Among European players eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, there are several prospects capable of making an impact in the League sooner rather than later. Those top prospects will be on display at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28.
"There have been stronger draft years for Europeans and this year is average compared to those," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "But I do think 4-6 players could be drafted in the first round."
Stubb has identified two players in a class of their own among the international ranks: right wing Kasperi Kapanen of Kalpa in Finland and center/right wing William Nylander of Modo in Sweden.
Both players remain atop NHL Central Scouting's final list of the draft-eligible international skaters that was released Tuesday. Kapanen had seven goals and 14 points in 47 games and remains No. 1 on the list. Nylander, who has one goal and seven points in 22 games with Modo, is ranked No. 2.
"They both have great tools and excellent offensive instincts," Stubb told NHL.com. "Kapanen [6-foot, 180 pounds] is a bit taller than Nylander [5-11, 169] and perhaps more mature as a player, but there is a very small difference between the two."
Both Kapanen and Nylander at some point this season played alongside their fathers, each of whom has considerable NHL experience. Kapanen skated with his father, the recently-retired Sami Kapanen, and Nylander was with his dad, Michael Nylander, when he played for Rogle in Sweden's second division in the fall and had four goals and eight points in 18 games.
Rounding out the top five on Central Scouting's list are No. 3 Kevin Fiala of HV 71 Jr. in Sweden's junior division, No. 4 Jakub Vrana of Linkoping in Sweden and No. 5 David Pastrnak of Sodertalje in Sweden's second division.
Fiala (5-10, 180), a left wing, closed his second season in Sweden by making the biggest jump from the midterm rankings in January, when he was listed No. 11. Stubb believes Fiala, who is Swiss but has roots in the Czech Republic, has earned his promotion in the final rankings.
"As a 17-year-old he played against men and with men in Sweden," Stubb said. "He impressed with his explosive skating, great puck-handling skills and overall quickness and speed. He has great offensive instincts and is full of surprises in the offensive zone. He just needs a bit more muscle and strength and some work in his defensive zone."
Fiala, who had one goal and five points in five games for Switzerland at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, has three goals and 11 points in 17 games for HV 71 in the Swedish Hockey League.
Vrana (5-11, 185), a two-way left-handed shot, is a Czech native playing in Sweden. He moved up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4 in the final rankings. Vrana had 14 goals and 25 points in 24 games for Linkoping's junior team this season, and two goals and three points for the senior club.
"Jakub passes the puck well, has good vision and knows where to be and when," Stubb said. "He's not flashy but is a very reliable, hard-working team player. He shows patience and is elusive when handling the puck and is not overly physical."
Pastrnak (6-foot, 167), another Czech playing in Sweden, has eight goals and 24 points in 36 games for Sodertalje.
"He's a flashy, entertaining offensive talent," Stubb said. "He uses his quickness, overall speed, puck-handling skills and vision to create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's creative and dangerous in 1-on-1 situations."
Pastrnak and Vrana represented sixth-place Czech Republic at the 2014 WJC. Pastrnak had one goal and three points in five games; Vrana had one goal and two points in five games.
"Vrana has played a solid season but is not as flashy as Kapanen, Nylander or Fiala. But he is still a steady and good team player," Stubb said. "It will be interesting to see these offensive artists at the Under-18 World Championship this month in Finland. I think that's a tournament that will decide a lot in the direction teams may go at the draft."
It's expected the top four players on Central Scouting's list will be representing his country in Lappeenranta and Imatra, Finland at the 10-nation tournament; Kapanen with Finland, Nylander with Sweden, Fiala with Switzerland and Vrana with the Czech Republic.
The top European goalie is 6-3, 205-pound Ville Husso of HIFK in Finland's top league. Husso was part of Finland's team that won gold at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden; in two games he had a 4.68 goals-against average and .854 save percentage.
"This is his breakthrough season," Stubb said of Husso. "He started as [HIFK's] third goalie but took over as starter in October and has helped his team overcome a tough start. He's big and calm and uses his size to his advantage. He's showed a lot of desire and determination."
Husso follows in the footsteps of Juuse Saros, who was the top-rated goalie on Central Scouting's European rankings at this point last season. Saros, drafted in the fourth round (No. 99) by the Nashville Predators, played ahead of Husso at the WJC, going 5-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .943 save percentage.
The top Russian prospect is left wing Vladislav Kamenev (6-2, 203), who is coached by former NHL coach Mike Keenan with Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kamenev is No. 13 on the final ranking of European skaters.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer