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Monday, September 6, 2010

B2011DW's Official European 2010-11 player watch list

At long last, I've managed to compile my initial list of European players to keep an eye on for the 2010-11 hockey season.

For the most part, the Bruins have stayed away from Europe since 2006 when they drafted defenseman Yuri Alexandrov in the second round.

In the four drafts since, the B's have nabbed a grand total of three Europeans (Denis Reul- Germany, Radim Ostrcil- Czech Republic in '07 and Maxim Chudinov- Russia in '10), and none of them have come in the first half of the lottery.

Like 2009, the 2011 draft class appears to be very strong in terms of the Swedish contingent. I've already profiled Adam Larsson just a few posts below, and he's so good that we'll be talking about him all season, but the Tri Kronor also have some highly skilled prospects in the form of Victor Rask (he's a Swede and therefore no relation to Boston goalie Tuukka), Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, Joachim Nermark and Mika Zibanejad to name a few (and Gabriel Landeskog, who skates for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, isn't even included in this high-end group!). Neighboring Finland boasts a skilled forward with size in Joel Armia, while Denmark has a top-10 candidate in Nicklas Jensen, a power winger and an Oshawa General for the upcoming season. Russia boasts a few intriguing players, but as has been the trend, because of the lack of a transfer agreement and signability issues, those who stay home to play hockey this season will fall further in the draft than their talent would dictate. Zakhar Arzamastsev and Maxim Shalunov fall into this category, while goalie Andrei Makarov, who will backstop the Lewiston Maine-iacs this season does not. Not to be forgotten is the Eastern European contingent from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the best of whom may be Petr Placek, who will skate for the Hotchkiss School of all places this season. More on him later, as I neglected to mention him in my New England prep watch list and preview. Other players to keep an eye on from those countries: Czech netminder Jaroslav Pavelka, Slovak defender Peter Cerešnák, forwards Michal Svihalek and Lukas Sedlak.

Interestingly enough, some of the best European players available in 2011 are playing in North America this season: Czech defenseman David Musil (Vancouver- WHL), Landeskog, Jensen, German forward Tobias Rieder (Kitchener- OHL), Russian centers Vladislav Namestnikov (London- OHL) and Alex Khokhlachev (Windsor- OHL), Slovak winger Tomas Jurco (Saint John- QMJHL), Russian defenseman Andrei Pedan (Guelph- OHL), Czech forward Petr Beranek (Barrie- OHL), Slovak winger Marek Tvrdon (Vancouver- WHL) Czech goalie David Honzik (Victoriaville- QMJHL)Placek, Makarov and Swedish forward (another one?) Rickard Rakell (Plymouth- OHL) are all across the Atlantic and access to them will be much more available. If they get the job done, it will undoubtedly boost their draft stock come June.

So, without further ado-- here is the Euro watch list. Swede-heavy it is, but they're the ones with the dominant presence on the preseason draft lists. Where it will all shake out come June is anyone's guess, but with Larsson leading the way, don't bet against them.

1. Adam Larsson, D Skellefteå AIK (Sweden)-- The total package has a good chance of becoming the first Swede to go 1st overall in the draft since Mats Sundin because two-way defenders with size and skill are so coveted. For more of the nuts and bolts on Larsson's skill level, see my previous post on him, but can't wait to see him live in Buffalo this winter at the WJC. Most eyes will be on him after he put up a very impressive performance on Team Sweden a year ago at age 17. "He's far and away the best player coming out of Europe this season, period and exclamation point," said one NHL scout who covers Europe for a western conference team via email. "He has the size, mobility, offensive game and is pretty polished defensively. The big question is- can he keep progressing after having such a good 09-10 season? If he does, then I think you'll see him make a real claim on the top pick in the draft."

2. Victor Rask, C Leskand (Sweden)-- Superb passer and playmaker has the size, skating and creativity to be a points machine in the NHL someday. Plays with some jam and goes hard to the net; more of a setup man than a finisher, but has a hard, heavy shot and isn't afraid to let it rip. Excellent stickhandler who can take the puck into traffic and come out with it. Thinks the offensive side of the game real well and has that instinctiveness you want in a top-six centerman. Didn't have a great Ivan Hlinka tourney according to some accounts, yet still put up six assists in five games...that gives you an idea of what his potential is. Could put up big points with the Leksand allsvenskan team this year; he played eight scoreless games for them last season at 16, and probably doesn't have much else to prove at the junior level. "I like Rask a lot," the NHL scout said. "He's got very quick hands and the ability to set up plays because he's creative and knows how to find his teammates. Along with (Adam) Larsson, he's been one of Sweden's best players in the international tournaments."

3. Oscar Klefbom, D Skåre (Sweden) -- Superb offensive defenseman has the size, skating and puck moving skills to be a player, but unlike Larsson, has some real deficiencies in his defensive game. At 6-3, 195 possesses the kind of frame that will make him highly appealing to NHL teams. Has soft hands and can ignite the rush either with a crisp breakout pass or take it himself up the ice with a long, loping stride. Creative and slick-- makes plays with his head up and shows advanced skill and poise with the puck. Physical game is substandard; not strong on the biscuit and doesn't show much propensity to initiate contact or fight for pucks along the walls. At his best in open ice and on the point where he can use his mobility and instincts to create scoring chances. Defensive zone coverage needs a lot of work, but as far as offensive puck movers go, Klefbom is one of the best in class and proved it with his goal and eight points in five games at the Ivan Hlinka.

4. Jonas Brodin, D Färjestad Jr. (Sweden)-- Not quite the offensive presence Klefbom is, Brodin is probably a better all-around defender and certainly has the kind of upside scouts covet. He's a smart, instinctive player who may not jump out at you the way Larsson and Klefbom (in the neutral and offensive zones) do, but he keeps things pretty simple and keeps his head up, looking to make the play. He doesn't have the kind of numbers that scream two-way defenseman, but he can pass the puck and is a fluid and mobile skater. He's a safer pick than Klefbom is, but may in time become the more dependable NHL player if he makes it.

5. Joel Armia, RW Ässät Pori (Finland)-- This big kid (6-3, 190) has all of the tools you look for and could shoot up the draft charts because he also seems to have the competitiveness and drive that other skilled Finnish forwards have lacked in other drafts (helloooo Mikko Lehtonen). Armia's first step is only average, but he's pretty fast once he gets going. He's not all that agile and elusive, and will need to work on adding strength to his lower body and better balance overall. He can handle the puck well and has a hard shot. He goes into the greasy areas of the ice and hard to the net. He had a strong Ivan Hlinka tourney for Team Finland and has been a productive junior player in Ässät's system. Watch this guy-- he could end up being a very good one.

6. Joachim Nermark, C Linköping (Sweden)-- Another Swedish player in the top-10? Say it isn't so, but Nermark had a strong Ivan Hlinka tourney, scoring five goals and 12 points for the bronze medal-winning squad. He's an all-around offensive scoring forward who doesn't possess blazing speed, but just seems to be wherever the puck is on every shift. He works hard and gives an honest effort in all zones. Crafty, creative and opportunistic, Red Line Report rated him as the top Swede in Slovakia (and with 12 points in five games is that really a surprise?), but he'll have to prove he can produce over the course of the entire season. Still, aside from the average size (6-0, 180) there isn't a lot not to like about this gamer.

7. Maxim Shalunov, RW Chelyabinsk (Russia)-- If potential were all that counted, this power forward would be near the top of every draft list. He's big, can skate pretty well and has the soft hands and wicked shot to be a force on each shift. Unfortunately, he lacks competitive drive and tends to be invisible when the games matter most. Still, he cracks the top-10 because he's one of those players who, if the light ever comes on for, look out. At 6-3, 190, he's going to get bigger and stronger. When the puck is on his stick, he's someone to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it's that other nagging aspect of having to play effectively when you don't have the puck that's Shalunov's biggest hurdle to cracking the top-60 in Minnesota.

8. Mika Zibanejad, C/LW Djurgården (Sweden)-- Admittedly, this is a B2011DW favorite because of what he did at last year's Under-17 championship (six goals, 17 points in nine games), but his Ivan Hlinka performance didn't warrant where I wanted to put him, so he's down the list. He's got nice size and skates pretty well (though his first step and turning ability need work), and can set up the play or finish it off. He's very good in distribution of the puck especially with the man advantage, and likes being the go-to guy on offense for his team. He's cocky but in a good way-- supremely confident in his talents and loves the game. It's really saying something that a player of Zibanejad's natural abilities is only the sixth player on this particular list of late '92/'93-born prospects from the same country. Was there some kind of super serum in the Swedish water supply during that timeframe?

9. Peter Cerešnák, D Dukla Trencin (Slovakia)-- Stay-at-home shutdown defenseman has nice size and potential, although isn't a headline-grabber. Skating is OK- straight line mobility is fine and he's actually better laterally and able to turn pretty well. Plays like a freight train, lining up players along the boards for big hits and if he can time it right, nailing guys in the open ice. Gets to running around, though-- has a lot to learn about positioning and keeping things simple. He's raw, but an interesting project much like Martin Marincin was last year. He doesn't have Marincin's size or mobility, but is nastier and plays bigger than his size (6-2, 200).

10. Rasmus Bengtsson, D Rögle (Sweden)-- A little bit of a contrast to his higher-profile countrymen who are more offensively inclined at this stage of their development. Bengtsson is more of a defensive defenseman who isn't as fluid a skater and plays more of a conservative stay-at-home style. The 6-2, 190-pounder has a big shot, but takes a long time to unload it and needs work on improving the accuracy of his drive. Played with Klefbom at the Ivan Hlinka and was the yin to his offensive, riverboat gambler partner's style. Bengtsson looks like a solid third-round option at this point, but is someone to watch nonetheless.

Others of note--

Viktor Arvidsson, RW Skellefteå AIK Jr. (Sweden)-- Small (5-8, 150) but highly skilled shooter needs a lot of mustard to cover this hotdog, but boy can ever he can put the puck in the net! Very good speed and a wicked shot that he can wire anywhere from inside the hashmarks. Scored five goals for the Swedes in Slovakia. One of those pesky little twerps who never stops moving and skating (and that is meant as a compliment, btw), and digging for loose change and scoring chances. The size is going to scare teams off, but the scoring chops are definitely legit and if he can add a little mass to his frame, might get a longer look from someone not afraid to invest a pick in a tiny, but talented winger.

Markus Granlund, LW HIFK Helsinki (Finland)-- Mikael's little bro doesn't have the top Minnesota prospect's pure hockey sense and talent, but will be a player to watch because he's still got skill and is a better skater. Granlund was one of Finland's better forwards at the Ivan Hlinka, but it was not enough. Showed good chemistry with Mikael at the Under-18s last spring, and you could see a reunion of the two brothers on a line for Tesm Finland in Buffalo this winter at the World Jr. Championships.

Richard Ullberg, G HIFK Helsinki (Finland)-- The latest offering from the Finnish goalie factory, Ullberg is a Tuukka Rask clone-- tall (6-3), lanky (175) and a real butterfly/technician who doesn't give up very much of the net to shoot at. When he's hot, he's very good. When he's not...ehh-- not so much. Must work to improve consistency this season and not give up soft goals. Has the physical attributes to be a very good NHL goalie, but must address the mental aspect in order to be a top draft pick and prospect going forward.

Konstantin Komarek, RW Luleå Jr. (Austria)-- Vienna-born Austrian of Eastern European parentage is playing in Sweden this season-- did you follow that? Smallish (5-10, 180) little pepperpot can skate and score and should get some nice development in Sweden as opposed to Austria, where hockey isn't played at a very high level. Like Arvidsson, he can put the puck in the net, but the lack of size will be something that probably holds him back come draft time.

Lukáš Králík, C Olomouc (Czech Republic)-- Has a nice frame (6-1) but needs to fill out and get a lot stronger. A pretty good skater who has an efficient stride and should increase his speed and power with more physical maturity and weight room work. Has a quick release and can find the back of the net with an accurate wrister. Sees the ice well and plays with good offensive instincts.

Michal Švihálek, RW Budejovice (Czech Republic)-- Kid can really score, but according to reports that's all he does. Has good, not great hockey sense and a nose for the net, but doesn't carry the kind of intensity you want in a player from shift to shift. Scores big goals, but his skill level doesn't carry the same kind of weight-- is he one of those intangibles guys who will find a way to score at the next level, or are we seeing the best from him now? That's the kind of question that is sure to spark some interesting debates in NHL war rooms.

Lukas Sedlak, C Budejovice (Czech Republic)-- Good, solid defensive forward plays a North American-style game and doesn't score like Svihalek, but is a far better all-around forward. Thinks the game well and competes hard and finishes his checks. Has a soft touch on the puck and is good on faceoffs. Isn't a draft name, but could make some NHL team very happy in time-- has the attitude to be the kind of player who is more than the sum of his parts.

More Europeans to watch--

Victor Berglind, D Brynäs (Sweden)
Zakhar Arzamastsev, D Metallurg Novokuznetsk (Russia- KHL)
Daniel Mannberg, F Luleå (Sweden)
Johan Sundström, F Frölunda (Sweden)
Andrei Sigarev, F Lada Togliatti (Russia)
Dean Kukan, D GKC Lions (Switzerland)
Jesper Kokkonen, F Ilves Tampere (Finland)

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