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Mikko Rantanen, Timo Meier among top right wings for 2015 NHL Draft

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

Mikko Rantanen, who plays for TPS in Finland's top professional league, could turn out to be the next star Finnish forward to enter the NHL.

The last Finnish-born forward to be selected among the top 10 at an NHL draft was center Aleksander Barkov by the Florida Panthers at No. 2 at the 2013 draft. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Rantanen won't go that high at the 2015 NHL Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., but it won't take much longer for his name to be called.

Rantanen, an alternate captain for TPS, had nine goals and 28 points in 56 games; he led all under-20 players in Liiga, Finland's top league, in points. He also had four goals in five games for Finland at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

He's No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters for the 2015 draft, but NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said Rantanen is in a "class of his own at present in Europe."

The gap between Rantanen and the next best forward on NHL Central Scouting's European skater list, center Joel Eriksson Ek of Farjestad in Sweden, is far greater than that between Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel, the top two forwards on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

"He's a big, strong, mature, mobile two-way power forward who protects the puck very well, has a great reach and is very strong in battles along the boards and in the corners," Stubb said of Rantanen. "He's very close to being the complete package."

Here are's top 10 right wings eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.

1. Mikko Rantanen, TPS (FIN): Rantanen played regular even-strength shifts and on the power play with TPS, averaging 16:14 of ice time per game. His four goals at the World Juniors were half of Finland's total for the tournament. "When [TPS] didn't make the playoffs he went to play for the junior TPS team," Stubb said. "They were down by two games in a best-of-5 playoff when Rantanen came in. They won the semifinal and then the Finnish title and it was because of him." Rantanen had six goals and 14 points in seven postseason games with the TPS under-20 team.

Type of player: Power forward

2. Timo Meier, Halifax (QMJHL): Capable of playing right wing or center, the versatile Meier (6-1, 209) is strong with or without the puck. He led the Mooseheads in the regular season with 44 goals and with 23 power-play goals. Meier, No. 10 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 90 points in 61 regular-season games and ranked in the top 10 in goals (10) and points (21) in 14 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs. Meier also has experience skating with top players. With Switzerland at the World Juniors his linemate was Nashville Predators forward Kevin Fiala; in Halifax his linemate was Winnipeg Jets top prospect Nikolaj Ehlers; and at the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game he played on a line with McDavid. Meier excelled in all situations.

Type of player: Two-way forward

3. Nicholas Merkley, Kelowna (WHL): Merkley (5-10, 191) led the Rockets and finished sixth in the Western Hockey League with 90 points in 72 regular-season games, and ranked first on the team with 70 assists. He is No. 23 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2015 NHL Draft. He finished third in scoring among all teams in the WHL playoffs with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists). Merkley also had three goals and five points in five games at the Memorial Cup. "He's more of a playmaker than goal scorer but has the ability to score big goals at the right time," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He plays a tenacious style on the puck and has an edge to his game."

Type of player: Two-way forward

4. Denis Gurianov, Togliatti 2 (RUS-JR.): The 6-2, 183-pound left-handed shot has succeeded on his off wing. He had 15 goals, 25 points and 39 penalty minutes in 23 games in the Russian junior league this season. The big power forward has been compared to Dallas Stars 2013 first-round pick forward Valeri Nichushkin (No. 10). Gurianov, No. 7 on Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters, moves well and shoots hard; he likes to use his strength and is gritty in all areas of the ice. Many scouts believe he has the hardest shot in this year's draft class.

Type of player: Two-way power forward

5. Daniel Sprong, Charlottetown (QMJHL): The Amsterdam native was 12th in the QMJHL with 39 goals, and was 14th with 49 assists and 88 points in 68 regular-season games for the Islanders. He was 10th with 16 power-play goals. Sprong (6-foot, 180), No. 20 on Central Scouting's final ranking, led the Islanders with seven goals and 11 points in 10 QMJHL playoff games.

Type of player: Skilled forward

6. Brock Boeser, Waterloo (USHL): He tied for first in the United States Hockey League with 35 goals and 32 power-play points, and was third with 68 points in 57 regular-season games. Boeser (6-foot, 191) was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team and All-USHL First Team. Ranked No. 27 on Central Scouting's final list, Boeser is a product of Burnsville High School in Minnesota, and is committed to the University of North Dakota for next season.

Type of player: Two-way forward

7. Michael Spacek, Pardubice (CZE): Spacek (5-11, 187) missed some games because of an ankle injury but is a creative and exciting player to watch. In 40 games for Pardubice in the top Czech professional league, he had five goals and 12 points. He also had one assist in five games for the Czech Republic at the 2015 World Juniors as the youngest player on the roster. At the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship he had one goal and four assists in five games and was named one of the team's three best players at the tournament. The No. 5 skater on Central Scouting's final European ranking, Spacek is a classic Czech forward with plenty of speed, quick moves and good decision-making abilities.

Type of player: Skilled forward

8. Robin Kovacs, AIK (SWE-2): Kovacs had a breakthrough season with AIK in Sweden's minor league, with 17 goals and 28 assists in 52 games. Kovacs (6-foot, 172) is creative and an excellent puck-handler, and some scouts have said he plays a game similar to that of Los Angeles Kings forward Marian Gaborik. Kovacs also can be a bit of an agitator; he had 63 penalty minutes this season. He's No. 8 on Central Scouting's final European skater ranking, up from No. 17 in the midterm.

Type of player: Skilled forward

9. Jens Looke, Brynas (SWE): The 18-year-old had two goals and six points in 43 games as one of the youngest players for Brynas' team in the Swedish Hockey League. He also had three goals in seven games for Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship. Looke (6-foot, 180), No. 10 on Central Scouting's final European skater ranking, is strong on his skates and is effective in puck battles along the wall; he plays a 200-foot game.

Type of player: Two-way forward

10. David Kase, Chomutov (CZREP-2): Kase had seven goals and 14 points in 30 games playing against men in the Czech second division. He also was the captain for the Czech Republic at the 2015 World Under-18 Championship, tied for the team lead with five points in four games and was voted one of the team's top three players at the tournament. "He has very strong puck-handling skills and a quick shot," Stubb said. "He's a smart, creative playmaker in the offensive zone and dangerous around the net. He's a crowd pleaser with his quick, surprising moves. He always plays with intensity and is very active and involved on every shift." His older brother, Ondrej Kase, was a seventh-round pick (No. 205) of the Anaheim Ducks at the 2014 draft.

Type of player: Skilled forward

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Author: Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer

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