Who is Jakub Malek?
This was the question asked by me and many others when the goaltender was selected by the Devils in the fourth round (100th overall) in the 2021 NHL entry draft. As Malek had gone unranked by central scouting, the young goaltender was very much considered an off-the-board pick at the time. Shortly after the draft, many in the Devils front office seemed almost confused by the pick, often deferring to Scott Clemmensen for comments on even the slimmest details about why Jakub Malek was selected. [Infernal Access $]
By now, astute Devils prospect watchers should have an idea of who Jakub Malek is. The 20-year old netminder finished 27th on the AATJ list of top Devils prospects over the summer. In his draft year, Malek was playing behind David Graba in Czechia 2. The next year, he won the job over from Graba and was named to the all-star team and had one of the best save percentages in the league at .932%.
The concern swirling around Malek at the time was, why that’s all well and good, can he excel against higher competition? This year, Malek has gotten a chance to prove himself in a tougher league.
Malek now plays for Ilves Tampere in the Finnish Elite league platooning behind 28 year-old former Arizona Coyote Marek Langhamer. For his part, Langhamer is dominating the league, leading all goaltenders in both GAA (1.78) and SV% (.926). Malek struggled a little at the start of the season, but after a short spell in the Mestis to find his game, Malek has surged and now sits fourteenth in the Liiga with a 2.30 GAA and sixteenth in SV% at .904%.
A CONCLUSION OF SORTS
A new question now swirls around Malek. How much of Malek’s newfound success is buoyed by a defensively strong Ilves team who currently sits second in the league and has the highest goal differential of 47? Moreover, is Malek actually a drag on Ilves? Langhamer’s record is 21-8. By contrast, Malek’s record is 8-7, a fairly poor showing given the team’s overall record. Clearly, Langhamer will be far more difficult for Malek to oust than David Graba in the Czechia2 and he is nowhere near close to doing so.
Despite the questions, Malek’s relative successes in the Liiga are comforting. With Tyler Brennan improving in the WHL, the Devils will have plenty of additional goalie options to fill out the pipeline next year. Given the Devils recent history at the position, this is a good problem to have.
EUROPEAN PROSPECT UPDATE
The KHL regular season has officially ended. Playoffs start March 1st.
Trending up: Breaking out
Despite battling an errant door and two injuries Zakhar Bardakov nearly tripled his NHLe production from last year. Dobber’s PNHLe scale puts Bardakov at 32 up from 14 last year and solidly within the range of a mid-six winger. Should Bardakov make the transition to North America after his contract expires next season, one should expect a more muted role as a two-way bottom six agitator, who plays a similar role to Nate Bastian only with a little more snarl and a little more play-making ability.
As a sign of Bardakov’s success, his ice time increased this year from 13:17 to 15:28. All indications point towards a breakout season for the pesky Russian winger, who turned 22 this past week. Next season is the last one on his current KHL contract and it will be a big year for Bardakov’s future. It’s unknown what the Devils plans are for Bardakov, but he’s the type of gritty forward the team could use in their bottom six and if he builds on this season Bardakov could push for a NHL.
First place in the West SKA will play 8th seed Dinamo Minsk in the first round.
Trending: Status Quo
It was a tale of two seasons for Arseni Gritsyuk. In the first update, Gritsyuk had 10 points in his first 26 games and had season a demotion to the fourth line. Since then, Gritsyuk tallied thirty points in his last forty games. The late surge salvaged Gritsyuk’s season and even though the pts/g were less this year than his Rookie of the Year campaign last season, Gritsyuk is still well on his way to a potentially fruitful NHL career.
One concern is that Gritsyuk finished a goal behind last year’s totals, in which he scored 16 goals in only 39 games and even with the late surge his 0.61 pts/g falls well below the 0.72 he scored in the shortened season last year. That said, though this campaign was not as strong as his rookie season, young Russian winger had some successes. With the Devils seemingly willing to be patient with Gritsyuk, look for him to continue to develop in the KHL with next year being a key year in his development.
Third place in the East, Avangard will play Sibir in the first round.
All 15 of #NJDevils prospect Arseni Gritsyuk's goals so far this season for your viewing pleasure. #Avangard #KHL pic.twitter.com/ZdGiPoaYz0— Hockey News Hub (@HockeyNewsHub) February 21, 2023
Trending Out: Back to social media
Probably the biggest surprise surrounding Nikita Popugaev right now is that he still seems to be skating for SKA St. Petersburg. After putting up respectable numbers upon Big Poppa’s return to hockey and playing a key role for basement-dwelling HC Sochi, Popugaev has sputtered since the trade that brought him over to first place SKA. At 24 years-old, this is Popugaeyev is sliding out of the pool and maybe out of hockey again as well.
First place in the West SKA will play 8th seed Dinamo Minsk in the first round.
Trending Unknown: Injuries
Daniil Orlov had a bizarre season marred by injuries. When Orlov did play, he bounced around the KHL, VHL and MHL, making it difficult for him to settle in on any one team. His production in the MHL was down a little this year from 0.56 to 0.45, so coupled with the injuries, one could consider this to have been a slight down year for Orlov. However, Orlov has looked good at times. As it has been hard to get a good read on the current stage of the Russian defender’s development, so he gets an unknown ranking from the update. Expect Orlov to be a prime bounce-back candidate next season as he has shown stretches of improvement at times and may have been on the verge of putting it together before injuries derailed his season.
Orlov did not suit up for Khimik in their playoff game this week. Spartak did not make the playoffs.
Daniil Misyul: Trending Status Quo
Misyul had another season for Third Place in the East Lokomotiv, who will play sixth seed Vityaz in the first round. At this stage of development, Misyul is what he is — a mid-pairing defensive defenseman, who provides little offense, but plays a strong defensive game especially on gaps and angles. It’s unknown what the Devils will do, if anything, with Misyul whose contract is set to expire at the end of this season, but with a crowded prospect pool on defense, status quo may not be good enough for the Russian blueliner as Misyul finds himself sliding down the depth chart.
Yegor Zaitsev: Trending Down: Aging out
Zaitsev had a rough season, seeing himself often scratched for Fifth in the West Dynamo Moscow, who will play fourth seed Torpedo in the first round. As a 24 year-old, Zaitsev’s time as a prospect is coming to an end. The 2017 7th round pick had some buzz early on as he began playing regular minutes in the KHL as a teenager, but his game never grew enough to garner interest from the Devils. Now, as a frequent scratch in the KHL, one would not expect a NHL career to be on the horizon.
Artyom Barabosha: Trending Down
While brusing blueliner Artyom Barabosha’s path to the NHL will not be paved with a high-end scoring touch, Barabosha’s meager production slipped from 11 points in 45 games last season to a measly 5 points in 48 games this year. As a D+1 defender playing in the MHL, one would expect a little more out of Barabosha. One stat did skyrocket this year for the big bruiser: his penalty minutes more than tripled to 49 from 16 last season. All these signs point to a slightly downward trend in his NHL prospects, but as a still eighteen-year old, the former 7th round pick still has plenty of time to improve his game on both ends of the ice.
Petr Hauser has been status quo since last update playing mostly on loan to HC Banik in Czechia2. The grinding winger has bounced around quite a bit this season and will hopefully find a more stable home in the top league next year as he continues to develop.
Jaromir Pytlik’s development has been derailed by a series of injuries and shows no signs of getting back on track. In the Czechia this season, the 21 year-old center has two goals and an assist for last place Kladano, a team seemingly destined for the relegation series.
As of Thursday when this part of the article was written, Vilen sits in a tie for eleventh in the Liiga in goals for a defenseman with 7 and second amongst teenage defensemen behind Seattle Kraken 2nd round pick Jani Nyman. These are actually impressive numbers for the steady, defense-first defender. The question surrounding Vilen when he was drafted was not whether Vilen would become an offensive-minded defenseman, but whether his offense could be competent enough to go along with his already well-developed defensive abilities. This season, Vilen has demonstrated that he can produce enough not to be a black hole offensively. Already signed to his ELC, look for Vilen to debut in Utica once his season ends.
The spotlight of this week’s article, Jakub Malek has salvaged a very respectable debut season for himself in the Liiga. Malek’s platoon-mate, Marek Langhamer’s contract ends after this season. What Ilves does in the summer in net is something worth watching for Devils fans.
Nikola Pasic has had a breakout year of 51 points in 47 games so far playing for fourth place Sodertalje SK in the second tier Allsvenskan. As of Thursday night, Pasic’s 51 points is third in the league behind veterans Nick Schilkey and Linus Videll. After the season, Sodertalje will be participating in the promotion tournament to try to earn a spot in the SHL. It’s unknown at this time what the Devils plans are for Pasic, whose contract ends after this season.
DEVILS EUROPEAN PROSPECT OF THE MONTH
This months honors go to Nikola Pasic who has been really dominant in the second-tier Allsvenskan. Stick tap.
AROUND THE POOL
- Michigan clinched playoff home ice without Luke Hughes, who is day-to-day with a lower body injury. [Michigan Live]
- WHL Goaltender Tyler Brennan has been brilliant lately as showcased by his 31 save shutout against the Portland Winterhawks. [PG Cougars]
- Utica put the big scare on the Cleveland Monsters Friday night with a 7-1 slaying. Graeme Clarke scored his team-leading 20th goal. Aarne Talvitie broke out of the no goal club with his first tally of the year. Reilly Walsh scored his fourth. Nico Daws was in net for the win making 20 of 21 saves. [TheAHL.Com]
PROSPECT FALLOUT FROM THE TIMO MEIER TRADE
The Timo Meier trade left some ripples in the prospect pool. So, I wanted to address them briefly.
First, some house-cleaning. The prospect update was planning on spotlighting Shakir Mukhamadullin this week, but I had a feeling that he could become part of a trade package for someone like Meier this close to the deadline, so I switched to a much shorter spotlight of Jakub Malek while everything was in flux. If you read last week’s update, I also listed Okhotiuk and Mukhamadullin as two of my ten Devils prospects who could be moved for someone like Meier before the deadline. So, if you want your future told as well, let me know in the comments below.
As to the prospects involved in the trade, I would like to first wish those Devils who are heading to San Jose all the best in the rest of their hockey careers. The prospect update believes that Shakir Mukhamadullin, Fabian Zetterlund and Nikita Okhotiuk will have a good opportunity in San Jose to grow and succeed on a less-crowded roster and also hopes that Andreas Johnsson finds a way to resurrect his NHL career in California. I have been a big proponent of Shakir Mukhamadullin, even defending the pick at the time when many considered it to be a reach. I think Big Shak will be a very good defenseman for many years to come. The prospect update is also excited for Nikita Okhotiuk, who has the potential to have a solid NHL career now that his path is no longer virtually blocked in New Jersey. I hope he gets that opportunity in San Jose. Good luck to all.
The prospect update would also like to welcome three newcomers into the fold: Goaltender Zacharie Emond, left winger Timur Ibragimov and left-handed defenseman Santeri Hatakka. While these players were added to balance out the contracts for San Jose, the hope is always that they can become more than that. A.J. Greer, who was included for similar reasons in the trade that sent Palmieri and Zajac to the Islanders ended up playing some games for the Devils before carving out a NHL role in Boston this season. The final section in my spotlight is entitled a conclusion “of sorts” for a reason as you can never be completely sure with prospects. Per the Ahl.Com, all three players have been assigned to Utica for the time being. I will go over each one briefly.
Left-handed defenseman Santeri Hatakka is a decent depth add after losing Okhotiuk in the deal. The 22 year-old suited up for two games with the Sharks last season and was ranked 15th on Scott Wheeler’s prospect list for San Jose. [The Athletic $] Hatakka, by all accounts, is a serviceable extra depth defenseman, who plays a non-flashy simple game and could be utilized in case of injury. On most teams with less defensive-depth, Hatakka would be a number eight or number nine defenseman and that’s probably close to his ceiling. Although Hatakka might slot in a little lower on the Devils depth chart, depth guys are needed too. Think of him as a younger Tyler Wotherspoon and you are probably in the ballpark of what Hatakka brings. Wotherspoon suited up for 30 NHL games for Calgary in his prime. It’s unlikely that Hatakka hits that mark with the Devils but anything could happen. In short, Hatakka is a guy, but teams need guys to fill depth roles and he should be serviceable enough if called upon. Hatakka is currently injured but has another year left on his contract before he becomes a RFA. He should be welcomed by the Comets after losing Okhotiuk.
Goaltender Zacharie Emond has struggled to find his footing after being selected in the 6th round by San Jose in 2018 and has played only four games in the ECHL this year. Although those four games have gone well for Emond, his previous season was a struggle to put it mildly in both the AHL and the ECHL. Emond is a RFA at the end of the season, so the Devils have the option to part with him if he doesn’t establish himself before the end of the year.
UPDATE: Per the Rome Sentinel, Emond is injured for the rest of the season.
Left winger Timur Ibragimov is another Sharks 6th round selection, this time from 2019. Ibragimov spent this season in the ECHL after a demotion from the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL last year where he scored only one goal and one assist in twenty-three games. Ibragimov has found more success in the ECHL this season with 31 points in 52 games, but the fact that he was still playing in the ECHL says a lot about his chances. Ibragimov was unranked on most draft boards when the Sharks selected him according to Fearthefin. A few choice tweets at the time he was selected indicate what to expect.
KHL source on 5'11" Timur Ibragimov: "Not big, but flashy winger with a good scoring touch...All about shooting and scoring. Main weakness is his defensive game."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) June 22, 2019
Ibragimov played for SKA's MHL team. Like Spiridonov, it'll be achievement if/when he cracks one of KHL's top teams
However, KHL source added about Timur Ibragimov, "Very strange choice for Sharks. Not so good, he had to be drafted."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) June 22, 2019
Source isn't high on Ibragimov's potential
Given that the 22 year-old winger is known for “scoring and shooting” and has never really popped offensively at any level since his mid teens including the MHL, where he topped out at 17 goals in 63 games in his draft year, Devils fans should not expect much, but anything can happen and the prospect update wishes Ibragimov the best. Like Emond, Ibragimov will have to prove himself to the organization soon as he is a RFA at the end of the season.
Now is the time to tell us what you think. Is it time to start talking about Jakub Malek? What do you think about the Russian prospects seasons now that they have ended. Want to discuss the KHL playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.
Next week the prospect update travels back to the NCAA with some final season trends and a spotlight on Seamus Casey.