Many scouts believe that Sweden's Adam Larsson
could be playing in the NHL right now.
Though that might seem a bit premature, particularly since the 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman won't turn 18 until Nov. 12, but it wouldn't be too surprising if Larsson were taken with one of the first picks at the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.
Larsson is front and center on the Central Scouting's international "Players to Watch" list released Tuesday.
"He's a complete package," NHL Central Scouting Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "Now in his second season as a regular in one of the top senior leagues in Europe, he's going to play a big role."
Larsson is the third-youngest player ever to enter the Swedish Elite League -- at age 16, with Skelleftea during the 2008-09 season -- after Calle Johansson
and Victor Hedman
. In 49 games last season, he had 4 goals and 17 points with Skelleftea, in addition to helping his country to a bronze medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship.
"Adam will, as it looks at present, be No. 1 on the European rankings before the 2011 Draft," Stubb said. "He's a big, strong defenseman with an excellent understanding of the game. He's a leader, cool and calm on the ice, and knows where to be. His positional game is excellent and he uses his size and reach very well along the boards and in front of the net. He's surprisingly mobile and fast for a player of his size."
Not only did Larsson impress professional scouts, but former teammates of his in the Swedish Elite League.
"Larsson is a really good defenseman, he's got everything as a player and I think he could be really good in the future," Devils center Jacob Josefson
said. "Victor Hedman
is big and tall, but Adam could be just as good. He has great potential."
"Hedman and Larsson are two different players," fellow Devils forward Mattias Tedenby
said. "I've played with Larsson before. Hedman is more physical. Larsson is very skilled with a great first pass."
Larsson and Jonas Brodin
of Farjestads are the only "A"-list draft-eligible players in the Swedish Elite League.
Not far behind Larsson is Victor Rask
, who plays for his hometown Leksand in the J20 Swedish SuperElit League. The 6-foot-1 1/2, 194-pound center had 22 goals and 41 points in 39 games with Leksand last season, and he had 5 points in five playoff games. Rask is one of four "A" list players among Sweden's junior ranks.
"Victor is a tall, physically strong center, with an excellent work ethic," Stubb said. "He's always involved in the game. He's a sniper who can also set up the play for linemates and he possesses smooth hands and a good stick. He creates scoring chances with quick, surprising moves around the net. His skating is still not excellent but far above average. He's a talented prospect with a lot of good tools."
Joining Rask on the "A" list among players in Sweden's top junior league are Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall of Timra Jr., Joachim Nermark
of Linkoping Jr. and Mika Zibanejad
of Djurgarden Jr.
Dmitri Jaskin of HC Slavia Praha is the top-rated player in the Czech Republic, while goalie Marek Mazanec
of HC Plzen is an "A" list goaltender.
, 17, already is competing against older, more developed players with Assat in the Finnish Elite League and is the lone draft-eligible "A" list player in the league. He had 15 goals in 27 games for Assat's Under-20 team last season and also scored 5 goals in five games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which tied for the tournament lead.
Topping Finland's junior list is center Markus Granlund
, who will look to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Mikael, who was drafted ninth by the Minnesota Wild
at the 2010 Entry Draft. Markus Granlund
began the season on loan to the Suomi U20 club, where he had 3 goals and 6 points in six games. He's currently playing for HIFK's Under-20 team, where he has 6 goals and 11 points in 10 games.
Also rated as "A" list players skating in Finland's junior league are Sami Salminen
of HIFK Jr., and Miikka Salomaki
of Karpat Jr.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale