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New group of Europeans looks to make mark

by Mike G. Morreale /

It was a banner year for top 2013 NHL Draft prospects starring overseas, with seven European skaters selected in the first round.

Heading that group was Finnish center Aleksander Barkov, who was chosen by the Florida Panthers with the No. 2 pick. The 2014 list of draft-eligible European prospects hopes to continue that success.

According to NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb, the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, scheduled for Aug. 5-10 in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, will offer a better insight into the top Europeans entering the 2013-14 season.

Here are a few players Stubb believes really could benefit from a strong showing at the Ivan Hlinka (listed alphabetically). Stubb also provided two players he will be watching closely, including "the next rising star from the Finnish goaltending school," Kaapo Kahkonen.

Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa (Finland): The 5-foot-11, 170-pound left-handed shot played a big role for his country at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, totaling five goals and eight points for bronze medal-winning Finland. He had 14 goals and 29 points in 36 games with KalPa's U-20 Team and will play alongside his father, former NHL forward Sami Kapanen, for KalPa's team in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league, in 2013-14. Additionally, Kasperi's uncle, Kimmo, is a former international goalie and now general manager for KalPa.

"Kasperi is a solid all-round player with a high overall skill level," Stubb said. "He can pass and score, has great offensive instincts and good vision."


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William Nylander-Altelius, LW, Sodertalje (Sweden): The son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander played eight games in the Allsvenskan at the end of the 2012-13 season, where he had four goals and six points. Though it still is undetermined where he'll play in 2013-14, Nylander-Altelius was rumored to be headed to Modo for the upcoming season. He had two goals and three points as an underage player for Sweden at the World U-18s.

"He's an artist on the ice," Stubb said. "William is an excellent offensive player with an extremely high skill level. He can create scoring chances with impressive moves and great passes in the offensive end. He's not a selfish player but does tend to hold on to the puck too long at times. He needs to improve his defensive game, but he's a fun player to watch and a real crowd-pleaser."

Jakub Vrana, C, Linkoping (Sweden): A Czech-born forward, he has improved tremendously since moving to Linkoping in Sweden. The 6-foot, 183-pound left-handed shot had 20 goals and 32 points in 32 games in the SuperElit league with Linkoping's junior team in 2012-13 and played five games in the top Swedish league late in the season. He stood out for the Czech Republic at the World U-18s.

"Jakub is a solid, complete player with no real weak points," Stubb said. "He's smart, has a great understanding of the game, and is a sniper with a good selection of shots. His speed and mobility are far above average, and he's a useful two-way team player."

Here are a pair of wild-card players Stubb said he'll be keeping tabs on:

Kaapo Kahkonen, G, Espoo (Finland): The 6-1.25, 198-pound goaltender was a key player and starter for the Espoo Blues in the Junior A SM-liiga in 2012-13, finishing with a 2.43 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He likely will open the 2013-14 season in the junior league but could earn considerable time in Finland's top league at some point.

"He has good size with good balance," Stubb said. "He has excellent athleticism and flexibility, and does a good job reading and following the play."

Adrian Kempe, RW, Modo (Sweden): The left-handed shooter had six goals and 13 points in 39 games with Modo in Sweden's junior league last season. Kempe, whose name translated to English means "fighter," was chosen by the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League in the second round (No. 107) of the 2013 CHL Import Draft but likely will remain with Modo.

"He's a power forward, strong along the boards with smooth hands, and is a very speedy skater," Stubb said. "He's a solid two-way forward."


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