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European prospect outlook with Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
With the European pro leagues winding down their post-season playoffs, Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton updates us on the progress of the team’s top prospects playing overseas.

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Goaltender Anders Lindback has made some headlines this week. Can you talk about Anders and what he’s up to?
Paul Fenton: Anders has been invited to Sweden’s World Championship initiation camp. It’s a three, four-day camp of practices; a chance to work with the National Team. It’s a preliminary stage to pick the World Championship team, so he’s in consideration for this May’s tournament in Germany. It’s a big honor and speaks well of his potential. Coming off his draft year where he didn’t play much because of his health issues, Anders has certainly come a long way – a starter in the Swedish Elite League and being considered for a major international tournament. In just two seasons he’s really taken his play to the next level. Hopefully we’ll have him over here (in North America) in the next year or so.

The Preds have another young goaltender in Europe, Atte Engren. Can you talk about how he’s progressing?

Fenton: His game has evolved as well. He’s been splitting duties in the Finnish Elite League this season. He won his first playoff game the other night. He continues to show us the athletic skill development we’re looking for. He’s a goaltender that is very quick, agile. We hope he continues to show us progress and some day can come over here as well.

Jumping back overseas, we’ve heard a lot the past two seasons about Swiss defenseman Roman Josi. Where is he in his progression?
Fenton: Roman had the two injuries this year, but never the less he’s had a tremendous offensive year. He should be on Switzerland’s World Championship team; he would have played in the Olympics if he had been healthy. Right now he’s been in the top Three Stars of the game in each of his playoff games. He’s right on track for what we wanted. We plan on having him here next year and challenging for a job at the NHL level. He’s not far off from being a regular National Hockey League player.

A fourth-round pick last season, Mattias Ekholm from Sweden, has turned heads this season. How has his development gone?

Fenton: He was very good in the World Juniors. He showed he’s a big mobile guy, good skater. He lets the puck do the work on offense and takes care of his own end well. He’s very agile, uses his stick to defend well, but also likes to play physical when he gets the chance. He just signed a deal over in Sweden, but he has an NHL clause; like a lot of Europeans they tend to try to stay in Europe until they feel they are ready to play in the NHL. The way he’s developing he might be pretty soon.

He’s in a very competitive age group in Sweden. There were so many first and second-round draft picks that came out in his age range; not just his ’91 draft year, but for the World Juniors you had players from the ’90 draft class who were eligible to play this year and some pretty top notch ’92s from Sweden, too. Sweden has medaled in the past two World Junior tournaments, so for Ekholm to put himself in position to be a top-six defenseman for the Swedes in that tournament speaks a lot to his talent.

Another young Scandinavian prospect is Finnish forward Jani Lajunen. He was a late pick two years ago; what are his NHL prospects?
Fenton: We think he can be a solid, responsible third-line center in our organization; similar to a Marcel Goc-type of player. His skating is going to continue to improve; he’s long, he’s lean, he has a lot of growth still left in him. He’s done a good job this season. He’s stepped up his game down the stretch here for his team in Finland; averaged over 14-15 minutes a game and started to put more numbers on the board. He’s a younger guy playing in the Finnish Elite League, so they’ve primarily used him in a fourth line role… similar to how most NHL teams break-in younger players. But he has shown tremendous upside. He also played in this year’s World Juniors, his second trip to that tournament. He’s right on pace with where he wants to be. The jury is out whether he’s going to come to North America for 2010-11 or remain in Europe; he could definitely come and contribute in Milwaukee next year if he wanted to, but a lot of guys are hesitant to make the jump over until they’re really sure they can make an impact.

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