2021 NHL Draft: 5 European Players to Watchby Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com
The Panthers will soon be on the clock with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Who will they take? That's still anyone's guess at this point.
But with the first round of the draft scheduled to get underway on Friday beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, I wanted to do my best to throw out a few names (five from North America and five from Europe) that could potentially be up for grabs when it's time for the Cats to make their pick.
In the process of creating this article, I scoured numerous articles, pre-draft rankings and mock drafts in order to get a general feel of where players stand. As you can imagine, the pandemic-shortened season has created a rather massive divide among pundits when it comes to picks.
That being said, the below players, who are ranked in no particular order, were chosen due to the frequency in which they showed up within the 18-28 range of players during my research, a method that hopefully will help create some sort of consensus out of all of this pre-draft chaos.
Having already picked five North American skaters (you can view those HERE), let's now look at five European skaters that Panthers fans should keep an eye on as the first round rolls along.
As always, you can also find additional assessments from EliteProspects.com.
1. Aatu Raty
DOB: Nov. 14, 2002
Birthplace: Oulunsalo, Finland
Weight: 181 lbs.
2020-21 Team: Karpat U20 (UM20 SM-sarja) / Karpat (Liiga)
Pre-Draft Ranking: No. 3 by NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters)
From what I've gathered, Raty appears to be the ultimate wild card of the first round.
Viewed as a potential top-10 talent a year ago, the 18-year-old center saw his draft stock (at least among various media outlets) take a hit after an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign that saw him produce just six points (three goals, three assists) in 35 games with Karpat in Liiga.
That being said, even though the results weren't ideal, Raty was able to garner some invaluable experience playing against grown men. Plus, his numbers within his own age group were a bit more encouraging as he notched three goals and four assists in eight games Karpat's U20 club.
Overall, Raty's skillset and promising 2019-20 season should entice teams in the first round. Armed with a great shot, stickwork and a penchant for driving to the net, he burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with two goals and two assists during a solid 12-game debut in Liiga last year.
Internationally, he amassed three points (two goals, one assists) in seven games at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. He also recorded six points (two goals, four assists) while helping guide Finland's U18 squad to an impressive win at the 2020 Five Nations tournament. From the mock drafts I've seen, Raty could be taken anywhere in the 12-30 range of picks.
Elite Prospects Assessment: "He generates so much power on every release by sacrificing a quick drawback, instead taking his sweet time loading downforce into his lever-action wrister. It's a hard, accurate shot when he has the time and space to send it on net. He'll drive the center lane with the puck on nearly every entry, and he isn't shy about setting up shop at the net-front even if it means paying a physical toll on every shift."
2. Daniil Chayka
DOB: Oct. 22, 2002
Birthplace: Moskva, Russia
Weight: 185 lbs.
2020-21 Team: CSKA Moskva (KHL) / Zvezda Moska (VHL) / Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
Pre-Draft Ranking: No. 5 by NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters)
Chayka has the size and reach to dominate in his own end when his game is on.
Following two seasons with Guelph in the OHL - including an effective 2019-20 campaign in which he registered 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 56 games - the 18-year-old rearguard traveled back to Russia this past season to compete for his hometown organization in Moskva.
Making his debut against grown men in the KHL, he picked up two points (one goal, one assist) while playing limited minutes over 11 games with CSKA. He also notched one goal in 10 games in the VHL (the second-tier league in Russia) and four points in five contests in the junior ranks.
Projecting more as a shutdown defenseman rather than a potential driver of play in the NHL, Chayka has been a fixture on the international stage for Russia over the past several seasons, including manning the blue line for six contests at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
As he continues to fill out his large and rangy frame, most pundits seem to agree that the strongest aspect of his game at this point is likely his ability to slow or stifle opposing zone entries through his aggressive and physical play both in the neutral zone and at the blue line. Like other sizeable defenseman, he's also developing a powerful slap shot from the point.
Elite Prospects Assessment: "Chayka's best attribute is his reach. He denies a lot of space with his stick and has the footwork to weaponize that reach. His gap could be tighter and more aggressive; his defensive is mostly about protecting the middle and the net.
3. Nikita Chibrikov
Position: Left Wing / Right Wing
DOB: Feb. 16, 2003
Birthplace: Moskva, Russia
Weight: 172 lbs.
2020-21 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) / SKA-Neva St. Petersburgh (VHL) / SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
Chibrikov opened up a lot of eyes with his play on the international stage this season.
A proficient playmaker with the puck on his stick, the 18-year-old forward stole the show at the IIHF U18 World Hockey Championship. Wearing the "C" on his sweater, he captained Russia to a silver medal with a tournament-leading 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in just six games.
Despite his size, he also didn't look too out of place while putting his skills to the test against grown men in the KHL during the 2020-21 campaign. Lacing up his skates in 16 games with SKA, he produced a goal and an assist while showing off an ability to win 1-on-1 situations.
Making strides in his climb up St. Petersburg's ladder, he also had three goals and five assists in 20 games in the VHL to go along with three goals and six assists in 11 games in the MHL.
On track to play a bigger role with SKA next season, Chibrikov's high upside on offense, as well as his commitment to being responsible on defense, make him a very intriguing player to watch.
Elite Prospects Assessment: "If you give him space, a runway through the neutral zone, or a pocket in the offensive end, he will cut around the opposition with a combination of rapid handling and crossovers moves. He locates teammates early in possession sequences and finds ways to reach them by going to his backhand, by saucing the puck above sticks, banking it on the boards, or the goalie's pads."
4. Isak Rosen
Position: Left Wing / Right Wing
DOB: March 15, 2003
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Weight: 161 lbs.
2020-21 Team: Leksands IF J20 (J20 Nationell) / Leksands IF (SHL)
Pre-Draft Ranking: No. 8 by NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters)
It's hard not to get excited while watching Rosen's highlight reel.
An outstanding skater with a lethal shot in stride, the 18-year-old forward really stood out within his own age bracket both at home and internationally this past season. Getting a taste of life in the professional ranks, he also recorded one assist over 22 games with Leksands in the SHL.
Specifically looking at the junior ranks, however, he was a point-per-game player with Leksands' U20 team, scoring seven goals to go along with five assists in 12 games. Internationally, he led Sweden to a bronze medal at the IIHF U18 World Championship with a team-high seven goals.
Looking beyond his goal totals, his hockey sense and ability to read opposing defenses projects him as more of a playmaker than sniper at the NHL level. He brings an elevated amount of pace to each of his shifts, which should endear him to organizations banking on his continued growth.
Expected to earn more ice time in the SHL next season, look for Rosen to elevate his game.
Elite Prospects Assessment: "He collects most pucks mid-stride. His handling and skating forms are nearly impeccable. He'll send false signals between the blue lines to move the feet of opposing defenders, cutting east-west and using the dotted line. He'll fake weight shifts, shoulder-shimmy, and just overpower hapless defenders."
5. Stanislav Svozil
DOB: Jan. 17, 2003
Birthplace: Prerov, Czech Republic
Weight: 172 lbs.
2020-21 Team: HC Kometa Brno (Czech) / HC Prerov (Czech2)
Pre-Draft Ranking: No. 16 by NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters)
I wanted to have two defensemen on this list, so that brings us to another wild card in Svozil.
Another one of those players that, depending on where you read, could end up being picked anywhere from 20th to 50th in the draft, one of the biggest things the 18-year-old blueliner has going for him is the hefty amount of minutes that he's already put in playing against grown men.
Cutting his teeth in the Czech Extraliga, he's appeared in 71 combined games over the past two seasons with HC Kometa. Suiting up in 30 games with Brno this past season, he registered one goal and two assists. He also appeared in eight playoff games but was held off the scoresheet.
While there isn't necessarily one aspect of Svozil's game that jumps out, he appears to have a good understanding of what it takes to be a solid all-around defender. He has good habits both with and without the puck, and his sound play in all zones shows up in his possession game.
Able to kickstart breakouts with a good first pass from his own zone, the effectiveness of his fairly simple game was visible during both the IIHF U18 and U20 World Championships. In both tournaments, he recorded one assist in five games while showing off his skills in transitions.
Expected to return to HC Kometa this season, it's hard not to be intrigued by the fact that Svozil will likely have more than 100 professional games under his belt before he celebrates his 19th birthday.
Elite Prospects Assessment: "He works hard to attach himself to his check, with mirroring footwork and great body-on-body positioning, driving them into the boards when the moment is right. He's physical but always with a purpose. Good luck getting past Svozil in the neutral zone. He takes away the middle of the ice with his stick, skates with risk-mitigating footwork, and closes with aggression at just the right moments."