The European talent pool overall has been down over the last couple of years in my opinion, while the USHL and USNTDP have both strengthen. This year I think we could see a European invasion in first round. Kasperi Kapanen, Willie Nylander, and Jakub Vrana are the top three Euro’s for this draft right now. Do two of the names sound familiar? Kasperi is the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen and Willie’s Dad is former NHLer Michael Nyalnder. The neat thing about Kapanen and Nylander is both skate alongside their father’s for their respected teams. Not many draft prospects can say that. Overall, there are five players who should go in the first round with the potential to be as many as nine.
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1. Kasperi Kapanen (LW) KalPa (SM-liiga)
Kapanen is the number one European prospect currently for the draft. I have him ranked at number one because he skates a regular shift in the Finnish Elite League. He’s a pure sniper like his father was, but hands down a better overall player and scorer than Sami. He’s a competitive, all-around player who is proficient in all three zones. He’s going to suit up for Finland at the 2014 World Juniors in Malmo and should be Finland’s top player. Kapanen had eight points, including five goals, for bronze medal-winning Finns at the 2013 U-18’s in Sochi. I think he’s a star in the making. He should be a top ten pick.
2. William Nylander (C/RW) Rogle BK (Allsvenskan)
Nylander has breathtaking ability with the puck and thrives in offensive zone and maybe the best pure skater in the draft. He has incredible agility and can change pace like it’s nothing. He’s a confident player who is always looking to set up his linemates, reminiscent of Nick Backstrom in Washington. He does needs work in his own zone though. Like I’ve said multiple times it’s rare to find a young player who is exceptionally skilled in his own end. Adding some muscle to his 5’11, 169 pound frame should be a priority. Nylander did have two goals, three points in five games for Sweden at the 2013 U-18s. He was born in Calgary, but plays in Sweden’s Allsvenskan. He moved from Sodertalje to Modo before being shipped to Rogle on a loan, so he could play with his father. As nice as that maybe, I think it will hurt him come draft time. I would like to see him move to the SHL one day and play against top competition. It should be noted that Nylander was drafted by Avangard Omsk 60th overall in 2013 KHL draft and the Chicago Steel of the USHL owns his rights. He’ll be in consideration to be a top 10 pick for the draft and possibly top five.
3. Jakub Vrana (RW/LW) Linkopings (SHL)
The Czech-born Vrana played in the Swedish Elite League last year, which I see as a good sign because he played against men. He’s a gifted offensive player who has an excellent shot with a quick release. I like that he can handle the puck in traffic and that he’s sound in his own zone. He has a ton of international experience and thrived at the 2013 U-18’s where he registered two goals. He projects as scoring winger similar to his countrymen Jakub Voracek. Vrana was selected 23rd overall by Sibir Novosibirsk in the 2013 KHL draft. He could sneak into the top seven, but I see him somewhere in the 8-13 range come June.
4. Adrian Kempe (C) MoDo (SHL)
Kempe is a solid two-way forward who should be a first-round pick in June. He had six goals and 13 points in 39 games with Modo’s junior team last season. He’s a very strong skater along the boards and I like his size at 6’1, 187 pounds. Kempe does have outstanding speed as well. The interesting thing about Adrian is he’s one of the youngest 2014 draft eligible players. He was born on September 13, 1996, which is only two days before the 2014 eligibility cutoff. He was listed as an “A” skater for the International Ones to Watch list but I will be up to Kempe to produce and remain there as an “A” skater. He’s a young player with size and strength. He’s going to need time to mature but I believe he’ll be a real gem for some NHL team. He was selected by the Barrie Colts in the CHL import draft so that maybe something to keep an eye on.
5. David Pastrnak (RW) Sodertalje (Allsvenskan)
The Czech-born winger had 12 goals, for 29 points in 36 games for Sodertalje’s junior team last season. He also had one goal and two points in five games for the Czechs at the 2013 U-18’s. Pastrnak is a mobile winger with a high-end skill set who can dazzle with the puck. Like Kempe, he should be a first-round pick but only time will tell. He should make the 2014 Czech World Junior squad and will be a member of the Czech under-20 team at the Four Nations tournament in Moscow. I’m interested to see how progresses throughout the year.
6. Oskar Lindblom (RW) Brynas J20 (Superelit-SWE)
There has been lots of chatter recently about Oskar Lindblom and his potential to be a top 10 pick come June. Last year, Lindblom posted and impressive 20 goals, 21 assists for 42 points in 22 games as a 16-year old for Brynas’ U-18 team. I’ll admit I don’t know much about him but I do know he’s a dominant international player. He was the best player at last year’s U-17 championships leading the tourney in goals (8) and points (13). He’s still growing at 6’2, 187 pounds and possesses an all-around excellent game. From what I hear he’s creative and exceptional on the powerplay. He is this year’s Alex Wennberg, which means he’ll rise due to his age and international experience. Lindblom very well could be the third European off the board behind Kapanen and Nylander.
7. Anton Karlsson (RW) Frolunda J20 (SuperElit-SWE)
Karlsson is a player who excels in every facet of the game. He’s just as effective without the puck as he is with it. He skates well and has showed to make others around him better. Anton has a nasty wrist shot and is physical on the forecheck. He still needs some seasoning but he should be a second round pick, possibly late-first round. He has no relation to Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. However, he does have a brother named Erik who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2012.
8. Adam Ollas Mattsson (D) Djurgarden J20 (Superelit-SWE)
The only defenseman to crack my top 10 list, Mattsson is big kid at 6’4, 209 pounds. He’s a good puck handler and has the ability to make quick accurate passes to forwards. His long reach and sound positioning makes him an effective player. He blocks shots, closes off lanes, and can run you over. He’s Nicklas Grossmann part deux. Nothing seems to fluster him. Right now he’s in the 27-34 range and that’s probably where he’ll stay.
9. Kappo Kahkonen (G) Espoo Blues Jr. (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Many European scouts believe Kappo Kahkonen is the next great Finnish goaltender. He has good size at 6’1, 209 pounds and has excellent flexibility and athleticism. Kahkonen first made an impression at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He didn’t have the greatest numbers (3.45 GAA and .881 save percentage), but showed flashes of dominance. Last year with Espoo, Kahkonen posted a 2.43 GAA and .917 save percentage. Many European observers believe he’ll get a crack in SM-liiga this season. He was listed as a “B” goalie on the One’s to Watch list, but then again there were no “A” goalies listed. He goes into the season as the number one euro goalie prospect. He’s on the cusp of being a first-round pick, but I think more exposure to NHL scouts will help his stock.
10. Lucas Wallmark (C) Luluea (SHL)
After being passed over in the 2013 NHL Draft, Lucas Wallmark is playing with a chip on his shoulder this season. He’s currently on loan from Luluea of the SHL to Asplöven in the Allsvenskan. Wallmark is a gifted playmaker who has high-end hockey sense and vision. He’s a smart player with good faceoff skills and is excellent in his own zone. The biggest problem with Wallmark is his lack of speed and acceleration. That’s a major reason why he was passed over last year. He’s a second to third round pick this year.
*Note this list does not include European players such as Rihards Bukarts, Nikolaj Ehlers, Maxim Lazarev, Juraj Siska, Ivan Nikolishin, and Phil Baltisberger who were selected in the CHL Import Draft and will play this season in North America. This list is strictly for those players who are playing in Europe this season. This list is subject to change as the year progresses.