The rise of Finnish right wing Mikko Rantanen began with an impressive showing at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in January.
In the eyes of some, the 18-year-old was Finland's best player, scoring four of his country's eight goals at the tournament.
Rantanen rejoined TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, three days after his team lost to Sweden, 6-3, in the quarterfinal round of the WJC to resume his top-line role. In 56 games with TPS he had nine goals and 28 points while serving as an alternate captain.
A great finish enabled Rantanen to advance one spot to No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of international skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26-27.
"Rantanen is in a class of his own at present in Europe," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. "After Mikko you can pick almost anyone for the next spots."
Rantanen played regular shifts and on the power play with TSP, averaging 16:14 minutes per game. He was given even more time toward the end of the season when TPS released a few of their standout players.
"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. "He's very close to being the complete package."
Rounding out the top six on NHL Central Scouting's final list of international skaters are: No. 2, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson of Linkoping Jr. (SWE); No. 3, defenseman Jacob Larsson of Frolunda Jr. (SWE); No. 4, center Joel Eriksson Ek of Farjestad (SWE); No. 5, right wing Michael Spacek of Pardubice (CZE); and No. 6, defenseman Oliver Kylington of Farjestad (SWE).
Kylington was No. 1 at the midterm, but dropped five slots following a disappointing end to the season in Sweden.
"My guess is that Kylington will go late in the first round or early in second," Stubb said. "Even though he actually looked better [in 2013-14], the talent and skills are still there."
Sweden's Carlsson moved five spots, from No. 7 to No. 2 in the final ranks.
Mikko Rantanen is ranked No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of international skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo: Leijonat.fi)
"He spent most of the season with the Linkoping junior team, did practice with the league team and dressed for seven games in the Swedish Hockey League," Stubb said. "He's a big, smart stay-at-home defenseman. He plays a safe game, and is very reliable, uses his size (6-foot-4, 183 pounds) and reach in a smart way."
The top international goaltenders are No. 1 Ilya Samsonov of Magnitogorsk in Russia's second division and No. 2 Daniel Vladar of Kladno in Czech Republic.
Samsonov, who served as a backup for Mike Keenan at Mettalurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, played 18 games in Russia's junior league and had a 2.66 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
"He has good size (6-3, 200), covers the net well and can make the big game-winning saves," Stubb said. "He's been very consistent. He has a good glove, quick feet and plays a very mature and cool game."
Vladar was a member of the Czech Republic at the 2015 WJC but did not play in any games. At 6-5, 185, Vladar takes up a lot of the net. He uses his instincts to an advantage and has proven to be very reliable. In 29 games with Kladno's under-20 team, he had a 2.78 GAA and .925 save percentage.
"I sense a little bit of [Mackenzie] Blackwood in him," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He has a strong and powerful leg drive, quickness and athleticism. He's just got that presence of being a future quality NHL goaltender."