Dennis Schellenberg is a prospect writer for Hockey Prospectus. He is based out of Switzerland
If you have a look at the different versions of all mock drafts out there, you come to two conclusions. First, there are three European players who have serious chances to get drafted within the top 10: Mikko Rantanen, Ivan Provorov and Pavel Zacha. The second conclusion that might come to your mind is that there are no very top EU prospects available, at least no one who could make it into top five like in the last few years. If you have a look into the possible European first/second rounders, there are some more names you should get familiar with. Among them are the European based Rantanen, Julius Nättinen, Denis Guryanov, Ilya Samsonov, Jonas Siegenthaler and the Swedes Joel Eriksson Ek and Oliver Kylington. We took a closer look into those athletes and will check how they are in comparison with each other.
Most of them have one impressive fact in common, that they were regular starters in the highest/second highest professional leagues in their respective countries. Besides Guryanov, Samsonov and Nättinen, they all played over 15 games in pro leagues.
Mikko Rantanen impacting in Finnish Liiga
The most impressive stats belong to towering Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen. He managed to get 28 points in 56 games with TPS Turku and was an impact player among men in a professional league. He was part of the Finnish national team when they played exhibition games to prepare for the 2015 worlds. Pretty impressive for an 18 year old kid and definitely something not many draft eligibles can bring to the table. Besides his good stats and appearances with the national team, scouts like his size, playmaking abilities, powerful offensive skills and smooth hands. He definitely has a lot of tools which are needed to make it to the NHL and is able to play a North American style of hockey. His skills together with the fact that he has already shown that he is competitive against professional men, might make him one of the more NHL ready prospects in this draft class. It looks like it’s safe to say that he will be the first picked European based selection.
Is Julius Nättinen a first rounder?
His brother Joonas was selected in the third round by Montreal and there are scouts saying that the younger Julius is the more talented of the Finnish brothers. There are definitely aspects in Julius Nättinen’s game that would make him a safe bet as a first rounder. He has a good package of size, strength, vision, work ethic and shooting skills. This makes him a player who is suitable to play in North America. But whether he is going to be picked in the first round is questionable. He has a very good shot, but not as good as Denis Guryanov, his vision is decent but not as good as Jeremy Bracco’s and Nättinen’s two-way game is good as well but he doesn’t have the defensive instincts of a prospect like Colin White. Therefore it might remain questionable if he will be picked before the players mentioned above.
Is Siegenthaler the second Swiss first round pick in the coming draft?
All year long Jonas Siegenthaler showed that he deserves to be a starting defender for Marc Crawford’s ZSC Lions, finalist in the highest Swiss League. From the beginning of the season he impressed scouts with his very mature and solid defensive game. He rarely makes mistakes and shows great calmness even when he is under pressure. This is very impressive for a guy his age, especially having played nearly 60 games in the highest league in addition to his time in the U18 and U20 tournaments. However, he doesn’t bring the same offensive skills on the table like other top defender prospects do such as Thomas Chabot, Jeremy Roy, Jacob Larsson or Oliver Kylington. This could have been seen recently at the U18 worlds, where he was the leader on the Swiss blueline and couldn’t “hide” behind experienced players like was the case in Zurich. He is clearly not a dominant offensive player and therefore might not be considered in the first round. He should be a relatively safe bet for the second round though.
The rise and fall of Oliver Kylington
At Central Scouting’s midterm rankings the Swedish defender was listed as the top skater in the European list. A few months later, he has dropped to the sixth place in their final rankings. He is currently even listed behind fellow Swedish defenders Jacob Larsson and Gabriel Carlsson. This seems to be quite a big fall. But the fact is that Kylington looked like he lost a lot of his confidence in the past months and he is hard to project because of this. Also at the U18 tournament he showed a very average performance, though we have to add at this point that the whole Swedish team disappointed. That said, even if he dropped in lists, the talent is still the same and his great skating ability could have been seen also in the worlds in April. He will most probably still be one of the best EU based defenders and anything but a first round selection would be a surprise. The talent of this kid is just too impressive to skip him.
Joel Eriksson Ek a good fit for Detroit?
Joel is projected to be the first Swedish forward to be selected at this year’s draft and it also seems to be a safe guess to say that he will be a first rounder. He brings a lot of grit to the game and plays with an agitating edge. His work ethic and willingness to drive the net and go into dirty areas is one of his biggest advantages compared to other projected first rounders. He played over 30 regular season games with Färjestad in the Swedish Hockey League and showed that he is a very competitive player. He is not only a good scorer but he plays also with grit which will bring him up on the projection lists. It would be an easy match to mention the Detroit Red Wings because of their rich history of drafting Swedes. That said, in fact the Red Wings are picking 19th overall and this would indeed be a position where Eriksson Ek is projected to be picked. Therefore the connection might be valid.
How good is Denis Guryanov?
There have been many uncertainties and concerns about Guryanov and how good he is. And like with many Russian prospects, there is again the question about his willingness to come over to North America to play. But if there ever were critics about his skills and talent, for sure they have been quietened and his stocks have risen during the U18 tournaments. He was one of the most dominant Russians and his shot is one of the best in this draft class. Additionally, he has good size and strength and is willing to improve his defensive game. He is a prospect who is often mentioned as a potential steal. The question is still how risky his selection is seen by teams but he could be picked as a late first rounder if one team is not afraid of taking him. Talent wise he needs to be considered a first rounder.
Can Samsonov be a starter at the NHL level?
Ilya Samsonov is the number one EU goalie and probably the most talented one overall. He is the next talented goalie prospect after Bobrovsky, Vasilevsky and Varlamov who has come out of Russia. Like all of them he has good size and has a tremendous ability to make acrobatic saves due to great athleticism. He definitely has the potential to be a solid starter at the NHL level. However scouts are a bit concerned that he lacks experience because he was not really tested against good competition. He played only one game with Metallurg and he didn’t leave his hometown of Magnitogorsk. Also the Russian factor might be mentioned again together with his name. Therefore, it is hard to project him but if a team thinks he is a good fit they might get away with a steal in the second or even third round if he is still available at that time. The lack of high end goalie prospects in this draft class might help him to get a better draft position.