The last time a European defenseman was selected before a forward in the first round of the NHL draft was three years ago, when the Anaheim Ducks selected defenseman Hampus Lindholm with the No. 6 pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.
Center Filip Forsberg was the next international skater selected that year, going No. 11 to the Washington Capitals.
Each player has paid off in a big way for their current teams. Lindholm has 49 points and a plus-42 rating in 123 games spanning two seasons with the Ducks. Forsberg, now starring for the Nashville Predators, is regarded as a top candidate for the Calder Trophy this season; he leads all NHL rookies in just about every offensive category.
While there's a good chance defenseman Oliver Kylington of Farjestad in the Swedish Hockey League could be the first European player picked at the 2015 NHL Draft, right wing Mikko Rantanen of TPS in Liiga in his native Finland is making a strong case for similar recognition after a splendid performance for his country at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"His production and hard shot was certainly noted by scouts," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said of Rantanen.
Kylington (6-foot, 183 pounds) is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of international skaters eligible for the 2015 draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Rantanen (6-4, 209), who led Finland with four goals at the WJC, is ranked No. 2.
"I thought Mikko was the best player on the Finnish team," Stubb said. "His four goals and effective overall play at World Juniors also proved that he certainly is one of the top prospects in Europe this year."
Rantanen has three goals and 14 points as alternate captain in 35 games for TPS. He opened many eyes last season when he had five goals and nine points in 37 games with TPS as a 17-year-old.
"He's a physically strong power forward with very good playmaking abilities," Stubb said. "He's smart, active, involved on every shift and has very good speed and quickness for a big man. He plays with authority, is difficult to check and protects the puck well. He's not overly physical but uses his size to his advantage and finishes his hits."
Kylington missed the WJC because of an injury, but has returned to the ice. He had two goals and five points in 17 games for Farjestad before being loaned to AIK in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division; he has three goals and six points in 13 games. He likely will play a big role for Sweden at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Switzerland in April.
Kylington has been described as a finesse-type defenseman with the tools required to becoming a star at the next level. He isn't overly aggressive but doesn't shy away from contact.
"He's a mobile, good, two-way defenseman with excellent skating ability," Stubb said. "He loves to join the rush and plays a solid positional game in the defensive zone; he makes a good first pass."
Rounding out the top five European skaters are No. 3 right wing Jens Looke (6-foot, 187) of Brynas in Sweden; No. 4 right wing Michael Spacek (5-11, 187) of Pardubice in the Czech Republic; and No. 5 defenseman Jacob Larsson (6-2, 191) of Frolunda's team in Sweden's junior league.
The top European goaltender, 6-3, 200-pound Ilya Samsonov of Magnitogorsk in Russia, could turn out to be a steal for any team willing to take a chance.
The left-handed catching goalie has played one game in the KHL this season and has a 2.25 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 11 games with Magnitogorsk's minor-league team. He likely will be a fixture in net for Russia at the 2015 World U-18s. He is considered the best Russian goaltending prospect since Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was chosen by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round (No. 19) of the 2012 draft.
"He has good size and covers the net well," Stubb said of Samsonov. "He plays at the top of the crease and effectively squares to the shooter. He shows good instincts and is well balanced. He can make acrobatic saves and is considered to be the best Russian goalie prospect in many years."