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Eye on Europe: Panthers prospect growing claws

Jacob Markstrom was picked in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Jacob Markstrom was picked in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Jacob Markström, Team Sweden goaltender for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan, is a serious rookie of the year candidate in the Swedish Elitserien.

Markström, 19, is in his third season in the Elitserien – his first as the starting goaltender of Brynas, currently eighth in the standings.

“He’s extremely experienced already, but never takes anything for granted and stays focused on the task at hand,” said Per Marts, head coach of the Swedish under-20 team and a member of the four-man jury that makes the picks.
 
Markström has kept his eye on the ball and he’s been outstanding. He’s played the third-most games of all goalies - 26 out of Brynäs’ 30 games played - faced the third-most shots (681) and is tied for second in shutouts, with three. His .927 save percentage is second in the league and his 1.99 GAA is also second.

“Jacob loves to compete, he loves challenges and in that aspect, he’s an extreme case,” said Marts. “He’s a young man who’s a very mature hockey player and it’s no wonder he’s been carrying Brynäs a couple of seasons. To say that he’s a key player in the World Junior Championship is an understatement. He keeps developing all the time and during our tournament in Canada earlier this season, I noticed that he’s learned a lot from the world juniors final against Canada last year.”

THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR WALKING
It’s been a good season for coaches in the big European leagues. No Swedish Elitserien team has fired their coach, only one team has pulled the plug on their bench boss in Finland and the same goes for Switzerland, which is more famous for the volatility of coaches’ careers.

The two firings came within a week of each other and both coaches were former Team Finland bosses.

The first one to get the pink slip and a gentle kick on the buttocks was Hannu Aravirta, Team Finland’s head coach between 1998 and 2003. Hailed as a savior of Jokerit, Helsinki before the season – he’s the only coach in the club’s history to have coached it to two SM-liiga championships, in 1994 and 1996 – Aravirta found his team parked in the basement of the standings after 22 games.

Jokerit chairman Harry Harkimo had enough and replaced Aravirta with Hannu Jortikka, the current head coach of Finland’s under-20 team.

In Switzerland, rumors about Rapperswil head coach Raimo Summanen’s problems had been around since the beginning of the season, when he was seen applauding goals that were scored against his team. And when the team lost 10 out of 11 games in November, his time in Switzerland was up.

Summanen has had tough luck since he coached Team Finland to the 2004 World Cup final. Just a few months after that showing he had to leave his position on the national team and in 2006 he was fired as the director of hockey operations for SM-liiga club Espoo Blues.

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Summanen is also known for his summer skating clinics for European NHLers.

HOLIDAY SEASON
The weekend’s games mark the end of the fall season in Finland and Sweden as both leagues will return to action after Christmas, in the traditional Boxing Day games.

During the European league break, the national teams will play the third Euro Hockey Tour tournament, the Channel One Cup, in Moscow. The tournament is considered the last chance for European-based players dreaming of the Olympics to impress the head coaches.

The Olympic rosters will have to be named by the end of the year.

NYLANDER x2
Is Michael Nylander on his way to Finland? The rumors about the Washington Capitals center – who cleared NHL waivers again – returning to Europe are intensifying. According to Finnish MTV3, Nylander’s name has popped up in discussions with Finnish teams. Rumor has it Nylander and his younger brother Peter, currently with Chabarovsk Amur in the Kontinental League, would be interested in playing in Finland.

Both Nylanders have played in the SM-liiga in the past: Michael, 37, during the NHL work stoppages in 1994-95 and 2004-05, when he played with Jyp, and Kärpät, respectively, and Peter, 33, played with Jyp in 1996-97 and SaiPa in 2005-06.

Helsinki Jokerit has been mentioned as a potential new club for the Swedes.

OVATION FOR OJANEN
It took Janne Ojanen, 41, almost a year to get the point that took him to the top of the SM-liiga’s all-time scoring list. Of course, he missed 30 games last season with injuries, including a thigh injury that required surgery and forced him to end his season in January. The operation was successful and Ojanen decided to continue his career.

This season, Ojanen played his first game in early November and went six games without collecting a point, before registering an assist against Lukko in his seventh contest that made his all-time totals 282-511-793, taking him past Arto Javanainen.

“Janne’s record will never be broken,” Javanainen said.

Ojanen has three points in 11 games this season.

Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen. 

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