Sweden, once again, is the NHL's volume dealer when it comes to imports. Between stud d-man Adam Larsson and forwards Victor Rask and Mika Zibanejad, the scary thing is, possibly the best Swede-- Kitchener forward Gabriel Landeskog, doesn't even count against the his native country's list because he's in the OHL. Between Larsson and Landeskog, we could be looking at two Swedes going 1-2 for the first time in, well, ever. The real strength of the Swedish group is their depth, and they could challenge '09 for the most Swedes ever taken in a single year.
I'm sure Sean Couturier and maybe even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have something to say about that. But you never know with these things. It's all going to come down to who is picking first overall, and what their organizational philosophy is.
Finland has some nice offerings, too, mainly in the form of skilled power forward Joel Armia. Eastern Europe is a bit thin, but we'll cover some of the bases there as well, so buckle up and enjoy.
Adam Larsson tops the list from Sweden, and much has been written about the 6-3, 200-pound defenseman already. Despite what you hear, he's not really falling in the conventional sense-- it's just that he had such a standout SEL season as a 16-17-year-old, that the old scouting adage that there's no place to go but down from a performance like that holds true. He's still the same fluid skater with the big shot and the hands/vision/sense to run the power play and start the transition from defense to offense in an instant. He's now being nitpicked, and doesn't have the production he did a year ago, but make no mistake-- he's still one of the draft's big three.
Moving on, Jonas Brodin is No. 2 on the Central list from Sweden, and you can check out the B2011DW "A guy you should know" label for a more detailed post breaking down his game. Suffice to say that this blog space is not at all surprised that he'd be the No. 2 guy behind Larsson, but at the same time, not sure how Central can drop Victor Rask down to 4. Brodin is solid, a guy you win with, but he's not going to wow anyone either. Interesting selection.
Mika Zibanejad of the Djurgarden Jr. team is next. This guy has the size and skills, and from what I hear, is coming on after a sluggish start and mediocre Ivan Hlinka tourney in August. He's got amazing hands and when he's flying through the neutral zone, handling the puck at top speed and then wiring it top shelf, he becomes a scout's dream. He just needs to work on his intensity, consistency and for the love of Pete-- put some meat on those bones.
Leksand center Victor Rask is the preseason "hyped" player whose performance has not merited a place at the top, but (and he's not related to Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, btw- the NHL player's a Finn and his brother, Joonas is a 2010 Nashville draft pick) should not be overlooked. He was a horse for Team Sweden last spring at the World Under-18s, and he has some real high-end skills. He looks to be suffering from the draft year malaise-- it happens. But, some team could end up stealing him if he falls too far past the 10-15 range (assuming he falls, that is)
Joachim Nermark rounds out the Sweden top-five and he's a legitimate scorer who probably deserves to be a little higher. He's seen action in the SEL this season and was one opportunistic scorer in the Ivan Hlinka. Keep an eye on him, because he might drop down a little but end up being one of those guys who shows up to his first NHL camp and surprises everyone with his skill and poise-- much like Marcus Johansson did for the Washington Capitals this past fall.
Other Swedes of note: offensive defenseman Oscar Klefbom (7), Rasmus Bengtsson (10), along with forwards Viktor Arvidsson (12), Victor Berglind (14).
Sliding over to Finland, Joel Armia deserves his spot at the top. He's the best Finnish prospect by a country mile, and his outstanding start against men in the SM-Liiga is moving him up draft boards in North America. He's got that nice 6-3 frame that will fill out in time, is a good skater for a big man and has magical hands and a finishing touch.
There isn't much depth in the Finland crop, although Mikael Granlund's younger brother Markus Granlund, is third on Central's list. Markus has nowhere near his older brother's innate hockey sense that saw him go top-10 to Minnesota in the June NHL draft, but he's a better skater. Like his bro- he's small. He turned some heads at the World Under-18s last April.
Finland has two interesting prospects in net-- the aptly named Samu Perhonen (which means 'butterfly' in Finnish) and Richard Ullberg. Perhonen plays for JYP Jr. which is interesting in that it is the club that the Bruins signed an transfer agreement with this year. You can bet that the B's are getting a nice look at Perhonen this season, and you wonder if he will end up hearing his name called at some point. At the goalie position, it will be all about value, and it is hardly worth discussing a netminder for Boston in the first three or four rounds, but we'll see where Perhonen grades out. Ullberg has gotten some mention on this blog previously for being that prototypical Finnish butterfly-style goalie with some quickness and upside.
Central's top player coming out of the Czech Republic is winger Dmitrij Jaskin, who plays for Slavia Praha (Prague) of the Czech Extraliga. He signed a four-year deal there rather than come to North America, so that will be something for NHL teams to note, but he goes hard to the net and plays that crashing kind of power forward game.
Vaclav Tomek at two is interesting, because Red Line Report had him 12th on their combined Czech Republic/Slovakia list. He's described as a good skater and hard worker/hustling two-way player, but the center lacks the creativity and hands to be considered a legitimate scoring option/top-six forward at the NHL level. Think Vladimir Sobotka without the sandpaper.
Lukas Kralik and Michael Svihalek, two of the more talented (but flawed) offensive Czechs in Red Line's view, are 8th and 10th.
In net, Jaroslav Pavelka is the top Czech on Central's list and has showed promise as a rangy, athletic goalie who is raw but has some nice long-term potential.
Slovak defenseman Peter Ceresnak heads that country's list-- he's a slightly smaller Martin Marincin with a little less offensive upside, but who plays a more aggressive, physical game. He can move the puck well, but is more of a stay-at-home shutdown guy who relishes contact and clearing the front of his net or stapling guys along the boards.
The best players from Denmark (Nicklas Jensen) and Germany (Tobias Rieder) are in the OHL, so not much to say about anyone on those respective lists for Central at present.
Maxim Shalunov is at the top of Russia's list, and again, the top Russians are all over in North America this season-- Vladislav Namestnikov, Alexander Khoklachev, Andrey Pedan, Andrei Markarov, Anton Zlobin and so on.
I talked to one scout recently who saw Shalunov in international play and this is what he said: "Classic Russian player; end-to-end all the time, very good skater. Not very creative, but knows how to go to the net."
Defenseman Zahar Arzamastsev was on the Russian squad that beat the CHL in the Subway Super Series (with two wins over the WHL after beating the QMJHL 2-0, going 0-2 to the OHL). The book on him is that he's a mobile puck mover with the skills to be a good one, but to be honest, I didn't see it on video of any of the Super Series games I watched. Seemed invisible.
Finally, we go to Switzerland for defenseman Dean Kukan. This solid all-around player isn't a flashy offensive guy, nor is he a top shutdown defender. But, he's a fluid skater who understands positioning and can move the puck pretty well. The Bruins have no track record of drafting a player from Switzerland, and Kukan isn't likely to be a guy who would buck the trend, but you never know.
Well, that about does it for Europe. There are so many more names to cover, but information is not as forthcoming about some of these guys as the ones in North America. I will do my level best to flesh out the scouting reports on the middle tier guys and lesser lights in the coming months.
As always, thanks for reading and keep putting the word out for NHL draft fans of all stripes- don't let the Bruins-centric format fool you. This is a blog for *any* NHL fan who wants a sneak peak at the kids who will be donning jerseys at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul come late June.
Up next is the WHL, which will close out the series. Hope you've enjoyed it.