NHL Draft 2011: Top 8 European Players Available and Where They'll Go

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJune 20, 2011

NHL Draft 2011: Top 8 European Players Available and Where They'll Go

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    Blue Chip blueline prospect Adam Larsson.
    Blue Chip blueline prospect Adam Larsson.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    There have been some rumblings that the 2011 NHL Draft could eventually be as good as the one we saw in 2003.  Players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Adam Larsson have NHL scouts drooling over their skill sets, and have fans imagining how they could look for their favorite squad in the coming years.

    While the comparisons to 2003 are very premature, taking a look at the top 60 players available makes it clear that the draft definitely has  the potential to be a strong one.  There are several high-end North American prospects, and things are no different across the pond.

    Europe offers an intriguing number of options for NHL teams in the first two rounds.  While there are still some high risk, high reward picks that are traditionally linked to Euro skaters, the number of high quality and differing talent in this draft is solid.

    Here are eight of the best European players available, and where they could end up.

    This slideshow wouldn't be possible without the outstanding scouting services presented by thescoutingreport.org, thn.com, and redlinereport.com.

Adam Larsson

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    BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 03: Adam Larsson #5 of Sweden skates against Russia during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Semi Final game between Sweden and Russia on January 3, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. Russia won 4-3 and faces Canada in the gold medal game
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    As the No. 1 ranked European skater, Adam Larsson is the total package on the blueline and should see his name go up on the big board within the first three or four picks.

    He has great size, standing at 6'3'', and weighing 200 pounds already.  Larsson isn't afraid to use that size, and has been known to play the body when the time is appropriate.  This physical edge to his game has drawn comparisons to Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    His strongest asset is his skating, and he is widely considered the best skater available in this draft.

    Larsson entered the Elite League in Sweden when he was only 16 years old—only the third player to make their debut before their 17th birthday.  As such, he has plenty of experience playing amongst older, more experienced players and carried himself well in this setting.

    Playing through two World Junior Championships, he scored four points in six games during both years of competition.  Larsson also played for Sweden in the 2010 U-18 World Championships, and was named the best defensemen in the tourney as he scored three points en route to a silver medal.

    While he was ranked as the No. 1 prospect overall coming into the year, a disappointing season has dropped him to a top-five ranking.  While he is an outstanding skater, he has shown that he needs to work on his puck carrying skills to fully utilize his skating talent.

    With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins an apparent lock for the Oilers at pick number one, and Gabriel Landeskog almost surely heading to Colorado at number two, Larsson should be heading to Florida or New Jersey.  I just can't see him slipping all the way to the Islanders at number five.

    Jonathan Huberdeau may be too good for the Panthers to pass up, and I think that this will be the case.

    I see the New Jersey Devils getting a total steal here, plucking a could-be first overall guy with the number four pick. 

Mika Zibanejad

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    People don't necessarily think power forward then looking at Swedish prospects—Mika Zibanejad could change that.

    At 6'2'', Zibanejad is very difficult to knock off the puck, and he uses his size to prevent defenders from making plays on his stick.  He doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game; instead, he embraces it and plays with a physical edge. 

    Zibanejad doesn't mind mucking it out in the dirty areas, loves to scrap for the puck, and will drive to the net whenever he gets the chance.  In one word Zibanejad is a battler

    Considering how often you will watch a team and think to yourself that they are just missing a talented heart and guts guy, this is a player who should be a sought after commodity on draft day.

    Posses a heavy and quick shot, and understands his role defensively—a valuable attribute for a top line center at the NHL level.

    While he has the attitude, drive, and skill set to make an impact in the pros, Zibanejad could stand to get a little quicker in his top gears, and at times can get a little too emotional.  But the passion for the game is there, and this is a player where attitude coaching won't be needed.

    A guy can always strap a parachute to his back to increase his speed.  You can't do the same thing to a player's will to win.

    Zibanejad started the season off at the Junior level, but after scoring 21 points in 27 games he was given a shot to stick with the big club.  He did just that, notching 5 goals and 4 helpers in 26 games. 

    He probably won't go in the top five, as there are too many skilled guys ahead of him in the rankings, but it's tough to see him falling passed the Wild at No. 10.  I've seen Zibanejad sliding down as far as pick 15 (the Rangers), but he'd need to pass up teams like Ottawa at 6, Winnipeg at 7, Minnesota at 10, and even Calgary at 13 that could use his particular skill set.

    I say he ends up going to the Wild at 10, where his size and completeness could quickly make an impact for a team that is hurting for offense.  The Blue Jackets could also make a play for him at No. 8, but it would mean passing on a player like Sean Couturier or Ryan Strome, which may not be likely.

Joel Armia

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    BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26:  Joel Armia #20 of Finland carries the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group A game between USA and Finland on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Standing at 6'3'', Armia is big for a winger.  While he may need to fill out his frame—he only weights 191 pounds—the possibility is there to have an impressive, imposing force on the right side.

    Armia is a shoot-first finisher that is comfortable dishing the puck as well.  He has plenty of creativity in the offensive zone, and is hard to strip the puck from.  As he gets bigger Armia will only be more capable at controlling plays in the slot, and will be able to make better shot selections.

    As it stands now though, he is capable of getting off hard, accurate shots while maneuvering and in traffic—a plus at this stage of the game.

    Like many offensive players his age, Armia needs to gain consistency if he is to reach his full potential in the NHL.  He can take a game over with his size and stellar skill set, but this is only when he is fully engaged by carrying and maintaining the puck for several shifts in a row.

    If he goes a few shifts without a scoring chance, or seeing much time in the offensive zone while in control he can go cold, and check out mentally.  As such, Armia's play away from the puck must improve for him to live up to his talent.

    While he is considered a "project" type player who needs good coaching to bring him further along, the high end offensive skills that he brings along with his stature will be too good for teams to pass up in the 10 to 15 range.

    Teams looking for an immediate impact guy will more than likely shy away from Armia earlier in the draft, but look for Carolina at the 12 spot, or Dallas at number 14 to scoop this kid up.

Oscar Klefbom

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    Another one of several Swedish defenders who could get picked in the first round, Oscar Klefbom has the makings of a steady, physical NHL defensemen.

    As a 6'3'', 201-pound 17-year-old, Klefbom already has the size and presence needed to make the jump to the NHL level.  Where several other picks have the sheer offensive skill, but not the same size, Klefbom has more of the latter.

    While he may not be the offensive powerhouse, or power play quarter back that some teams may be looking for in the first round, he is a steady and physical player that may be attractive to some other squads.  He is already a minute-munching blueliner, and has some intangibles that make him attractive.

    The big draw for Klefbom is his passion and ability to naturally lead on the ice.  Some players have this trait, and others don't.  It's unteachable, and he is dripping with the passion and steadiness that some of the better Captains in the NHL posses.

    He wore the C for the Swedes in the U-18 tourney in Germany.

    Klefbom plays with a lot of fire, and as such can take a bad penalty from time to time.  The read on him is that trying to coach him down from this would negatively effect his game.  Teams looking for a big body on the blueline that can lead, and be a calming presence on the ice will be itching to call Klefbom's name.

    The lack of offensive edge may end up keeping him off the board until the second round, as a lot of rankings don't have him going in the first.  But I think he'd fit in wonderfully in the defense first, score by committee system in Phoenix.  This is a team with several offensive players ready to take charge up front, and the already solid D could use some bolstering.

    If he slips passed 20, then he may go in the early second round.  But maybe a team like the Red Wings end up taking a shot with the blueliner as well.

Jonas Brodin

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    Like his partner in Klefbom, Jonas Brodin is very solid in his own end.  While he is tall enough (6'1'') to hold his own at the NHL level, his weight of 165 pounds may be a bit too slight for the liking of some at the draft.

    When reading about Brodin, however, some of the better defenders in the league came to mind.

    The read on him is that he doesn't stand out much because he doesn't make mistakes or flashy plays—I couldn't even find a video of him.  There are worse things than there not being any footage of a defensemen booking it back to his own zone to break up a play.

    Brodin possesses outstanding hockey sense, and rarely gives up the puck when making choices in transition.  It isn't very often you see him walling the puck out of harm's way.  He skates horizontally very well, and uses that speed and agility to open up passing lanes that weren't there before.

    He is scouted as being a very quick thinker that doesn't buckle under the pressure of forecheckers.

    Brodin doesn't have a particular standout skill such as his speed, acceleration, shot, or power play prowess, but is a very well rounded defender with a rocket for a shot that helps his team hold onto the puck.  The lack of offense that holds Klefbom out of the top end of the first round may also keep Brodin back as well, but with so many tools in the belt there is no way he makes it out of the top 20.

    He'll likely slide between 12 and 17, going to the Flames who could use help on the blueline, Buffalo, or Montreal.

Dmitri Jaskin

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    Dmitri Jaskin is one of the more interesting cases out of the top players available.

    He was a guy ranked in the top 25 before an untimely knee injury kept him out of the prime scouting periods in the WJC as well as the Five Nations in February.  Couple that with a rough season and an average showing at the U-18 and he has fallen out of grace with some scouts.

    He isn't the traditional European player, as his speed is his biggest question mark.  But he brings a lot of jam to the table, and is at his best in the slot in traffic.  He defends the puck well, and uses his size to his advantage.

    Jaskin also doesn't shy away from landing big hits in the offensive zone, and over the course of the game this can cause those blueliners to rush their choices with the puck.  Anticipates and sees the plays in front of him very well, and makes crisp passes.

    He has good hands in close to the net, and looks for tips and deflections in front of the net.  Very instinctive, and has a nose for the cage.

    Jaskin also likes to play in all three zones, understanding his role defensively in the neutral and defensive zones.

    Sounds like a first-rounder to me.

    While he has several question marks, his overall skill set will entice a team in the late first round to pick him up.  Picks 25 through 30 could go to Jaskin.  A team like the Capitals could roll the dice on him, as they have enough depth up front to give him some more time to develop his speed.

    It may be just me, but I think that he sounds like a Brian Burke kind of player.  The Leafs have picks 25 and 29, and could use one of them on this tough, down-low specialist.  If not, look for him to come off the board very early in the second round at the latest.

Nikita Kucherov

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    For a guy who wasn't on the first round radar at the beginning of the year, Nikita Kucherov sure made a name for himself in the WJCs.  A 21-point performance in seven games is sure to catch anybodies attention.  He shredded the competition, and shot up the charts with his performance while being named the best forward in the tourney.

    Proving it wasn't a flash in the pan couple of games, he put up 58 points (27 goals and 31 helpers) in the MHL during the season.  He even spent a little bit of time in the KHL, putting up two assists in nine games.

    That's a pretty good year for a guy who was formally projected at the outer realm of the top 50 skaters available.

    Kucherov can take games over with his speed, vision, dangling ability, and capability to do all these things at top speed.  He is an elusive skater who possesses a deftness when it comes to slipping by defenders undetected.  And if he does draw the attention of defenders, it seems like he is quickly forgotten.

    He scores a lot of his goals from close within the net, despite his unimpressive size (6'1'', 165 pounds).  The right winger is also a slick passer, and idolizes Pavel Datsyuk for the way he controls the play with his slick skating and puck control.

    And it's obvious that Kucherov has emulated the fellow Russian.

    He isn't projected to go in the first round, but he could again go to a team in the bottom of the first round who are not in immediate need of help up front.  Detroit could be a great fit for the guy, obviously, due to their contingent of European skaters.  As could Washington.

    Whoever lands the guy will have an excellent prospect that could blossom with the proper coaching and influences.  While Kucherov is billed as an inconsistent forward, overcoming that will lead him to a top six role in the NHL.

Victor Rask

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    Talk about a downward spiral.

    Victor Rask was considered a top-15 pick heading into this season.  However he appears to have developed attitude problems that has caused him to fall from grace with scouts.  Upon losing ice time he appeared to lose his edge mentally, causing his game to slip.

    Rask had five points in six WJC games, and put up 11 points in 37 contests for Allsveskan.  He posses an outstanding shot, along with awesome size and vision and he should end up going in the top 50. 

    Considering his age, he'll make a good long term project for a squad with a pick to botch.  But with the promise Rask has shown, it's hard to believe that he won't pan out as at least a third or fourth line center.  It's hard to determine where he'll end up, but because of his skill level and previous standing, he had to be on this list.