A new season is upon us and with that a new group to continue scouting heading towards their selection day in June.
2015 has been a bookmarked class for a few years now as some high-end talent emerged three years ago that had us, and the industry as a whole, excited and looking forward to this season of scouting.
Europe offers plenty of intrigue, starting with defenseman Oliver Kylington of Farjestad in the Swedish League.
The thing that sticks out most to those who have seen the young defender in action is his exceptionally smooth and fluid all-encompassing skating ability. He moves just as quick forwards as he does backwards and laterally. He utilizes this talent to close quickly on defense as well as skate the puck up ice on the attack.
His skating is not where his talent stops however, as he is incredibly smart on both sides of the puck, maintains solid position and anticipates well. These smarts are what have allowed him to play in this country’s top mens league for a couple years now.
Another slick Swedish blueliner who can control a game, more so with his impressive passing, poise and mobility, is MODO’s Jesper Lindgren. While he is not a ‘skate the puck up ice every chance he gets’ type, he is one of the draft’s better passers and is willing to skate with the puck when he sees open ice. He makes accurate, crisp and strongly timed passes to his forwards as he heads a strong transition game.
Lindgren’s defensive play is also impressive as he maintains good position and his mobility allows him to stay with most attackers. He is someone who really has the ability to develop into a strong two-way NHL defender who just needs to add strength and confidence.
A couple other Swedish prospect deserve mention including big bodied left winger Filip Ahl of HV71 and left winger Jens Looke of Brynas. Also, Brynas puck stopper Felix Sandstrom is one of the top goalies in Europe and has top 50 potential.
Ahl is a hulking 6-foot-4 winger with a strong wrist shot who uses his size well to protect the puck, his balance and powerful skating stride to push his way through defenders to the net and physical play to keep his opposition in check.
Looke has been really impressive to start this season in the Swedish League producing points and making an impact. He is a playmaker who has quick hands, good vision and works hard to create offensive chances. Defensively, Looke tries to stay in position but has the size, skill and skating to be an NHL player but will never be confused with a physically imposing player like Ahl.
Sandstrom is the latest product coming through goalie guru Pekka Alcen and his goalie factory in Brynas. He is a good-sized puck stopper (6-foot-2) with a classic butterfly style, quick lateral and up/down movements and the ability to make himself look big in the crease.
Finland’s Mikko Rantanen of TPS has impressive size, strength and skill at his age and has shown flashes of domination in the men’s league. Rantanen has the ability to beat defenders with his size and decent stick-skill. He shows off a powerful shot, impressive passing skill off the rush, with the ability to create chances for others. Rantanen is tough down low, and he uses his body to earn space and win puck-control deep in the offensive zone.
Center Julius Nattinen has also looked good early this season playing for JYP teams in both the Mestis and Liiga against men twice his age. He has been able to use his size, vision and playmaking ability to produce offense at each level and also play strong on the forecheck.
Defenseman Veeti Vainio of the Espoo Blues has really been impressive both with his defensive zone play and by adding an offense element to his team attack. He is not overly big or strong but he plays with drive and good physicality in his own zone. Vainio is a good power play quarterback who handles the puck well, distributes it and can really hammer the puck especially on a one-timer chance.
Finland also has a goaltender to watch for this draft in JYP stopper Veini Vehvilainen, who impressed our evaluators early this season. His technique, mobility and consistency are remarkably strong. He is a calm, poised netminder who does not swim around in his crease, instead keeps everything in front of him and maintains good positioning and smothers rebounds.
Moving to Russia and one prospect that really impressed our guy at the Ivan Hlinka this past August was Kirill Kaprizov who has also looked amazing in the KHL for Metallurg Novokuznetsk. With limited ice he has displayed his top-notch vision, creative passing ability, quick skilled hands and fast wheels in the most competitive professional league not called the NHL.
Despite being just a shade over 5-foot-9 this game changer has been able to play with grit and even throw the odd body check when playing against his own age group as well. While he will never be considered a brute in that department, it is refreshing to see that much natural intensity.
Two Russian MHL candidates have really jumped out early as well, right wing Kirill Pilipenko of HK MVD Jr. and right wing Denis Guryanov of Ladya Togliatti, both producing offense for their respective clubs.
Pilipenko is your typical flashy puckhandling goal scorer who uses his feet as much as his hands skills and creativity to contribute on the score sheet. He is s slippery skater with excellent jump and lateral agility. He is constantly creating chances by getting himself with the puck into position and has a decent shot once there.
Guryanov is on the other end of the spectrum as he is a big-framed winger who utilizes his size and power to out-muscle opponents and his good skating stride to drive the net. He also has a very strong wrist shot and is not afraid to get his nose dirty.
One Russian defender who caught our eye early this season is Mikhail Sidorov of Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL. He is a do it all type defender with great defensive upside as he likes to use both his body and the stick to get the puck away from opposition, doesn’t let anybody go into the crease and obstruct the goalie. Sidorov is a strong skater with both speed and mobility, possesses a really good shot that is both hard and accurate and has the vision to make great passes.
The revitalized Czech Republic’s top prospect for 2015 is center Michael Spacek of Pardubice in the Czech Extraliga. He has been able to utilize a well-rounded game to contribute on both sides of the puck. Despite not being a big guy he shows good strength and willingness to use his body while also displaying good hands and ability to distribute the puck. He has also shown a quick and accurate wrist shot.
In Slovakia, big right-handed blueliner Eric Cernak has been a pleasant surprise playing a sound two-way game with Kosice in the Slovak Extraliga. He is not offensively creative and tends to utilize the safe, simple play more often than not, but with his point shot and ability to protect and eventually distribute the puck he can be a scoring threat. His size (6-foot-4) and strength (200 pounds) are impressive tools to work with in his own zone. He has produced both offensively and played solid defense so far this season.
The Swiss have a couple good draft eligible options as well but one is sticking out early with his play in the men’s league. Center Denis Malgin of ZSC in the NLA has been able to show off his creativity, quickness and impressive work ethic.