2017-18 Sabres prospects European preview

The Buffalo Sabres system will have a total of five prospects playing in Sweden and Finland this season. Let's take a look at what to expect when for the group when the regular season kicks into gear.

SWEDEN

Despite not turning 20 years of age until December, Rasmus Asplund is set to play a leading, top-six forward role for Färjestad BK this season with his eyes set on forcing his way on to Sweden's Olympic team.

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 poised to achieve the 30-point benchmark he stated as a goal for himself last month when in Buffalo for Development Camp.

With two of the team's top five scorers from 2016-17 gone, and Joel Eriksson-Ek slated for full-time North American duty, Asplund is well-positioned to increase his workload from the 16:52 per game he posted last season.

With that upped icetime should come plenty of chances to hit that 30-point plateau given the fact that he's been skating between a pair of 30-year-old veteran wingers in preseason play.

Asplund has one goal and two assists in three exhibition tilts playing with Martin Johansson, who finished second in league scoring in 2014-15 with 24 goals for Orebro HK, and Dick Axelsson, a 2006 second-round NHL draft pick by Detroit.

The key to Asplund's success this year is his health. He was banged up down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. Now stronger and thicker, the pump appears to be primed to allow the savvy pivot an opportunity to shine in his elevated role.

Farjestad begins SHL regular season play Sept. 16 at home versus Linköping HC.

Djurgårdens IF forward Marcus Davidsson is back to work with his home club following another North American trip that saw him skate with Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Marcus Davidsson is back at the center ice position for his sophomore SHL season.
(photo credit: Johan Sahlén)


After spending his rookie SHL season as a fourth-line left-winger, Davidsson has been skating at his natural center position, with a bump up to the third line, through the early stages of the preseason. He has recorded one assist in exhibition play, using his speed to break free for shot attempts while becoming his usual persistent self around the goal mouth.

The move back to center makes perfect sense for a player like Davidsson, who does his best work in the corners and in the trenches from the hash marks down, and he's a valuable worker off the puck in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill.

Davidsson scored five goals and nine points in 45 games last season. Boosting his point total to the 15-17 range is a reasonable proposition even if he misses time to take part in the World Junior Championship. A quick start could see a stretch goal of 20 points get put into play.

Djurgårdens kicks off the SHL schedule Sept. 16 when they visit defending league champion, HV71.

Elsewhere in the SHL, Victor Olofsson began his preseason with a pair of assists in a lower-line role as Frölunda HC steamrolled HV 71 8-1.

Olofsson continued to work on the fourth line when Champions Hockey League play started, scoring a pair of goals on the first power-play unit as the Indians came back to earn a 5-4 overtime victory the ZSC Lions. The performance has seen him moved up to the third line, where he hopes to keep producing in an effort to earn bigger minutes.

MODO's leading producer in 2015-16 with 14 goals and 29 points, Olofsson had to work his way into a firm role when transferring to Frölunda HC last season. He didn't provide the same goal-scoring knack as he did with MODO, 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.

The late-season burst, which saw him amass one third of his season total (nine points) over a five-game point streak in late-March into early-April, is a very encouraging sign moving forward into the final year of his SHL deal.

Now you just want to see him diversify his offense and be less of a specialist. Seven of his nine markers last season came while on the power play. He has no doubt proven to be a lethal trigger man. His goal now is to become a more effective even-strength producer to attract top six minutes in Sweden and catch the attention of the new Sabres regime.

Frölunda opens the season Sept. 16 on home ice against Mora IK.



FINLAND

If the early stages of the preseason are any indication, young netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is doing everything he can to let the HPK decision-makers know that he doesn't want to spend the entire year in the Junior A ranks.

Luukkonen posted a 28-save shutout (with an assist) in his first preseason action, but with him being one of three goalies in camp with a Liiga contract, and the other two being older, 20-something incumbents, Luukkonen is set to spend the majority of his draft+1 season with HPK's U20 Jr. A squad, where he ran the table in 2016-17 with the league's best goals against average in both the regular season and playoffs to lead his team to the championship.

As a developing 18-year-old goaltender, Luukkonen's ideal situation is whichever one gets him the most pucks possible. That's not happening in Liiga. A loan to another top league club or one in second division Mestis, much how 2014 third-rounder Jonas Johansson was sent to Almtuna despite being under contract with Brynas, is an unlikely option. Johansson was a victim of BIF having solid veterans in net and up-and-coming Felix Sandstrom, a 2015 draft pick by Philadelphia, as their "next one".

With HPK, Luukkonen is their "next one". Their plan likely sees him earning sporadic action with the big squad this season as part of a forward-thinking step process. He did not see one minute of top-league action last year, so it would be nice to get him some starts as logical preparation for going full-time with the big boys next season as he plays out his current contract in 2018-19.

The preseason shutout was a nice first step.

For now, the 6-foot-4 goaltender can play nearly every game with HPK's U20 club and remain in goalie mode as he readies himself for the test of getting Finland back into medal contention at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.


Oskari Laaksonen spent the summer training with higher-end Finnish prospects like Henri Jokijarju and Juuso Valimaki in preparation for what he hopes to be a breakout season with the Ilves organization, where he is slated to play a large role for their Junior A squad this season on the heels of a six-goal, nine-point campaign.

A mobile, offensive-minded rearguard who needs to add 15-20 pounds of mass over the few seasons, Laaksonen is operating with the goal of cracking the Liiga squad at some point this season, and the only way to do that will be going lights out when action begins August 30.

Laaksonen was knocked down with mononucleosis at the start of 2016-17, but he's ready to hit the ground running this year. Ilves has played five Liiga exhibition games thus far, but Laaksonen has yet to crack the lineup. For now, his goal of seeing top league action is on hold so his time is best spent leading the way at the Jr. A level while continuing to work on his body when the skates come off.

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