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Hedman leads final European rankings

Tuesday, 04.14.2009 / 12:00 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Victor Hedman, the giant Swedish defenseman with the superlative skills, is no surprise as NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked European skater for the 2009 Entry Draft.

Swedes dominated Central Scouting's final rankings, as the top eight skaters and 17 of the top 30 were from the country.

In all, Central Scouting ranked the top 200 European skaters and the top 13 European goaltenders.

Hedman, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman, had 7 goals, 21 points and a plus-21 rating in 43 games with MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Elite League.

His performance at the 2009 World Junior Championship wasn't anything special -- 2 points and a plus-4 rating in six games for the silver medalists -- but that won't matter too much as Hedman is expected to be a top-two selection.

"Hedman is a big, strapping kid with an offensive upside," NHL Central Scouting's E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "Rock-solid … a defenseman around which teams build a franchise."

"For being that young he's very mature, and he's big, but moves like a smaller guy," added NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb. "Very mobile, and his puck sense is excellent.

"Hedman is dominating the game, playing on the first defense pair on MODO. He's playing around 20 minutes per game."

Unlike Hedman, forward Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson had a star-making performance at the World Juniors, finishing tied for second on the team with 7 points in six games. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Svensson impressed scouts with his skills and bravado -- he didn't back down after making what were taken by some as disparaging comments about Canada prior to the gold medal game between the teams, then assisted on Sweden's only goal and fired a game-high eight shots.

Paajarvi-Svensson, who turned 18 on Easter Sunday, had 7 goals and 17 points in 50 games playing against men with Timra in the Swedish Elite League.

"He is absolutely fearless on the ice," Stubb said. "He is a great skater. With his moves, he's creating scoring chances both for himself and for his teammates. He is a guy that can go straight for the net and make things happen -- just with his speed and his energy."

Djurgardens center Jacob Josefson is No. 3 on the list, the same as at the midterm, despite having a less-than-stellar season. He averaged about 10 minutes per game with Djurgardens, and had just 5 goals in 50 games. He also suffered from the stomach flu during the World Juniors and had a minus-1 rating in six games.

Still, scouts are sold on his potential.

"He's more a playmaker, a guy who sees the ice really well, creates a lot of scoring chances with his passing skills," Stubb said. "He's very good with the stick and very good in traffic because he is an excellent stickhandler. He's a smooth passer with very soft hands."

The big surprise of the list is Leksand defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who had 17 points and a plus-44 rating in 39 games.

"His development this season has been enormous," said Stubb. "I think it helped him very much that he played senior hockey and regularly, with a big role. ... Leksand didn't do well, but Ekman-Larsson had a very good season."

Stubb said while No. 1 is set, there's little gap between the next best players.

"Hedman is No. 1," he said, "and it's very close between Nos. 2, 3 and 4."

Tim Erixon, the son of former NHL player Jan Erixon, had 7 points in 45 games, while David Rundblad had 10 points in 45 games. Both players are 6-2 and 189 pounds.

Erixon is considered the more defensive-minded, while Rundblad has a high-end offensive game.

"(Erixon's) a little bit tougher, he likes to play the body more than Rundblad," Stubb said in trying to differentiate between the two.

"For being that young he's very mature, and he's big, but moves like a smaller guy. Very mobile, and his puck sense is excellent. Hedman is dominating the game, playing on the first defense pair on MODO."
-- Goran Stubb

Rounding out the top 10 are power forward Carl Klingberg, a 6-3, 205-pound left wing who had 13 goals and 26 points in 35 games with Frolunda's junior team; Farjestad center Marcus Johansson; Novokuznetsk (Russia) defenseman Dmitri Orlov, the highest-ranked non-Swede; and Joonas Nattinen, a Finnish center with Espoo Blues' junior team.

Another Swede, Robin Lehner, is the top-ranked European goaltender. Lehner, at 6-3 and 220 pounds, is bigger than last year's top-rated Swedish goalie, Jacob Markstrom, who is considered the best NHL-drafted player in Europe.

In 22 games with Frolunda's junior team, Lehner posted a 3.05 goals-against average.

"He's been pretty steady," said Stubb, "and his main asset is he's a very big, very tall goaltender. He covers a lot of the net. He's calm. Plays the butterfly but doesn't go down too quickly. He has potential."

Second on the list is another big goalie, 6-5, 187-pound Mikko Koskinen, who had a 1.91 GAA and .932 save percentage for Espoo Blues in the Finnish Elite League and led them to the league playoff semifinals. Koskinen, who will turn 21 in July, will go through the draft for a third time.

"He was the was the backup in the fall and took over the starting goaltender job after Christmas and played in all the playoff games," said Stubb. "He also covers the net very well because of his size (but) he has a tendency to go down a bit too early and leave the upper corners open. In the playoffs he played OK but he didn't make the game-winning saves."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.