10 New Arrivals from Europe to Watch in the 2014-15 NHL Season
NHL teams import European options every season, via the draft and free agency. For fans, it's often difficult to keep track of them—some are returning from a couple of years in Europe, others are making their first sojourn into North American hockey.
This year's list is dominated by intriguing free-agent signings. Several teams are attempting to add depth and value to their current rosters by adding to the group with outside free agents. If it works, these teams will have acquired useful players at a percentage of the cost of NHL free agents.
Here are the top 10 imports for this fall from Europe and their possible impact on the 2014-15 NHL season.
10. Bogdan Yakimov, C, Edmonton Oilers
2013-14 Stats: 33 GP, 7 G, 5 A with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Bogdan Yakimov is a big center with offensive ability, and he finds himself with a team badly in need of that skill. Elite Prospects tells us about the 2013 Edmonton Oilers draft pick:
"Yakimov is a large center with a terrific set of hands. Owns great playmaking ability and vision. Is very hard to knock off the puck."
Status Entering Training Camp: The Oilers' depth chart at center might be the weakest position for any team in the NHL at this time. Yakimov comes to camp as a long shot, but that could change in a hurry with a strong performance.
9. Linus Ullmark, G, Buffalo Sabres
2013-14 Stats: 35 GP, 2.08 goals-against-average and .931 save-percentage for MODO (SHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Linus Ullmark is a big Swedish goalie with a brilliant resume going back several years. A 2012 draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres, he recently signed with the team and begins the process of moving up in the system.
Status Entering Training Camp: The Buffalo Sabres' depth chart shows plenty of options available, and Ullmark is unlikely to be an early option for the NHL team. If he continues to deliver consistent performances, Ullmark will be in the NHL sooner than later.
8. Iiro Pakarinen, RW, Edmonton Oilers
2013-14 Stats: 60 GP, 20 G, 10 A with HIFK (SM-Liiga).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Iiro Pakarinen signed with the Edmonton Oilers for 2014-15, and Elite Prospects suggests he brings size and skill:
"A large winger shooting from his right. An energetic player with good skating and a nice frame. Possesses a good sharp, wrist shot and is a solid finisher. A hard worker and versatile player."
Status Entering Training Camp: Edmonton's depth chart boasts Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and newly acquired Teddy Purcell on the right side. Iiro Pakarinen will fight the likes of Luke Gazdic, Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander for playing time in Edmonton this winter.
7. Peter Mueller, RW, St. Louis Blues
July 29, 2014: Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy reports the St. Louis Blues confirmed via Twitter they have signed Peter Mueller:
"The Blues have agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with forward Peter Mueller."
2013-14 Stats: 49 GP, 24 G, 22 A with Kloten (NLA).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Peter Mueller is a speedy winger with skill and size. The article by Greg Wyshnyski details concussion problems, and that's the only reason Mueller was outside the NHL. Based on talent, he belongs in the league.
Status Entering Training Camp: The St. Louis Blues' depth chart shows strength in all areas. Adding Mueller suggests there could be a trade in the works, as the numbers don't add up. The club will either trade a player from their roster or risk waivers this fall.
6. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins
2013-14 Stats: 36 GP, 8 G, 16 A with Sodertalje (Allsvenskan).
Why He'll Have an Impact: David Pastrnak is a solid young scoring-winger. Despite being a teenager, his ability is impressive, and his maturity as a player is obvious. The exits of Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton via free agency open up opportunities for several prospects, including Boston's recent first-round selection.
Status Entering Training Camp: The Boston Bruins signed Pastrnak in mid-July and will look at him in training camp. Mike Cole of NESN gives the details of Boston's cap situation and the opportunity in front of Pastrnak. It's going to be an interesting training camp.
5. Simon Hjalmarsson, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
2013-14 Stats: 55 GP, 27 G, 30 A with Linköping (SHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Simon Hjalmarsson is a mature winger, arriving in the NHL at age 25. Elite Prospects gives us a scouting report:
Hjalmarsson is a skilled winger who plays a very well-rounded game. He owns great overall offensive ability and instincts, and is also a hard worker. Although not terribly big, Hjalmarsson is very good along the boards and hard to knock off the puck. Plays with lots of intensity and grit.
Status Entering Training Camp: The Columbus Blue Jackets are an emerging team with some depth at the forward position. Hjalmarsson isn't a lock for the team, but the depth chart suggests there's opportunity here, and Columbus will have a long look at him this fall.
4. Petri Kontiola, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
2013-14 Stats: 53 GP, 15 G, 22 A with Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Petri Kontiola is a quality European pro who finally arrives in North America at age 29. He played almost 19 minutes a night and was very successful in the faceoff circle last season in the KHL.
Status Entering Training Camp: The Toronto Maple Leafs' depth chart received a makeover this summer, and Kontiola could be an important piece. His two-way ability means he can move up and down the lineup as needed during the season.
3. Jori Lehtera, C, St. Louis Blues
2013-14 Stats: 48 GP, 12 G, 32 A with Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Jori Lehtera arrives in the NHL at age 26, with an outstanding resume. Elite Prospects has very nice things to say about him:
A creative and highly skilled center. Strong with the puck, has a good shot and great vision. A reliable faceoff-man and talented playmaker who often utilizes the back of the net to open lanes and create room in the offensive zone.
Status Entering Training Camp: The St. Louis Blues' depth chart is among the strongest in the NHL. There are precious few European free agents who could sign with the Blues this summer and be a contender for regular duty. Lehtera is one of them.
2. Leo Komarov, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
2013-14 Stats: 52 GP, 12 G, 22 A with Moscow Dynamo (KHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Leo Komarov played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012-13 and is back for a second tour of duty. His impressive offense in the KHL—including half of his goals on the power play—suggests he will take on a larger offensive role this time.
Status Entering Training Camp: Toronto has added several forwards who are likely to make the opening night roster during the summer. Komarov is signed to a lucrative, long-term deal, but it's a guess at this point where he'll line up opening night.
1. Jiri Sekac, C, Montreal Canadiens
2013-14 Stats: 47 GP, 11 G, 17 A with HC Lev Praha (KHL).
Why He'll Have an Impact: Katie Flynn of the Score writes about Jiri Sekac and quotes TSN's Bob McKenzie on the player:
"This is a guy that's in great demand. Six-foot-two, 190-pound left winger who many believe is ready to step in NHL ready."
Status Entering Training Camp: The Montreal Canadiens won the Sekac sweepstakes, and he fits well on their depth chart. He'll have to earn a spot in the lineup, but this is a nice fit for player and team. If he ends up playing with skilled forwards like Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher, Sekac could post strong offensive numbers.