European Prospect Update

·17 min read

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Our plan for this week’s column was to highlight some outstanding performances from the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship being played in Alberta. The tournament would have been wrapping up today with the medal games. After only three days, and two forfeitures forced by COVID protocols sidelining players and staff, the IIHF made the call to postpone the games to a later date, presumably this summer. Not confident they could see the tournament through with the Omicron variant that is dominating North America prevalent and only likely to cause further schedule difficulties, they made the difficult call, to the heartbreak of the players, and prospect watchers. For a bit of a taste of what might have been, you should read last week’s column by Brock Otten profiling the 2022 NHL Draft eligible candidates participating in the tournament. You can link here.

Replacing that coverage, we asked Chapin Landvogt to provide us with a European update on the prospects that are making news overseas and gathering momentum on their way to the NHL. Landvogt also touches on some 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospects that should be coming onto your radar soon, if not already there. He delivers some intriguing developing stories to watch as we head into the second half of the season.

The McKeen’s team is in the process of updating our NHL Draft rankings and are looking to release them in the coming weeks. They are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website:

European Prospect Musings 2

By Chapin Landvogt

The hockey world has had to endure a major disappointment with the premature cancellation of this winter’s WJC. In addition to all the great sporting action fans and scouts alike have been missing out on, the short-lived tournament, which had already delivered an interesting 2-1 OT upset of the Czechs by Germany, has also dealt the prospect world with another blow, namely the loss of top defensive prospect David Jiricek, who may miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury requiring surgery that was sustained in the Czechs’ first game of the tournament.

This cancellation also means that we’ll be diverting our attention back to prospects across Europe who were not part of the event, yet continue to be having themselves some fine, if not downright noticeable, seasons. One prime example is Nashville Predators forward prospect Juuso Parssinen, who himself represented Finland at last winter’s WJC. Indeed, if you had batted your eyes in wonderment at how Nashville only needed a 7th rounder to grab a 6’3”, 200 lbs. forward who had collected 12 points in 31 Liiga games as mostly a 17-year-old in the 2019 draft, then you can feel justified for having done so. Not only did Parssinen follow that draft season up with a 42-point outing in Liiga play last year, but he’s one of the top PPG producers in Liiga play this year, currently registering 7-14-21 in just 20 games for TPS. Nashville has indeed already signed the crafty and creative hulk on skates, so you can expect to see him on North American ice as soon as the conclusion of the 21-22 Liiga season.

In our last European prospect report, we spent a lot of time highlighting the Detroit Red Wings’ plethora of Swedish prospects making headlines, but we’re going to stick in Finland this time to highlight another one of their lesser-viewed embarrassment of riches, namely former BU Terrier Kasper Kotkansalo. Indeed, he’s already 23 and may need to be signed this summer, if at all, but he’s really not held back in throwing his name in the hat for an NHL contract. It’s his second year of pro play in Liiga and he’s excelling for HIFK with four goals, 16 points, and a +8 rating in 32 games this season, having become a clear-cut top four defenseman. At 6’3” and 200 lbs., he’s got the type of size teams like to see when they pluck defensive projects in the third round.

Sticking to Suomi, we’d like to mention what’s been going on with mercurial prospect Aatu Räty, who we all know fell out of grace in the last draft to the tune of dropping out of the discussion as a top 15 pick to being snagged by the New York Islanders 52nd overall. He proceeded to put in some dynamic showings for Finland at U20 events in the summer while then having a strong camp for the New York Islanders this fall, only to find himself once again in no-man’s land with the famed Kärpät program, which was where his stock drop considerably over the course of the previous season. But then he was loaned out to Jukurit, given a new role, and everything has changed. Sure, COVID protocols led to him miss out on the eventually canceled WJC, but he’s put up six goals, 14 points, and a +11 for his new team in 14 games. It’s been a completely new lease on life for Räty, who has already signed his ELC with the Islanders.

Speaking of second round picks of the New York Islanders, more than a few in the scene scratched their head after seeing 2018 2nd rounder Ruslan Iskhakov go from Finland to Germany this past summer, even if he did sign with the DEL’s premiere address, one that had their sights set high on making a ton of noise in the international CHL this winter. Things haven’t gone as hoped for Iskhakov or Mannheim on whole, but that had much to do with the tricky forward having gotten injured right in the first game of the season after having scored three goals in four CHL contests to kick off the fall action. He just got back in the line-up on December 23rd, but has now put up a goal, six points, and a +6 in four games since returning, fueling the belief that he’ll be able to put an exclamation mark on this season after all. He is one of those prospects the Islanders may wish to make a decision on next summer.

Sticking to Mannheim, the club’s junior team continues to play a fairly dominating role in the DNL, even if it is one point behind league leader Eisbären Berlin. There are a number of contributors, but one of the best and most worth watching is forward Philip Hecht. The name is one you’ll surely recognize and indeed, he’s the son of former NHLer Jochen Hecht. His 12 goals and 23 points in 21 games is only just good enough for 15th in league scoring, but at 18, he’s younger than just about everyone ahead of him in the scoring list with very few exceptions. He’s technically an overager for the upcoming draft, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that he only suited up for four games last season before the DNL was canceled, so this is - for all intents and purposes - his first true draft year. Expect him to be a candidate for next winter’s WJC squad.

In Switzerland, the second tier SL - the league in which Mason McTavish and Brennan Othmann cut their teeth last season - continues to be a hotbed of ice time and opportunity for younger players. Not only are WJC nominees Noah Meier, Joel Henry, Dario Sidler, and Valentin Hofer making waves as regulars in the league, but so too is an anomaly of sorts in slightly built Ian Derungs, the brother of the Victoria Royals’ Keanu Derungs. The former Kingston Frontenac is already 22 and in the midst of his third SL season, but after a grand total of just eight goals in 87 prior SL games, he’s exploded on the scene this year for 22 goals and 27 points in 30 games, putting him squarely on the map for European teams and scouts looking for system depth with upside.

As far as first-year draft eligibles are concerned, Austrian defenseman David Reinbacher has made the most noise in the league with his eight assists and +10 rating in 17 games for Kloten. It got him nominated to his nation’s WJC squad, in which he had an assist in the two games played, but he’ll probably be the top ticket for any scouts who may be viewing the D1B U18 Worlds in Asiago, Italy. The 6’1” defender has been playing in Switzerland for the past six seasons.

We highlighted some of the SHL and Allsvenskan surprises among both drafted and yet-to-be drafted players in Sweden in our last edition. Now we’d like to look at a few of the junior age players who finished off the first half of the season flying high. One of the interesting names that has popped up is a 2023 draft eligible defenseman for Brynäs, Theo Lindstein. Just 16, he’s played 16 U20 league games for a non-competitive team but has shone enough to also suit up for 10 SHL games, averaging roughly seven minutes of ice time, but having gotten more than 16 minutes of playing time in a December second outing against Rögle. He’s only collected one assist but has kept himself at just a -1 rating while still suiting up for the U20 and U18 teams in between. It will be interesting to see if he winds up on Sweden’s U18 team this spring.

A 17-year-old center, Filip Bystedt is another name continuing its rise up the prospect charts. He’s been killing it at the U20 level with 11 goals, 26 points, and a +15 rating in 22 games while also collecting two points in 13 games with Linköping in the SHL. A “slender” 190 pounds on an impressive 6’4” frame, Bystedt is looking more and more like a top 60 pick in next summer’s draft. His U20 and SHL teammate Mattias Hävelid, a defenseman like his father, former NHLer Niclas, has also being seeing his star rise, having suited up for nine SHL games while being a driving force on his junior club’s blueline crew to the tune of seven goals, 14 points, and a +14 rating in 21 games. As opposed to Bystedt, he’ll no longer be eligible for the U18 Worlds, having just turned 18 this past week. Still, he’s been giving the scouting community every reason to view him as a top 45 option in the upcoming draft.

And by the way, Hävelid’s twin brother Hugo is the team’s goaltender and has been lights out with a 1.94 GAA and 11-5 record. He’s still got some mileage to go to place himself among the most interesting draft-eligible goaltenders next summer, but he’s on the map.

Another defenseman not only building his case for a top 60 draft spot, but perhaps forcing his way into the tail end of the first round has been 6’2”, 194-pound Simon Forsmark. He’s been showing a good deal of maturity and an ability to continually build on what the coaching staff asks of him while conducting steady layman’s work in 20 games for Örebro’s SHL team (one assist, -3). In between, he’s been tearing apart the U20 circuit with four goals, 25 points, and a +8 in 22 games. This is after he put up five points in 11 games in Sweden’s third league last season.

Isak Garfvé is in his third go-around as a draft-eligible player, but this just might be the year for him. With 10 points in eight U20 games, he’s spent most of the season playing with Mora in the Allsvenskan, taking on two-way, lower line minutes, a role he’s been growing into well. At 6’3”, 194 pounds, his size has never been in question, but his overall skating and skill set have been. Still, he’s continued to gain kudos in the compete department and his improvement between this and last season has been very noticeable. A couple of teammates at the junior level who are turning themselves into draftable qualities are Joel Nyman (33 points in 27 games) and Joel Jonsson (23 points in 18 games), the latter also dismantling the U18 circuit with 35 points in 18 games and a likely nominee for the U18 Worlds. Size is not on the side of either, but offensive acumen is and particularly the latter is looking increasingly like a surefire late-round pick.

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Now, we spent time mentioning the progress Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Noah Östlund, and Liam Öhgren have made this season, each seeing time with Djurgarden’s SHL club in what has been a nightmare of a season for one of Sweden’s most famed clubs. They’ve been joined by defenseman Calle Odelius, a real smooth six foot, 185-pound defenseman whose stock is rising. A surefire member of the U18 team this spring, Odelius has the type of wherewithal and hockey sense that gets scouts excited. Despite 19 points in 25 U20 league games, it’s his all-round ability that makes him most interesting for a coaching staff and there is space for improvement in the production department, but as things stand, Odelius has certainly been using this season to gain consideration as a 1st round pick.

Turning to the Czech Republic, we have to wonder if 6’3”, 207-pound Filip Chlapik still has NHL possibilities in him? Ottawa gave him plenty of opportunity as part of their admittedly deep system, even suiting him up for 33 NHL games several years back, but last season ended up being a real wash for him. At the moment, the 24-year-old is leading the Czech league in scoring with 42 points and a +16 in 32 games. Barring injury, he’ll surely be skating for the Czechs in upcoming international tournaments, and it’ll be interesting to see if NHL scouts may be forming new opinions on his being an NHL option after all. This is certainly his opportunity to make that a reality.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old center Jiri Kulich continues to build his draft case for this upcoming summer. Having made the WJC squad and contributed a point, he’s spent the whole year in the top Czech league and has quietly put up seven goals and 11 points in 30 games. Featuring just average size, his way of getting things done and managing situations on the ice has raised a few eyebrows and has us thinking we’ve got a solid second rounder here. We’ve also liked what we’ve seen from overage defenseman Lukas Stehlik. Sure, he’s just a thickly built 5’8” whose game exists thanks to smarts and survival skills, but that hasn’t stopped the 19-year-old from getting into 14 top league games (three points) and bulldozing the nation’s U20 circuit with eight goals and 20 points in 18 games.

Now, when it comes to Slovakia, we’ve already gone into all the young hopefuls currently playing in Europe who are hot topics for the next few drafts. One of the worst parts of the WJC cancellation was not getting to see them again against Russia and Switzerland. But there’s an overager few are talking about who may be a bit more coveted by the odd NHL team here or there than many may think. It’s 19-year-old Maros Jedlicka and although nothing about him will simply blow you away, he has made his nation’s WJC team two years in a row and after having played little more than a lower line role with minimal minutes last season, he’s been a regular for Zvolen in Slovakia’s top men’s league this year, chipping 11 goals and 20 points in 24 games. It’s not a common stat line for kids his age and at 6’1”, 182 pounds, there’s decent NHL size here. But what are his long-term prospects?

Over in the KHL, one of the most productive (still) draft-eligible players has been a Belarussian who is well known to WHL fans. Ilya Usov is currently the third best U21 scorer in the league with nine goals, 26 points, and a +10 rating in 38 games for Dinamo Minsk. He’s a known commodity to the NHL scouting community, having put up 52 points in 58 games in his initial draft year. Last season was clearly a learning year playing solid minutes for one of the KHL’s worst teams (nine points and 66 penalty minutes in 61 games), but the trial by fire has clearly paid off for the playmaker who is fluent in English after having played in Colorado as a bantam and gone to high school at Salisbury before jumping to the USHL, and then WHL.

Russia’s top junior league, the MHL, has a plethora of under 20 scorers of note at the moment, but there’s always the caveat that the league is huge and has a wide range of talent levels. Still, 18-year-old Dmitri Buchelnikov continues to be a name to watch and is clipping at one of the highest points-per-game rates of any draft-eligible player whatsoever thanks to 38 points in 31 games. A vet of last spring’s U18 Worlds, scouts would like to see the 5’10”, 165-pound sniper get a shot at VHL play in order to see how he does against pros before vesting too much into him as a draftable prospect just now.

Tidbits from elsewhere

The Vegas Golden Knights used a 6th rounder last summer to select 6”4” Ukrainian defenseman Artur Cholach, a player many had not heard of. He is now skating for the Barrie Colts of the OHL to mixed reviews. He did however recently play at the D1B U20 Worlds in Estonia, where he collected eight assists in five games and garnered gobs of ice time. At that level, it would be expected.

Ukraine did not, however, gain promotion, as that was done by France, which was spearheaded by its first line, most impressively right winger Tomas Simonsen, who racked up seven goals and 15 points in the five contests. The 5’8” righty is currently playing for Amiens in France’s top league, League Magnus, where he has 11 goals and 21 points in 19 games. Also opening a few eyes was Slovenian defenseman Bine Masic, a 19-year-old who, after a season of pro play in the AlpsHL, is now playing in Finland’s top U20 circuit, having even gotten into one game of Liiga play this year. He had two goals and nine points at the tournament, the best statline of any defenseman, and has 17 points in 19 U20 games in Finland. Both players clearly stuck out in this tournament.

For host Estonia, the most interesting prospect aspect of the tournament was the participation of 15-year-old Maxim Burkov. He’s still very much physically immature in all manners imaginable, but the chatter around the Baltics is that he looks like he’s going to be a very special player to keep an eye on as the 2024 draft swings around. Estonia has a truly small pro circuit, but Burkov is a regular there and is second on his team in scoring with 12 points in 10 games.

At the WJC D1A in Denmark, favorite Belarus didn’t disappoint, often plowing its way to promotion and will be part of next winter’s WJC, despite this year’s cancellation without relegation. Belarussians established six of the seven top scorers at the tournament, with 19-year-old KHLer Alexander Suvorov leading the way with four goals and 11 points in those five games. Former CHLers Valentin Demchenko and Vitali Pinchuk weren’t far behind with their eight points apiece while second place overall was held by Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Raivis Ansons, who chipped in nine points. He, of course, still plays in the QMJHL where he has 24 points in 19 games this season. For those curious, this tournament is generally visited every year by a good 70% of NHL teams.