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Shedding some light on top European prospects

by Mike G. Morreale

While the battle for top honors at the 2013 NHL Draft will likely be between North American prospects Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads and Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, the distinction as top European prospect is just as intriguing.

              Alexander Barkov, Tappara (FINLAND)

Make no mistake, the battle for European prominence appears to be between center Elias Lindholm of Brynas in Sweden and center Alexander Barkov of Tappara in the Finnish Elite League.

Lindholm has four goals and 10 points in 16 games this season for Brynas while Barkov has produced nine goals and 17 points in 15 games.

"Lindholm and Barkov are outstanding with their league teams and both could be top five at the [NHL] Draft," said Goran Stubb, European Director of NHL Central Scouting.

Lindholm had 14 goals, 49 points and a plus-24 rating in 36 games with Brynas in Sweden's junior league last year.

"He's a complete package," Stubb said of Lindholm. "He could very well be the next Peter Forsberg. He's an excellent skater and great competitor who gives it 110 percent on every shift. He can skate, score and pass and is physically strong even though he is a finesse type of player."

After Lindholm and Barkov, Stubb is very high on 6-foot-2, 178-pound wing Jacob de la Rose of Leksand in Sweden; left wing Artturi Lehkonen of Kalpa in Finland, and 6-1, 161-pound forward Valeri Nichushkin of Chelyabinsk in Russia. All the aforementioned players are A skaters on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list in Europe.

Stubb admitted there are three other players currently trending upward in Europe, including 2013 draft eligible Andre Burakovsky of Malmo in Sweden and Finland's Miro Aaltonen of the Blues. Czech Republic-born Jakub Vrana, who will play his first game for Linkoping in the Swedish Elitserien on Saturday, isn't eligible until the 2014 NHL Draft.

"Burakovsky is not getting much ice time with Malmo in Sweden 2, but he has talent," Stubb said. "He's got vision, skating and overall skills. I'm surprised that he does not get more responsibilities with the team. I feel he has a good chance to make Sweden's team for the [World Junior Championship] in Ufa [Russia].

"Aaltonen is playing regularly with the Blues and is one of the most improved young players in Finland," Stubb continued. "He's a good skater, active, mobile and has a nose for the net. He compensates for his lack of size [5-foot-10, 163 pounds] and strength with a great attitude."

Vrana had seven goals and five assists in six games for the Linkoping J20 team. In 13 games with Malmo, Burakovsky, who is listed as an A skater, has one assist; Aaltonen (B-rated) has eight goals, nine points and a plus-2 rating in 17 contests in Finland's SM-liiga.

"Overall, Sweden and Finland have been dominating among European prospects at present," Stubb said. "It's a bit surprising that we do not yet have an outstanding goalkeeper among the top prospects."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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