstar. Whatever you want to call him, there is no doubting the pure talent Alex Radulov possesses. There is no question the goal-scoring forward has struggled to keep himself in check at times (using that statement lightly), and his skill alone has been unable to keep him in the NHL. Regardless of what he did in North America, Radulov is the KHL’s all-time leading scorer with 387 points in 313 career games. That alone makes him a threat everywhere he goes, especially in international competition. Radulov is currently the fourth top scorer ever in the history of the Euro Hockey Tour, trailing behind fellow Russians Sergei Mozyakin, Maxim Sushinsky and Alexei Morozov. That could all change this year, however, as Radulov sits only four points behind Mozyakin in the top spot. With a lot of the pressure placed on the tournament hosts from Russia, it’s fair to think that the KHL Forward of the Week for the first week of October will be at the top of the score-sheet at some point throughout the EHT.
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