NHL European Scouting has released a list of players to watch leading into the '10 selection process next June, and there are three Russian players at the top of the list.
Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, said forwards Kirill Kabanov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Burmistrov project to be near the head of any list of top European players.
"It's hard to say who's the best of these three guys," Stubb told NHL.com. "They're all very good."
Kabanov is the best known of the three thanks to his performance for Russia at the World Under-18 Championship in April in Fargo, N.D. The 6-foot-2, 176-pound left wing had 4 goals and 11 points as Russia won the silver medal.
"Very, very fast skater, very skillful," Stubb said. "A classic Russian player -- fast, skilled, very good technically. An excellent player."
Kabanov went scoreless in six games as a 16-year-old with Spartak Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, and he'll likely have a chance to play a full season in the KHL in 2009-10.
He also was drafted seventh by the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in last month's Canadian Hockey League import draft.
While the option exists for Kabanov to come to North America, Stubb believes he might be better served staying in Russia.
"What's better for him -- junior in Canada or senior in Russia?" Stubb said. "If he has a good chance to play with Spartak that would probably be the best for him."
Burmistrov faces the same questions. The 5-11, 172-pound center was the 12th pick of the CHL import draft by the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts. He also will have a chance to see more time in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan than the one game he played last season.
He had 4 goals, 11 points and a plus-7 rating at the World Under-18s.
"He's small, but no one's told him he's smal. He has a really good, winning attitude, works very hard. He's tough, and he has very good hockey sense."
-- Goran Stubb on Mikael Granlund
Kuznetsov spent last season in Traktor Chelyabinsk's system, and had a tremendous World Under-18 tournament, finishing second on the team with 6 goals and 13 points.
A 5-11, 154-pound center, Kuznetsov needs to get stronger, but he already has a strong skill package.
"Another classic Russian forward," Stubb said. "Extremely fast, smooth hands, very skillful."
Other Russian players worth keeping an eye on are right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who was second among all players at the World Under-18s with 15 points; defenseman Nikita Zaytsev; and left wing Maxim Kitsyn.
Two players from Finland also will be among the most-watched European players this season.
"He's small, but no one's told him he's small," Stubb said. "He has a really good, winning attitude, works very hard. He's tough, and he has very good hockey sense."
There could be a hitch to Granlund's plans for the 2009-10 season, however. Granlund played two games with Karpat Oulu in the top Finnish league, SM-Liiga, but signed with HIFK Helsinki during the offseason. Karpat is disputing the move, and has taken the issue to court.
Right wing Teemu Pulkkinen completed the line at the Under-18s with Rajala and Granlund, and his 13 points were tied for third at the event. He was scoreless in three games with Jokerit Helsinki in the SM-Liiga.
At 5-11 and 183 pounds Pulkkinen is OK physically, but mentally he needs to mature.
"Pulkkinen has all the talent, an excellent shot, but he has to grow up a little bit," Stubb said. "He's that kind of a guy. When they change lines he's the last guy to leave the ice. He has to think more of the team instead of himself, but he definitely has talent."
Sweden produced seven players taken in the first round of the '09 draft, and will have a number of top-end players this season that bear watching.
Among them is Skelleftea defenseman Johan Alm. The 6-2, 194-pounder had 3 points and a plus-10 rating in six games at the under-18 level, which earned him a 27-game promotion to the under-20 level, where he had 2 points and a minus-12 rating.
"He's big and a complete package," Stubb said, adding Alm compares favorably to Tim Erixon, the Calgary Flames' first-round pick last month. "He doesn't have any real strong things in his game, but no weaknesses, either. He's a very complete defenseman, makes very few mistakes."
"He had a great tournament in Fargo. He's small but extremely skillful. A very fast skater, very quick moves, good hands -- he's an exciting player, great attitude."
-- Stubb on Calle Jarnkrok
At the Under-18s, he was second on the team with 9 points, and his 7 assists tied for the team lead.
"He had a great tournament in Fargo," Stubb said. "He's small but extremely skillful. A very fast skater, very quick moves, good hands -- he's an exciting player, great attitude."
The list of potential NHL players outside Finland, Sweden and Russia isn't a long one, but Stubb said two other players worth keeping an eye on are German forward Tom Kuhnhackl and Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter.
Kuhnhackl, a 6-2, 172-pound right wing, had 11 goals and 21 points in 42 games with EV Landshut's second-division team, and had a goal and an assist in six games for Germany at the World Under-18s. He is the son of Erich Kuhnhackl, who had 766 goals in 841 games in Germany's top league.
"He is big and needs to improve his skating, but he has very good vision," Stubb said.
Kuhnhackl was taken by the OHL's Windsor Spitfires with the 24th pick of the CHL import draft, and Stubb believes Canada would be a better place for him to play than Germany.
Niederreiter also could take his game to North America. The 6-1, 203-pound right wing was taken second by the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks in the CHL import draft. He had 12 points in six games with HC Davos' Under-18 team, and then had 20 goals and 34 points in 30 games with Davos' Under-20 team.
At the World Under-18s, he led Switzerland with 3 goals, 6 points and 16 penalty minutes.
The best players eligible for the 2010 draft will go head to head for the first time at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, held Aug. 12-16 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.