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Thursday, March 24, 2011

European draft prospects 2010-11 roundup

B2011DW has looked at the top (in our view) draft eligible players all three of the CHL's leagues and the NCAA class, so for this post, we're going to fly across the Atlantic to see how the European prospects are faring.

It's a strong year for Sweden (and Gabriel Landeskog isn't even in this particular Sweden post, but is part of the gold class overall), but several of the other European nations have their best players skating in North America this season (Alex Khokhlachev, Vladdy Namestnikov, David Musil, Sven Bartschi, Nicklas Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Tobias Rieder, David Honzik, Petr Placek and Christopher Gibson to name just a few).

Sweden is leading the way, but these things go in cycles, and there are some interesting players to be had from other countries- NHL teams will just have to dig a little more to find those diamonds-in-the-rough.

1. Adam Larsson, D Skellefteå (SEL)- Still the beast- er- best European prospect for the 2011 draft. Smooth, skilled defenseman has playing against men since age 16. He's 6-3, 220 pounds- a mature, poised, confident kid even though he had a down year (1 goal, 9 points in 37 games) compared to his rookie campaign in the SEL (4-13-17 in 49 contests). Larsson had some up-and-down performances in international tournaments, but saved some of his best for the World Jr. Championship. He showed off his powerful stride and ability to move well laterally, and was especially good at moving the puck and making outlet passes. Larsson is a smart guy who sees the ice well and has a high panic point, meaning he'll hold onto the puck until the last possible second for his teammates to get open, meaning he often takes a good amount of hits over the course of a game and season. He also has a booming shot and can score his share of them from the point. Larsson was not a dominating player, but that's not really his game. On the downside, he's struggled with injuries this year- missing time because of an injury and he got banged up in a March 22 playoff game against Luleå, injuring his shoulder and not dressing for the next contest. Like many kids who emerge as draft frontrunners early, he's had his game nitpicked and some wonder if he can truly be a legitimate No. 1 two-way cornerstone at the NHL level, but he has all the tools to be very, very good regardless. Several NHL scouts we've spoken to feel that Larsson is getting the typical treatment most get when they've been in the spotlight so long- every aspect of their game gets laid bare. Save for the rare player like Sidney Crosby, most draft prospects can't stand up under that kind of intense scrutiny without some warts being discovered.

Stock Watch: Up, despite injury situation. You're looking at the first or second overall pick with this kid- make no mistake about that. It will be interesting to see how he develops at the NHL level, but given his pro experience abroad, don't be surprised to see him in the big show as early as next season if his contract situation permits. He has the physical and mental makeup to play right away.

Here's an interesting video produced by a Skelleftea Sweden-based TV crew w/ analysis of Adam Larsson at 2:20 mark by Ottawa Senators scout Pierre Dorion- he also reviews David Rundblad, a Sens prospect.

2. Mika Zibanejad, C/LW Djurgården (SEL)- A B2011DW favorite going back to last season when we heard raves about him in the World Under-17s, we hyped him before the Ivan Hlinka, and he didn't have a great tournament. However, the youngster has seized control of his draft fortunes this season. Zibanejad, who comes from Iranian-Finnish stock but is all Swede, has been the anti-Victor Rask in terms of elevating his stock. He's a smart. energetic, passionate player who takes those intangibles and brews a nice concoction with his impressive physical and skills package. Versatility is also a bonus for Zibanejad who can play center or either wing as right-shooting player. He's a long strider who gets up and down the surface quickly and at 6-2, 192 pounds has plenty of room to fill out and get stronger. Zibanejad has soft hands and the vision/instincts to make plays all over the ice. He's also got a hard, heavy shot that he uses to great effect, sometimes seeing time at the point on the power play. We've seen him move fluidly and effortlessly from the point to the middle of the slot and uncork some nice drives, so he's a dangerous offensive player that defenses must account for. He's a banger and relishes physical contact. Zibanejad just oozes star quality, and we're sure that when you get a good look at him, you'll quickly see why so many are high on him right now. We're hearing that scouts have him near the top of watch lists for next month's Under-18 Championship in Germany- if he has a great tourney, don't be surprised to see him crack the top-10 at the NHL draft in June. Yes, he's riding that kind of a wave right now. Zibanejad played 26 games in the SEL with Djurgården, scoring 5 goals and 9 points, respectable totals considering he doesn't even turn 18 until next month. He put up 12 goals and 21 points in 27 games with Djurgården's Under-20 team and added 1-1-2 totals in 7 playoff games.

Stock Watch: Just call Zibanejad the Ryan Strome and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Euro draft eligibles. If he has a strong U-18, he'd better be someone you get very familiar with for the top third of your NHL mock drafts.

Here is Zibanejad putting John Klingberg into the bench. Nice play.

Here's a nice highlight reel goal of Zibanejad abusing Larsson with an inside move after taking the homerun pass and then finishing it off.

3. Joel Armia, RW Ässät Pori (FIN SM-Liiga)- This 6-3, 190-pound winger had a nice rookie season playing in Finland's top pro league with Ässät, scoring 18 goals and 29 points. He's tall and lean, needing to add a lot of bulk and functional strength to his frame. He's got an efficient skating stride, which is pretty to watch and stands him in good stead heading into the draft. He handles the puck well and with confidence. In fact, his English isn't all that great, but when we talked to him at the WJC in Buffalo, he lit up and was most animated when discussing the black biscuit: "I want the puck," Armia first declared, then thought about it. "I like the puck. I'm good with the puck." Yes, he is- trust us. His work wasn't rewarded with any goals, but you can see the raw potential there with him. He faded in the later tourney games, and from what we hear, did the same in Finland as the grind got to him. He's not a very physical player, but doesn't avoid contact either. When he gets stronger, he should be able to hold his own better along the walls. Personally, B2011DW doesn't get the feelings about Armia going inside the top-10- we understand the skill level and all, but on a more personal level, we just feel stronger about a player like Zibanejad who is nearly as big, but who just plays on another level in terms of his energy and enthusiasm. This isn't to say Armia isn't a solid top-20, but scouting hockey sometimes is about gut feelings and personal preferences, and we feel Zibanejad projects as a better NHL player than Armia does.

Stock Watch: Steady to down; Started fast, but hit the rookie wall, which is understandable for a 17-year-old playing against men. At the same time, we feel Armia is overrated; we like him as an NHL prospect, just not in the top-10 where some sources have him. He might crack it, but he'll need a dominant performance in Germany next month to do it, we think.

Here's a video of his first pro goal last season- very nice hands for sure.

4. Jonas Brodin, D Färjestad (SEL)- This defenseman isn't going to win any beauty pageants, but he's a good two-way defender who does everything at a high level and held his own in the Eliteserien this year. He's a good skater with four-way mobility and solid footwork. He sees the ice and anticipates well, moving the puck smartly and making the right decisions. Brodin plays a very disciplined, mature game and scouts say that as he hit his stride in the SEL, he started showing off the offensive tools in his repertoire. He didn't score any goals (4 assists) in his 42 pro games this season (but he did get one in the playoffs), and he's more like a Tomas Kaberle who makes excellent passes and reads the flow of the game, exploiting openings as opposed to a flashy gunner who's throwing the puck to the net all the time. Brodin is just a solid, solid player and we regret that he got sent home as the last cut on Sweden's Under-20 team at the WJC in Buffalo, because he would have provided some real poise and a steady hand there.

Stock Watch: Down from where it was most of the year, but mostly because of the play of guys like Zibanejad and Oscar Klefbom, who have stolen the spotlight for their flashy, dynamic elements. Some team will certainly recognize Brodin's value and take him high enough- we think 1st round, but not sure where he shakes out. Early 2nd at the latest.

5. Oscar Klefbom, D Färjestad (SEL)- At 6-3, 201 pounds, this flashy defender is the young Yin in Färjestad to Brodin's Yang in that he's a more noticeable presence on the offensive side of things. An excellent passer and puck mover, Klefbom jumps into the play more aggressively, and we're told that his confidence soared by leaps and bounds once he got used to the higher demands of the SEL after coming up from the J18 team. He's got some growing and filling out to do, but plays a more physical game than many thought and will get better as he grows stronger and more experienced. His hockey sense is OK- he's not as naturally instinctive and poised as Brodin is in the eyes of one NHL scout out of Europe we spoke to, but he's very good at activating at the right times when the openings are there. Defensively, he's coming along and just might carry a higher overall upside and earlier draft grade than Brodin when June rolls around. He missed time at the Five Nations, but made a big impression on scouts when he got into it late. Again, the Under-18 tournament will have an impact on how teams view a guy like Klefbom, who is more of a swing-for-the-fences guy than the safer, steadier Brodin is.

This video is in Swedish, but it does give some nice looks at footage of him in game action and practice.

6. Dmitri Jaskin, RW Slavia Praha (CZE- Extraliga)- B2011DW recently had a comprehensive post on Jaskin, so we won't cover the same ground other than to say that outside of Scandinavia, Jaskin is the next best European 2011 draft prospect in our view. The Czech power winger is back from a knee injury, which not only took him out of action for several months, but also hampered his mobility, which wasn't great to begin with. In fact, the skating is really the only issue scouts are finding with this horse who bangs bodies, works extremely hard and has soft hands and a lethal release in close. He's never going to be a plus-skater, but if he can improve on his agility the way Milan Lucic has, a guy with the quick mitts and offensive hockey sense he possesses can do some damage. Unlike former Bruins 2002 draft bust (and that was most of the class to be frank) Jan Kubista, Jaskin has a serious work ethic and will address his shortcomings in some fashion. He scored 3 goals and 10 points in 33 games in Czech Republic's top pro league this season.

7. Victor Rask, C Leksand (SWE-2)- Every year, the draft has several confounding prospects who plummet in the rankings after being seen as sure bets to go at or near the top. Rask is the 2011 poster child for that annual effect. He had a particularly bad performance in February's Five Nations tourney, which, when factored in with the rest of his mediocrity this season, has caused him to fall down more than a few draft boards. At 6-2, 190, he has long limbs, an athletic frame and the near perfect physical attributes for the modern NHL center. The problem is, he's not very strong and despite being highly creative and a superb puckhandler, hasn't done a great job of getting his wingers the puck this season or showing off the kind of high-end skills that had scouts drooling last year. His skating is a bit of an issue, with a choppy stride and lack of initial quickness, but is something he can remedy with work on the technique, because the power will come in time. The question becomes- do you spend a high (top-10) pick on a player who very well might have peaked, or is he one of those guys who is simply not delivering during the pressure-packed draft season and will get back on track next season and beyond? There is no denying the upside because he is a legitimate talent who has exhibited outstanding physical traits and immeasurables such as his offensive sense and vision. His 5 goals and 11 points in 37 games in the Allsvenskan or second pro division was disappointing, and he was sent down to the junior club, where he scored 3 goals and 12 points in 13 games with the J20 squad.

8. Samu Perhonen, G Jyvaskyla (FIN- Jr.)- Like Jaskin, B2011DW has broken down Perhonen's game before. He's a classic Finnish butterfly goalie with ideal height at 6-3 with the long arms and legs that take up so much of the net and don't require the distance coverage of short-limbed goalies. He posted a solid 2.72 GAA and .922 save percentage for JYP's junior (under20) team and followed it up by stopping 93 percent of the shots he's faced in the playoffs. He could be good enough to push John Gibson for top billing among goalies in this draft class and in all likelihood is a solid second-round selection with a chance of maybe breaking into the late-1st round if a more successful NHL club wanted to invest the time and accept some risk on a goalie with a potentially high payoff.

9. Gregory Hofmann, C/W Ambri-Piotta (SUI)- B2011DW's favorite draft eligible at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo by a wide margin. There is so much to like about this player, but unfortunately, he's going to encounter some of the Swiss bias that permeates the NHL because unlike guys like Luca Sbisa, Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi, he isn't over in North America, alleviating concerns about commitment and dedication. Good skater with jump and a wide skating base. Fluid movement and attacks aggressively into the teeth of defenses. Has a quick stick and is very opportunistic around the net. Works hard and willing to take the hit to make the play. Creative and hard-working; doesn't wait for teammates to get him the puck; willing to do the dirty work. Not very tall or strong- looks like he's about 14 or 15. Nice kid- doesn't speak English all that well, but was better at it than he gave himself credit for. No major warts on his game, and if he was a Canadian, he'd be a surefire early 2nd-rounder with strong 1st-round potential. Because of where he comes from, he'll slide a little more than he should we think. IN 41 games with the Ambri senior team, he scored 3 goals and 12 points, and added a goal and 4 points at the WJC.

10. Zakhar Arzamastsev, D Novokusznetsk (KHL)- Average-sized defender (6-0, 180) is mobile, smart and carries some upside. He's not a blazing skater, but is fast enough and brings nice footwork and lateral movement to the mix. He keeps his head up and is an intelligent player who reads the play well and moves the puck to the right spaces on the ice. He made the victorious Russian squad at the CHL Subway Series, and was one of the final cuts on Team Russia's gold medal-winning WJC squad. What makes him impressive is that he was the youngest player on the Subway Team and would have been the youngest on the WJC team by a wide margin. He didn't do a lot to stand out in the Subway Series, but played pretty mistake-free hockey. He's been a tough view for NHL scouts playing in Siberia this season posting 3-5-8 totals in 47 games for Novokuznetsk, so where he goes in the draft is anyone's guess. Red Line has him 54th in March, but the Russians tend to slide in recent seasons and we see no real reason for Arzamastsev to be a trend bucker this time. He could be a mid-to-late-round gem, though and has a good reputation off the ice as a passionate, dedicated player.

11. Maxim Shalunov, RW Chelyabinsk (KHL)- One NHL scout told us that Shalunov is the "classic" Russian winger- he goes end-to-end with his terrific wheels and ability to stickhandle through a maze of bodies. Unfortunately, his hockey sense and vision are not first-rate, and when combined with the fact that he's a Russian playing in Russia (he spent most of the year on Chelyabinsk's second division team going 11-13-24 in 38 games but did see 6 KHL games of action 0-1-1) makes the idea of drafting him more of an iffy proposition. Red Line Report perhaps said it best in the March issue after seeing Shalunov at the Five Nations: "Absolutely outstanding raw tools, but no toolbox." And therein lies the rub in a seven-round draft: can a team really afford to roll the dice on a guy who has high-end talent and skills, but lacks the sense and may not ever even come over? His upside is what keeps him just outside the top-10 for Europe, but realistically, we wouldn't be at all surprised if he gets passed over or is a late, late pick in June at best.

12. Joachim Nermark, C Linköping (SWE- Jr.)- After a dominant Ivan Hlinka tourney in August where everything Nermark seemed to touch turned to gold, he had a tough season. He played 12 games on Linköping's SEL entry (1 assist) but spent most of the year on the J20 team, tallying 8 goals and 26 points in 37 games. He's a skilled and creative player by all accounts, but didn't show much of the creativity and magic he did on the Under-18 Team. Nermark is no slouch and could be a nice developmental find in the 2nd round for a team willing to gamble a little (hello, Detroit?) on a player with his potential, but scouts we've talked to are pretty perplexed as to what happened to him after showing so much promise.

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