Alessandro Seren Rosso Alessandro Seren Rosso
exclusive for continues its ‘Man of the Week’ column with the Swedish Barys’ forward. Lilja’s goals allowed the Kazakh franchise to return to the right side of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Swedish forward was on fire last week, propelling Barys’ winning streak with five goals in three games — he also had two consecutive game-winners in home triumphs against HC Sochi and Kunlun Red Star. For his efforts, he was awarded forward of the week honors. Lilja also scored a goal when Barys achieved a victory in Kazan on Dec 6, with the Nur-Sultan side earning another two important points for the standings. The Kazakhs won four straight games before losing to Neftekhimik on Sunday, but for now they are on the right side of the playoff line, having accumulated 38 games, one more than Neftekhimik and Amur, and one fewer than Avtomobilist — the East’s seventh seed.

Lilja is at his second year in Kazakhstan, and is going to repeat his 20-goal performance he posted in his debut KHL season. Other than last week’s feat, Lilja also netted a hat-trick on Oct 19, when Barys lost 5:6 to Dinamo Minsk — it was the Swedish sniper’s first treble in the KHL.

Early years

Jakob Lilja was born in Limhamn, a district of Malmo, in Southern Sweden, on Jul 23, 1993. He started playing for the local hockey team, then moved to a bigger organization, Rogle BK, in 2010. Within the Rogle system, Lilja spent several seasons side-to-side with Torpedo’s forward Daniel Zaar. With Rogle, he also had his pro debut, spending the 2011-2012 season in the Swedish second division and helping the side to win a promotion to the SHL. Rogle and Lilja’s venture in the SHL lasted only one year, and he spent between 2013-2015 in the Swedish second division again.

Moving up

After leading Rogle with 23 goals in 2014-2015, Lilja moved up to the SHL again, signing with Linkoping. He will spend three years in Linkoping, with good stats, but limited postseason success. After more than 150 games for the Lions, Lilja signed with Djurgardens before the 2018-2019 campaign, which will be more successful for the Swedish sniper and his team. After scoring a career-high 37 (12+25) points, Lilja helped Djurgardens reaching the SHL finals, where they surrendered to Frolunda. Having made 222 appearances in the top-flight SHL, Lilja gained the interest of NHL clubs as an undrafted free agent. He later agreed to pursue a North American career with the Columbus Blue Jackets, signing a one-year, entry-level contract.

In his first season in North America, Lilja made the Blue Jackets roster right away and consequently appeared in 37 games over the course of the regular season, registering two goals and five points. He split the season with the Jacket’s AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, notching 13 (5+8) points through 25 contests.

Move to the KHL

After receiving permission by the Blue Jackets to find a new team during the suspension of the NHL season due to last year’s pandemic, Lilja went to play in Kazakhstan after he was signed to a one-year deal with Barys Nur-Sultan of the KHL on Jun 24, 2020. Lilja became a force for Barys since the start of the season, and he ended up as the Kazakh side’s top goal-scorer with 20 tallies. This year, he’s still leading Nur-Sultan with 15 goals, tied with Nikita Mikhailis, as his role within the franchise is increasing. And now, Lilja is primed to surpass his last year’s performance in goal-scoring, and he’s ready to lead Barys for a deeper playoff run this time.

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