Top 10 European prospects for 2008

By Kevin Hopson

Once again, this year’s top European prospects for the NHL Entry Draft primarily consist of Russian and Swedish players. However, Swiss defenseman Roman Josi is moving up the ranks and could be in the mix on draft day.   How high they are all taken will depend on the outlook for getting them to move to North America in the absence of an IIHF transfer agreement.

1. Nikita Filatov, RW (CSKA 3, Russia)

Filatov remains the consensus top prospect outside of North America and has been compared to fellow Russian Maxim Afinogenov because of his speed and skating abilities. Though Filatov possesses flexible hands and astute vision, which allow him to find teammates and feed them the puck, he is more of a goal scorer than a true set-up man. Filatov’s small build, offensive-minded play and lack of experience in Russia’s Super League continue to be concerns, however.

To Filatov’s credit, he is still filling out his frame and has shown defensive awareness at times, thus disputing his label as a one-dimensional player. Additionally, Filatov performed extremely well at U-18 and U-20 international tournaments during the 2007-08 season, compiling 32 points and posting a +11 rating in just 21 games. As a result, Filatov has proven that he can compete with the best junior players in the world. Since he speaks fluent English and has expressed interest in playing in North America, NHL teams are more likely to take a chance on him.

2. Kirill Petrov, RW (Kazan, Russia)

Petrov has shown mixed results in Russia, as he put up lackluster numbers last season with Ak Bars Kazan but excelled at the 2008 U-18 World Junior Championships. In Super League play, Petrov only registered 13 points in 55 games with Ak Bars Kazan during the 2007-08 season. However, he dominated at the WJC by recording seven points in six games. Petrov also came away with the “Best Forward” award and was named to the WJC All-Star Team.

This disparity in Petrov’s results is primarily due to the different levels of play. For example, Petrov competes against older players in the Russian Super League, which means he is out-muscled despite his strong physique. When playing against opponents his own age, however, Petrov imposes his will and physically overpowers them. His NHL build is just one thing that attracts the scouts. Petrov also possesses quality stick-handling skills and skating abilities. Though he needs to work on his play in the defensive end and improve his distribution game, Petrov has the skill set to develop into a consistent power forward at the NHL level. 

3. Mattias Tedenby, LW (HV 71, Sweden)

Despite his small frame, Tedenby likes to play with a chip on his shoulder, which makes opponents think twice about trying to intimidate him. Not only does Tedenby play bigger than his size, but he also utilizes his quick feet and slick puck-moving abilities to outmaneuver opponents and create quality scoring chances. Tedenby possesses a goal-scorer’s touch but he can set up teammates just as easily. 

After putting up stellar numbers in Sweden’s top junior league during the first half of the 2007-08 season, Tedenby was promoted to the Swedish Elite League, where he helped his club team HV 71 win the league championship. At the international level, Tedenby was named to the 2008 U-18 WJC All-Star Team after tallying eight points in six games. Overall, Tedenby registered 18 points in 14 games with the U-18 team last season, which was a team high.

4. Erik Karlsson, D (Frolunda, Sweden)

Karlsson is very similar to Tedenby in that he is undersized but plays with an edge. Also, much like Tedenby, Karlsson is an agile skater and an effective mover of the puck. Karlsson, however, is a defenseman. As a result, his ability to transition and distribute the puck makes him a quality power-play quarterback.

Along with Tedenby, Karlsson was part of the U-18 team that won the Junior World Cup in 2007. Additionally, Karlsson was the top-scoring defenseman at the 2008 U-18 WJC and posted a +8 rating, which was a tournament high. This performance won Karlsson the “Best Defenseman” award.

5. Anton Gustafsson, C (Frolunda, Sweden)

Gustafsson is a solid all-around player. As a center, he possesses the necessary foot speed and shooting accuracy to be effective in the attacking zone. However, his physical play, natural instincts and strong work ethic make him a quality contributor in all three zones.

Though Gustafsson has played only one game in the Swedish Elite League and does not have the international experience that Tedenby and Karlsson both possess, he has made strides in the country’s top junior league. For example, after registering eight points in 26 games with Frolunda during the 2006-07 season, Gustafsson raised his output during the 2007-08 season, tallying 32 points in 33 games. Gustafsson also acts as an assistant captain for Frolunda.

6. Roman Josi, D (Bern, Switzerland)

Josi may not be a household name in North America, or even Europe for that matter, but the Swiss definitely know who he is. Though he is not exceptional at any one thing, Josi is capable of contributing in many different ways. For example, his solid passing game and effective slap-shot can be utilized on the power play, while his defensive coverage is an asset on the penalty kill. Above all, it is his poise on the ice that sticks out, as he does not get rattled under pressure.

During the 2007-08 season with Bern of the Swiss National League-A (NLA), Josi registered eight points in 35 games. While these numbers may seem unimpressive, it was his first full year at the top-tier stage. As a result, Josi’s output should increase as he becomes more comfortable with the level of play. His best showing came at the 2008 U-18 WJC, where he recorded five points in six games and led the team in assists.

7. Viktor Tikhonov, RW (Cherepovets, Russia)

Tikhonov is the grandson of the famous Russian ice hockey coach Viktor Vasilevich Tikhonov. He is also a 20-year -old who was passed over in last year’s draft. Talent wise, Tikhonov is a well-built winger who can do it all. Though his skating needs work, Tikhonov is capable of moving the puck, battling along the boards and throwing checks on a regular basis. He also has a good head on his shoulders and will commit in the defensive end, which makes him an effective two-way player.

Tikhonov won a bronze medal with the Russian U-20 team at the 2008 WJCs, where he finished the seven-game tournament with seven points and was named “Best Forward.” This performance, coupled with his experience in the Russian Super League, should make him one of the top European prospects in this year’s draft. Tikhonov actually grew up playing hockey in California before moving back to Russia, so his transition to North America would likely be a smooth one. 

8. Vyacheslav Voinov, D (Chelyabinsk, Russia)

Voinov is one of those players a scout may look at and say, “He is good but nothing special.” However, this line of thinking can actually be complimentary to a player, as consistency sometimes goes unnoticed. In other words, Voinov is not an overly flashy player, but he has proven to be dependable in his own end. He is also capable of contributing on the power play given his effective point shot and quarterbacking skills.

Most of Voinov’s scoring success has come at the junior level, which means his offensive talents may not translate as well at the NHL level. That being said, Voinov has significant experience in the Russian Super League and even had a +3 rating this past season with Traktor Chelyabinsk. As a result, his defensive play holds value. The primary concern is his character, as he is known for getting into altercations. 

9. Evgeni Grachev, C (Yaroslavl, Russia)

Grachev can be compared to another Russian with the same first name – Evgeni Malkin. Grachev’s hulking build is his most noticeable physical trait, that is, until you actually see him play. Grachev enjoys an extremely fluid stride for a player of his stature and has the speed to go with it. His flexible hands and upper body strength are essential at winning face-offs, while his huge wingspan is an asset on the penalty kill. Grachev could end up being a steal in the draft if he falls to the later rounds.

10. Jacob Markstrom, G (Brynas, Sweden)

Markstrom is considered to be the top European netminder prospect for this year’s draft. Though his numbers (3.04 GAA and .863 save percentage) at the recent U-18 WJC were decent at best, they do not tell the whole story. Markstrom has a tall and lanky build, much like Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, which allows him to take away a large part of the net. This is particularly true with the bottom of the net, given his butterfly style. Markstrom also moves well vertically and shows good technique and positioning. He is still raw, so, in the right hands, Markstrom could develop into a quality netminder at the NHL level.