The European contingent eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft looks to be a very enticing group.
Leading the way is Kasperi Kapanen (6-foot, 180 pounds) of KalPa in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league. He has four goals and eight points in 28 games, and also earned the top ranking from NHL Central Scouting in its midterm ranking of the top European prospects for the 2014 draft.
"He's a good-skating wing and can also play center," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He has a smooth and surprisingly fast style that has surprised many unsuspecting defensemen. His tricky puck skills and quick release have paid off in many games and he has good hand-eye coordination. He's not overly physical but does not shy away from rough situations."
CSS 2014 MIDTERM RANKINGS
Kapanen was set to be part of Finland's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship but a shoulder injury kept him out of the tournament.
Forward William Nylander (5-11, 169), who plays for Sodertalje in Sweden's second division, is ranked second.
"He's a good, mobile skater with outstanding skills, including smooth hands, vision, puckhandling and shot," Stubb said. "He can also set up scoring chances for teammates and can score in many ways from outside or in traffic. He's very competitive and effective on the power play."
Kapanen and Nylander have played with their NHL-experienced fathers at some point this season. Kapanen still skates with his father, Sami Kapanen. Nylander was with his dad, Michael Nylander, when he played for Rogle in Sweden's second division in the fall.
"Kapanen and Nylander are similar finesse-type players," Stubb said. "Both are dynamic offensive players with high overall skill. Both are great playmakers and can score goals, but the only small difference might be that Kapanen is a regular in the Finnish league while Nylander is mainly playing in Sweden's second division. Nylander did play some games with Modo in Sweden's top league before Christmas but is now with Sodertalje."
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The top European goalie is 6-3, 205-pound Ville Husso of HIFK in SM-liiga. Husso was part of Finland's team that won the gold at the WJC; in two games he had a 4.68 goals-against average and .854 save percentage.
"This is his breakthrough season," Stubb said of Husso. "He started as [HIFK's] third goalie but took over as starter in October and has helped his team overcome a tough start. He's big and calm and uses his size to his advantage. He's showed a lot of desire and determination."
Husso follows in the footsteps of Juuse Saros, who was the top-rated goalie on Central Scouting's European rankings at this point last season. Saros, drafted in the fourth round (No. 99) by the Nashville Predators, played ahead of Husso at the WJC, going 5-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .943 save percentage.
Rounding out the top five European skaters are No. 3 Adrian Kempe of Modo in the Swedish Hockey League; No. 4 David Pastrnak of Sodertalje; and No. 5 Jakub Vrana of Linkoping of the SHL.
3. Adrian Kempe (6-1.5, 187): He began the season with Modo's junior team but now is a regular in the top league. He has two goals, seven points and a plus-4 rating in 26 games.
"He's a big, strong, bullish forward who can play center or wing," Stubb said. "He likes to drive hard for the net, using his strength and skating to his advantage. He plays the body and is aggressive when forechecking. He has a good defensive game for a player with his offensive skills; mobile, solid and strong."
4. David Pastrnak (6-0, 167): The Czech Republic native has six goals, 15 points and a plus-2 rating in 25 games for Sodertalje.
"He's a flashy, entertaining offensive talent," Stubb said. "He uses his quickness, overall speed, puck-handling skills and vision to create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's creative and dangerous in 1-on-1 situations."
5. Jakub Vrana (5-11, 185): The two-way left-handed center is another Czech playing in Sweden; he's in his third season with Linkoping.
"Jakub passes the puck well, has good vision and knows where to be and when," Stubb said. "He's not flashy but is a very reliable, hard-working team player. He shows patience and is elusive when handling the puck and is not overly physical."
Pastrnak and Vrana represented sixth-place Czech Republic at the 2014 WJC. Pastrnak had one goal and three points in five tournament games; Vrana had one goal and two points in five games.