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DRAFT 411: Across the Pond

The strength of the European market and who the Flyers could call at #11 and beyond

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is shaping up to a "Year of the Americans," at least in the first round. Among European prospects, this year on the whole is not an exceptional class at the top end beyond likely second overall pick Kaapo Kakko (Finland) and potential top-10 selection Vasily Podkolzin (Russia). 

However, there is quality and potentially high upsides to be found among European prospects who are likely to come off the board interspersed in the first round and beyond. 

"With the way that international scouting has grown over the years, it's become a big undertaking in Europe," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "There's not just more countries producing talent that we consider for the Draft at various points in every round, although that's part of it. There's also been more and more talent over the last 10 years or so coming out of the countries that we already traditionally scouted."

Excluding the much-discussed Kakko, a potential future NHL first-line forward who is likely to be selected by the New York Rangers with the second overall pick, here's a quick tour of the top European-based prospects for the 2019 Draft.

RUSSIA:
The 2019 Draft eligible players from the Russian Federation largely do not confirm to the long-held preconceived notions in North America about the strengths and weaknesses of Russian players. Yes, there are smooth skaters and players with good hands and slick puck skills, but there is also "jam" and consistent commitment to two-way play to be found.

Vasili Podkolzin (RW): At midseason, the SKA St. Petersburg right winger was widely considered a potential top 3 pick in this year's Draft pool and close to a lock for the top five. The projections have slipped a bit since then, in part because Podkolzin -- who played a lot of hockey this season at three different levels, including three KHL games at age 17 and the World Junior Championships-- was unimpressive at the Under-18 World Championships in April. 

Podkolzin has significant offensive upside with all the tools to be a regular scorer. However, in terms of actual point production, he has not shown the same degree of offensive gamebreaking tendencies as some of the other top-end prospects in the Draft pool. Even at the Russian junior level (MHL), his production numbers were solid but not eye-popping. The belief is that the offensive dominance may come over time.

Rather, what scouts generally like most about the player is his competitiveness, two-way hockey smarts, puck protection skills, and overall upside as the type of player who can legitimately drive play (not just in the statistical sense where the term gets overused) and be used in penalty killing and late-game lead protection situations as well as an offensive role.

The NHL team that drafts Podkolzin will have to wait two seasons for him to complete his contractual obligations to SKA. Thereafter, the player has expressed a strong interest in playing in the NHL.

Pavel Dorofeyev (LW): A late birthday player who was born five weeks too late to qualify for the 2018 NHL Draft, Dorofeyev will turn 19 on Oct. 26. This past season, Dorofeyev was offensively dominant at the Russian junior level (MHL) and also dressed in 23 KHL games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. There is room for improvement in his two-way game and use of his linemates but Dorofeyev is a slick skater with a heavy one-timer as well as the potential to score off the rush.

Yegor Spiridanov (C): A big-framed pivot (6-foot-2, 195 pounds at age 18) with an impressive righthanded shot, Spirdanov willingly plays a two-way style of hockey. He's been a point-per-game offensive talent at the MHL level, but may actually be best suited to being a defensively responsible top-9 or bottom six forward with penalty killing upside in the North American pro game. His skating is not dynamic, but he gets from Point A to Point B, and is hard to take off the puck. Most Draft projections for Spiradanov seem to place him in the second-round to third-round range.

Ilya Nikolayev (C): A playmaking center with good mobility displayed at the MHL level, Nikolayev split the 2018-19 season between 41 games at the junior league and 33 games the top Russian minor league (VHL) below the KHL level. As with Spiridanov, there is two-way potential with this player; meaning that, even if his offensive game does not progress to the level of a top-six NHL forward, he may still have the ability to make it as a useful player on the lower end of a lineup.

Pyotr Kochetkov (G): Unselected last year in his second year of NHL Draft eligibility, Kochetkov is a lock to be selected this time around after backstopping Russia to a bronze medal and winning Best Goaltender honors at the 2018-19 World Junior Championships. Domestically, he played two KHL games for HC Sochi this past season as well as 31 junior games in the MHL and 18 games in the VHL. Kochetkov is an athletic netminder with quick feet. He will turn 20 on June 25, so he's a little more advanced physically than many of his first-year Draft eligible counterparts.

Daniil Misyul (D): A mobile puck-mover with a tall (6-foot-3) if lanky frame, Misyul already has three games of KHL experience under his belt at age 18. He is unlikely to be a power type as he continues to move up the ladder but he makes a good first pass and can skate the puck to safety on his own when there's an opportunity. A late birthday player (born Oct. 20, 2000), Misyul was too old to qualify for the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championships and not advanced enough yet to earn an Under-20 national team spot at the World Junior Championships. The lack of major international tournament exposure this season knocked down Misyul's Draft projections but he fits the physical profile of many defensemen chosen in the middle rounds of recent drafts.

Arseniy Gritsyuk (RW): Russia's answer to pint-sized American goal-scoring machine Cole Caufield, the small but highly skilled Russian winger has torn up the U-17 and MHL levels with his ability score off the rush or hide out from the defense and materialize in prime scoring position to receive a pass and put the puck in the net. Carrying less than 170 pounds on his small frame and with a need to improve various aspects of his game without the puck, Gritsyuk is a boom-or-bust candidate who is likely to be chosen outside the first round. 

Other names to watch: Yegor Chinakhov (RW), Roman Bychkov (D), Semyon Chistyakov (D), Ilya Konovalov (G), Kirill Slepets (RW).

SWEDEN:
The 2018 NHL Draft was deep in Swedish talent across all levels of the Draft, including the top end led by first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin. The Flyers made three picks from Sweden last year: defenseman Adam Ginning, goaltender Samuel Ersson and power forward Marcus Westfält.

The 2019 crop from Sweden is not on the same level as last year's, according to many scouts (2020, conversely, could be the next bumper crop) but there are several potential first-round picks who hail from the Northern European hockey hotbed. 

Philip Broberg (D): Big-framed (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) with elite mobility, Broberg has already graduated from the Swedish junior leagues to become a regular in Allsvenskan (the top minor league) for AIK Stockholm. In terms of physical tools and puck-moving upside, he is off the charts. However, Broberg is unlikely to be a prolific offensive point producer and his defensive game still is rather inconsistent. It will take a couple years of steady development for him to become NHL ready and he could also experience his fair share of growing pains at the NHL level. However, if he comes anywhere close to his ceiling, Broberg could emerge as a highly effective NHL defenseman in the upper end of a team's rotation.

Victor Söderström (D): A virtual lock to be selected in the first round, with most projections falling in the middle one-third of the selections, scouting sources disagree on whether to rank Broberg or Söderström higher. The latter may not have as much NHL star upside but he is a heady young two-way blueline prospect with exceptional poise and a righthanded shot. His game is already sufficiently advanced that he started 44 games at the top domestic pro level this season Brynäs IF Gävle of the Swedish Hockey League. Although he isn't big (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), Söderström is considered a safe pick among the defensemen available in this year's Draft.

Simon Holmström (RW): It's all about the tools with Holmström, a 6-foot-1 speedster with high-end puck skills and offensive potential as a playmaking winger. For these reasons, he is a good bet to be selected in the first round. He is not, however, a likely top 10 candidate because he's had some injury issues and showed some potentially related inconsistency this past season even at the Swedish junior (SuperElit) level. He is somewhat like Flyers prospect Morgan Frost in one regard: Both have excellent speed when they use it, but they don't always play with pace. Holmström, who has dressed in one SHL game for the HV71 Jönköping senior team, will need several years to develop.

Tobias Björnfot (D): He doesn't get nearly the same level of pre-Draft hype as Broberg and Söderström but the Djurgårdens IF Stockholm blueliner has shown two-way upside of his own. Björnfo was a huge point producer in younger age groups and is still an above-average offensive player at the Swedish junior level, but his pro future is more likely to be as an all-around blue liner who can move the puck up to the forwards efficiently and periodically jump into the play at the other end if he finds a seam. 

Albert Johansson (D): The young Färjestads BK Karlstad defenseman is another Swedish defenseman who could find his way into the first round. He came on strong as the season progressed and showed potential to become a multi-situation player with good puck skills and an ability to trigger the rush or recover quickly after a mistake. Johansson will need to add muscle to his small frame (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) and to further polish his two-way game.

Samuel Fagemo (RW): He was bypassed in last year's NHL Draft but Fagemo is a safe bet to be selected this time around. The Frölunda winger is a creative offensive player with deceptive hands and the know-how to get to scoring areas. This season at the SHL level, he produced 14 goals and 25 points in 42 games to lead all players in the league under the age of 20. He turned 19 on March 14. Fagemo is more shifty than speedy but knows how to get to the scoring areas and finish plays. His two-way game is still a work in progress but has also improved over the last year or two.

Nils Höglander (RW): A small but fearless winger who is a regular starter for Rögle BK, Höglander is a late birthday player (Dec. 20, 2000) who consistently plays with a lot of energy and has some offensive upside. 

Other names to watch: Mattias Norilinder (D). Karl Henriksson (C), Albin Grewe (RW), Hugo Alnefelt (G), Simon Lundmark (D). 

FINLAND:
While most of the attention, understandably, is focused on Kakko, the Finnish crop of Draft-eligible players is not a one-horse show even on the higher end. Although the traditional strengths of the Finnish development system are in goaltenders (2019 is not a great year in that regard) and in gritty team-oriented players (there is the usual supply in that regard), it is skilled position players at the forefront this time around. 

Ville Heinola (D): Smallish in height but strong in two-way hockey IQ sense and poise, Heinola plays a very mature game for an 18-year-old and is already a regular starter in Liiga for Lukko Rauma. The combination of being neither big nor especially fast knock many of his Draft projections out of the first round but Heinola is the type of defenseman who can play in all game situations (including some power play upside) and has often outperformed prospects who receive greater hype for their size and/or skating. He has a quick defensive stick, is positionally reliable and moves the puck with purpose. 

Mikko Kokkonen (D): Kokkinen made his pro debut in Finland's Liiga with Jokerit at the age of 16. Smallish but with a thick frame and good lower body strength, Kokkonen is deceptively strong although not particularly fast. He makes a good first past and has shown upside to trigger the transition game, although he's not a pure offensive defenseman. In his own end, Kokkonen holds his own and has the upside to become a starting-caliber pro defenseman in North America with his all-around upside. However, his Draft projections were knocked down a bit with a somewhat disappointing Under-18 Worlds showing.

Patrik Puistola (LW): The team that drafts the Tappara Tampere winger will be one that is enamored with his most outstanding trait -- his finishing ability -- and hoping that the rest of his game comes around. He also can set up plays and sees the ice well. There is work to be done to succeed at the top pro level, but Puistola dressed in 16 Liiga games for Tappara this past season after dominating offensively at the Mestis (top minor league) level.

Tuukka Tieksola (RW): Come next season, Tieksola will look to translate offensive dominance at the Finnish junior level to success against higher grades of competition. He has good hands, patience with the puck and a willingness to venture into the high-risk, high-reward areas despite a small frame.

Anttoni Honka (D): A very mobile righthanded shooting defenseman, Honka rose again in some scouting lists with an improved second half of the season after being considered one of the Finnish pool's biggest disappointments in the first half. His own-zone play still has significant room improvement. A year ago, he was considered a potential first-round pick. His struggles in the first half this season knocked him way down in some projections but he recovered somewhat by the end of the campaign.

Antti Tuomisto (D): A tall and lanky righthanded defenseman, Tuomisto has shown both plus skating ability and the potential to be a fine puck-mover. He is still raw in many regards and, correspondingly, spent the entire season at the top Finnish junior level, but there is significant upward mobility as he continues to develop in future seasons.

Antti Saarela (C): Two-way awareness, above-average skating and mature levels of attention to detail make Saarela a candidate for the middle rounds of this year's Draft. He dressed in seven Liiga games this season for KalPa Kuopio despite not turning 18 until Jan. 24 and possessing a physically immature (5-foot-9, 172 pound) frame.

Other names to watch: Sateri Hatakka (D), Leevi Aaltonen (F), Juuso Pärssinen (C), Henri Nikkanen (C).

GERMANY:
A German defenseman is a likely first-round pick this year with most projections for his selection spot ranging from the middle one-third (11th to 19th) to the low 20s. That player is big-framed, highly athletic defenseman Moritz Seider. A regular starter for DEL (top domestic pro league) team Adler Mannheim and a member of Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, Seider has outstanding physical tools and offensive upside but needs greater consistency and improvement in his two-way game.

CZECH REPUBLIC AND SLOVAKIA:
The 2019 Draft is not particularly deep in Czech and Slovak prospects but there are few who could be selected in the second to middle rounds. 

Michal Teply (RW): The Czech forward, who combines soft hands with a 6-foot-3 frame and a willingness to compete for the puck, is not considered a top-end offensive prospect for the NHL but has top-nine or even middle-six potential if he continues to develop at his current pace.

Samuel Hlavaj (G): The big-framed Slovakian goalie left his domestic league midway through the 2018-19 season to join the USHL's Lincoln Stars. He plays with an economy of movement and relies on his big frame and positioning to make saves. 

SWITZERLAND:
The 2019 Draft will not be a year where any Swiss players are likely to be selected in the first round but there are a few candidates for second-day selection.

Janis Moser (D): A Draft re-entry player after going unselected last year, Moser played in the World Championships this year and dressed in three games. He is a candidate for mid-to-late round selection this time around. 

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