Here are some of my thoughts about 20+ European prospects that I’ve been watching lately.
When I wrote the Deep Dive of Anton Lundell (2020), he was stuck on HIFK’s third line. Since then, he’s been promoted to the top line and he’s been one of the best players on the team. Things are right on track for him to become a top five pick next summer. Lundell will be a top player for Finland at the World Juniors, and I’m confident he’ll be NHL ready next season.
Finland has never produced a first overall draft pick. Russia has three. The Czechs and Swedes have two. Even Switzerland has one. Finland has zero. That could very well change in 2021. Center Aatu Räty (2021) has been the front-runner for first overall in the 2021 NHL Draft for about a year now – pretty much since he was first promoted to the U20 league. Less than a year from that, Räty has already made his debut in the Liiga, and he has four points in his first four games. At age 16.
Räty has all the tools to become an excellent number one center in the NHL. He has very good size already now, and he will add more muscle to his frame. He’s an excellent skater who drives the play and dictates the pace even at the men’s level. He has a great shot and excellent hands. His defensive play is the only weakness in his game right now but that’s only because he’s playing against men at such a young age – his defensive play is actually good when he’s playing against his peers. Räty will be a top player for Finland at the U18 Worlds but even before that, he could represent the country at the U20 World Juniors.
Goalie Justus Annunen (COL) is playing his rookie season in the Liiga, and he’s had an amazing start so far. The 19-year-old Finn is battling for starts on the Kärpät team with 25-year-old Czech Patrik Rybar (DET), and there’s no winner in that battle right now because both goalies have been excellent. Annunen has a .952 save percentage in five games, and he’s already had two shutouts. Annunen will be Finland’s number one goalie at the World Juniors, and he is arguably Colorado’s top goalie prospect.
Annunen may be a bit of a sleeper but he really shouldn’t be. At 6-foot-4, he has that perfect modern day goalie size. He also had great pedigree. At age 17, he won the “Best Goalie” award in the Finnish U20 league, and he also backstopped the Finns to a gold medal at the U18 Worlds. At age 18, he had a successful rookie season at the pro level, playing in the Mestis – although with pretty average results. And now, at age 19, he’s a full-time Liiga goalie. He may not be a top 10 goalie prospect right now but could definitely be one when this season is over.
Winger Matias Maccelli (ARZ) has had a great start to his rookie season in the Liiga. His transition from the USHL to the pro level in Finland has been going perfectly. He missed some games because of injury but has seven points in six games which gives him the best points-per-game average on his team. He also scored a weird goal on a penalty shot – this has caused quite the controversy as expected.
Czech defenseman Jakub Galvas (CHI) moved to play in Finland this season, and he’s quickly become the number one defenseman for Jukurit in the Liiga. Galvas’ seven points in nine games leads the team, and he’s averaging 23:08 of ice time. His strong play has been part of the reason why Mikko Kokkonen (TOR) has been playing in the junior league this season despite spending most of last season in the Liiga.
Defenseman Kim Nousiainen (LAK) has been given a huge role on the KalPa team as he plays on their top pair and also on their top power play unit. His point totals (two in nine) don’t reflect how well he’s played, partly because KalPa has had big problems with scoring. After the team starts scoring more, Nousiainen will be a rising prospect. He’s also expected to play a top-four role for Finland at the World Juniors. Remember the name if you want a sleeper prospect.
Winger Patrik Puistola (CAR) is getting the absolute opposite of Nousiainen’s usage. Puistola plays for Tappara which is the top team in the Liiga right now, and he’s only averaging about eight minutes of ice time per game. Tappara’s head coach is known for favouring veteran players over youngsters, so I’m not expecting Puistola’s usage to improve much. Puistola already destroyed the Mestis level last season, so I’m not really hoping for a loan there either. I’m actually hoping they do the same thing they did to Kristian Tanus last season, meaning loan him to another Liiga team. It doesn’t happen often but it has happened before.
17-year-old defenseman Topi Niemelä (2020) surprised a lot of people when he cracked the Kärpät roster to start the season. Kärpät is one of the top teams in the league, and it’s very rare for such a young defenseman to be able to handle himself at the top level. But Niemelä hasn’t looked out of place at all. He’s been playing his usual game, and even though he sometimes makes mistakes, he looks like he belongs. At this point, Niemelä becoming a first round pick is not out of the question at all.
Besides Räty and Niemelä, the only other under-18 player in the Liiga this season is Roni Hirvonen (2020). Hirvonen is a natural center but has been playing the wing so far in his rookie season. I interviewed him last week, so check it out if you want to learn more: Interview: 2020 NHL Draft prospect Roni Hirvonen.
15-year-old forward Brad Lambert (2022) has seven points in his last five games in the top U20 league in Finland. He might be the most talented prospect Finland has produced in its history. In most drafts, he would be a shoo-in for first overall. But the 2022 NHL Draft is stacked at the top with both Matthew Savoie and Shane Wright also completely worth the top spot. It’s going to be an incredible top three.
17-year-old goalie Joel Blomqvist (2020) has lost just one of his ten Jr. A SM-liiga games this season. He’s the number one goalie for the top team in the league. His .936 save percentage is incredible and leads the league by a wide margin. Blomqvist will be Finland’s number one goalie at the U18 Worlds.
17-year-old center Juuso Mäenpää (2020) leads the Finnish junior league in points with 20 in 13 games. Mäenpää is an excellent skater with high-end speed and quickness. In addition to his offensive skills, he’s also a pretty good defensive player. Despite all that, some are wondering if he even gets drafted because of his 5-foot-7 frame. I have him ranked as a late third round pick right now.
Winger Tuukka Tieksola (CAR) is a dominant player at the junior level, and he’s basically doing whatever he wants there. He has 12 points in seven games and has nothing more to learn from juniors. The problem is that Kärpät has an excellent team at the Liiga level. Tieksola is also the type of player who needs an offensive role, and he’s also lacking the type of strength needed at the Liiga level. It will be interesting to see what happens but a loan to Mestis may not be a bad idea – it would be a step up from the junior level but a place where he gets to use his strengths.
Another player too good for the junior level? Antti Tuomisto (DET). He has 15 points in 13 games. And he’s a defenseman. Tuomisto has been good enough to play at the Liiga level for almost a year now but he has to decline those opportunities because he wants to go to NCAA next season, and he would lose that eligibility if he played any pro games.
Another prospect in a similar situation as Tuomisto is winger Veeti Miettinen (2020) who is committed to St. Cloud State University. I have him ranked in the second round for next summer’s draft.
In case you’re wondering, Tuomisto has not committed to a college yet. The way he’s playing, every single one of them should be after him at this point.
Slovakian defenseman Samuel Knazko (2020) is playing his second season in Finland. He had a rough start to the season, starting as the seventh defenseman even though he had played a regular role on the team already last season. But his usage has definitely improved since then, and now he has 11 points in 14 games, and he has a four-game point streak right now.
19-year-old defenseman Nils Lundkvist (NYR) is the leading U23 scorer in the SHL right now. His seven points in eight games is also fourth-best among defensemen in the entire league. Lundkvist is not a flashy player but he’s extremely smart and a very good puck-mover. He should be a top player for Sweden at the World Juniors.
Because of how smart and smooth Lundkvist is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he started the 2020-2021 season with the Rangers. Every team in the NHL wants to have players like him on their blue line which is why Ville Heinola (WPG) and Tobias Björnfot (LAK) cracked NHL rosters at age 18 and Rasmus Sandin (TOR) at age 19. The NHL is not afraid to use teenaged defensemen anymore, even when they only have average size. All four defensemen are about 5-foot-11, and they were drafted between 20th and 29th overall. It’s only a matter of time before players like them start to get drafted in the top 15 or even top 10.
Winger Alexander Holtz (2020) received a three-game suspension for what was considered to be a dangerous hit to the head. I watched the replays very carefully, and I’m not really sure if he actually hit the head or not. He was only given a two-minute minor during the game but the SHL decided to review the play afterwards nonetheless. Holtz has been playing a top-six role for Djurgården, and he’s been playing very well. He has three goals and four points in eight games.
Winger Lucas Raymond (2020) has been playing a bottom-six role in the SHL so far but it won’t take long before he forces Frölunda to give him more ice time. Raymond has three points in eight games. He’s been improving and getting slightly more ice time, so it’s only a matter of time before he explodes offensively.
The third top ten prospect out of Sweden, winger Noel Gunler (2020), has been stuck either on the fourth line or as the 13th forward for Luleå. Gunler was sent down to the junior club for Sunday’s game, and he showed why he’s too good to play there anymore by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the game. If Luleå isn’t going to give him more ice time, I would love to see him loaned to an Allsvenskan team so that he could play a top-six role against men.
Goalie Jesper Wallstedt (2021) is having a bounce-back season in the SuperElit. He was awesome in that league already at age 15 but wasn’t as good at age 16. Now that he’s turning 17, he looks better than ever and sports a .925 save percentage in six games. If things go as planned, Wallstedt should spend his draft season at the men’s level, either in the SHL or Allsvenskan. We are likely going to see back-to-back top ten goalie selections when Yaroslav Askarov (2020) goes there next summer and Wallstedt one year after that.
Giant 6-foot-7 winger Elmer Söderblom (DET) is an intriguing prospect. Even though he is huge, he plays a skill game. He’s a very good skater for someone his size, and he has good puck-skills as well. His 11 points in eight games lead the team, and he’s already matched his goal total (nine) from last season when he played 44 games. His tools were always going to get him drafted – I was actually a bit surprised he wasn’t drafted until 159th overall because that’s a rare combination to have – but I didn’t expect him to start producing so much so quickly.
Kirill Kaprizov (MIN) leads the KHL in goals and points. He has 10 goals and 18 points in 14 games. The Wild will be happy to add him to their top-six next season.
Russian winger Alexander Daryin (ARZ) was a surprise pick in the fourth round as an overager this past summer. But every time I’ve watched his Loko team, it’s easy to see why the Coyotes wanted to make sure they secure his rights. His game is still very raw, even at the junior level, which is obviously a concern since he’s already 19 years old but his excellent skating ability combined with amazing hands and vision makes him a threat every time he’s on the ice. He’s a good sleeper for ultra-deep fantasy hockey leagues. For shallower leagues, he’s worth monitoring.
Germany’s prospect production has exploded lately. After producing first round picks Dominik Bokk (CAR) and Moritz Seider (DET), they have another top ten pick coming up in Tim Stützle (2020). Stützle is an offensive forward with excellent skating ability. He’s an excellent passer and owns a great shot as well. He’s a natural center but has been playing wing in the DEL – like many teenagers do in pro leagues. He has eight points in nine games while averaging 16:42 of ice time per game.
But Stützle is not even the only under-18 player in the DEL right now – John-Jason Peterka (2020) and Lukas Reichel (2020) are also playing there and playing very well. Peterka has four points in nine games while averaging 10:19. Reichel has five points in eight games while averaging 13:59. Peterka and Reichel may not get to the first round but they’re definitely going to be drafted, and they could get good draft numbers as well.
Stützle, Peterka and Reichel are all likely going to play a big role for Germany at the U20 World Juniors. Add Seider, Bokk, and Justin Schütz (FLA) to the mix, and you have an interesting team. You can also create quite the power play unit from those six guys. That’s definitely a team to watch.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of NHL.com