Europe adds intrigue to draft pool

Dan Stewart2016 Draft Center

The European talent pool, headlined by the draft’s top prospect in American-born center Auston Matthews, is an intriguing collective of prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Matthews, who opted to join the ZSC Lions for the upcoming year, is in the forefront of that grouping.

According to a FC evaluator, the highly touted prospect and potential first overall pick makes everything he does look easy.

“Every pass Matthews makes goes where he wants it to and every shot hits its target,” he said. “He plays a strong two-way game and just makes everyone on his team better. He is an explosive skater, protects the puck very well and has a lethal wrist shot. He is always one of the most dominant players on the ice and continues to just get better with each viewing.”

After Matthews, who has gotten off to a very impressive start, there are two big Finnish wingers who are also lighting it up in their county’s top circuit, the Liiga. Right wingers Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat and Patrik Laine of Tappera have impressive size and scoring potential making them top five ranked prospects early on.

“Puljujarvi is a smart and elusive player who possesses some very good hands,” a FC evaluator said. “There is no stopping this kid once he gets moving; a big, powerful skater possesses the speed and puck skills that will make NHL teams drool. Playmaking and finishing ability is elite – he knows when to pass it off with a hard pass on the tape and he knows when he has the time and space to drive the net or take a shot.”

Puljujarvi has been high on our 2016 list for a couple years now and Laine would be right there with him if it weren’t for questions on maturity, culminating with him being sent home from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial because of a blow-up he had with the team’s coach on playing time. Those days however look to be behind Laine as he has taken what role given to him and run with it early this season.

Laine’s game is straight power as he drives into the offensive zone heading straight for the high percentage scoring areas before unloading a heavy wrist or snap shot. He also has the hands to pull off a couple creative dekes to beat a defender with finesse.

Other Finnish prospects we are keeping our eyes on include center Otto Makinen of Tappara’s U20 team, who is a skilled forward that can make a difference on the score sheet. We also had our eyes centred on big power winger Eetu Tuulola of HPK’s U20 team, who plays a real strong, heavy game and defenseman Tarmo Reunanen of TPS’s U20 team who likes to contribute to the offensive side of the game from the back end.

Over in Sweden, we see a handful of top guys who have first round potential.

MoDo winger Carl Grundstrom is a goal scoring forward who likes to get plenty of shots on net. Grundstrom possesses good speed, a solid build and gets himself in the greasy areas looking for chances.

Center Rasmus Asplund is another prospect with some solid first round potential, noted to one FC evaluator.

“The kid can absolutely fly down the wing when he gets moving and is a threat when he gains some momentum and confidence in his game,” he said. “He has killer agility and a deadly first step that uses in conjunction with his active stick and vision to cut all sorts of time and space. Asplund commands the ice in transition and while in possession, making opponents back off.”

Defender Jacob Cederholm of the HV71 organization is a strong defense-first minded guy who plays a physical brand and can add to the offensive attack when he sees fit. Cederholm keeps things calm and simple defensively, communicates on the ice and sticks up for his teammates. He’s seen plenty of SHL action early this season and looked strong in the process.

The top goaltender in Sweden is Lulea’s Filip Gustavsson, a big and strong stopper who makes the saves he is supposed to and also has flashed the athleticism to make a few he shouldn’t be able to. With his great reflexes and calm demeanor between the pipes, he gives his team confidence to play in front of him.

The top Russian in our opinion who decided to stay home and play on the newly formed U18 National Team is center German Rubtsov.

“Rubstov shows patience with and without the puck, not eager to rush just any play for the heck of it,” a FC evaluator said. “He is a very intelligent player and uses his hockey instincts to make the right plays. He understands the game and what needs to be done in all three zones and does all the little things right to support his team in the best possible way. Rubstov is swift with the puck in open space and generates all kinds of speed. He shows a good two-way game, supporting his defense and always stays with his check deep in his own zone.”

With so much hockey remaining until the draft, plenty can shift in the European landscape.

Still, there’s plenty of intrigue over what overseas has to offer.