Predators European prospects 2009-10 review

By Connor Jennings

The Nashville Predators draft a moderate number of European prospects, though they drafted only one in 2009. This season, they had seven prospects playing abroad, plus Antti Pihlstrom, who at age 25 and having already taken a try at the NHL, is no longer on a prospect track. Only one of the seven was drafted above the fourth round.

Roman Josi, D – SC Bern
6’1, 185lbs
2nd round, 38th overall, 2008

Josi had a rough season in terms of injuries this year. First, he suffered a concussion Nov. 17, and was carried off the ice on a stretcher. He recovered in time to play in the IIHF World Junior Championships for Switzerland, only to break his finger after four games. It kept him out of the Olympics as well. Injuries aside, he managed to put up a stellar season this year with SC Bern. He scored nine goals, and added 12 assists in just 26 games on the year. In the playoffs he has an impressive six goals in eight games, and still has the World Championships to go.

Josi is seen as the most complete player to come from Switzerland in years. However, the 19-year-old needs a few more years of seasoning before he plays in the NHL. He puts up good numbers, and should be a quality defender in a relatively short time. He indicated to Hockey’s Future last summer that he would like to make the transition to North America in 2010.

Anders Lindback, G – Timra

6’6, 198lbs
7th round, 207th overall, 2008

Lindback had a very good season. For the first time since he has been in the Swedish Elitserien, he earned a job as a starting goaltender. He remained solid throughout the season, posting a 2.46 goals against average and .913 save percentage in 42 games for Timra, about the same as last year for Brynas. In the playoffs, he has a .910 and 2.94 GAA in five games and he’s been invited to the World Championships camp for Sweden.

Lindback has mammoth size for a goaltender, but it still very quick for someone as large as he is. The 21-year-old is a hybrid goalie in the Pekka Rinne mold, who easily has the potential to be a quality starting goaltender in the NHL. His contract ends this year and he will be offered a contract by the Predators this summer, according to goaltending coach Mitch Korn.

Mattias Ekholm, D – Mora
6’3, 201lbs
4th round, 102nd overall, 2009

Ekholm showed continued improvement in his second season in the Swedish Allsvenskan league. Always a solid producer, Ekholm had one goal, but adding 21 assists in 41 games. However, Ekholm is not one who find his value on the scoresheet, as he has been very solid defensively, especially considering he is only 19. Ekholm played in that same style at the World Junior Championships, scoring a goal as his only point in six games, but tying for the tournament lead with a plus/minus rating of +10.

Ekholm needs to fill out more, but he has good overall size for his age. He is a decent two-way defenseman who is solid in all aspects of the game. He will likely return to Mora next season.

Atte Engren, G – TPS (SM-Liiga)
6’1, 183lbs
7th round, 204th overall, 2007

Engren split time for TPS this year with American Dave Leggio after backing up last year. Engren put up pretty good numbers with a 2.63 GAA and .920 save percentage in 35 games. This was a big improvement from last season. In the playoffs he’s been spectacular, with a .961 save percentage and 1.00 GAA in two games.

While he is on the small side, Engren is an very athletic netminder. He is already 22, and will have to move over to the NHL relatively soon in order to make it as a professional. Another potential roadblock is the number of quality goaltending prospects in Nashville’s system. Engren is going to have to really show something in order to jump up the depth chart.

Jani Lajunen, C – Blues (SM-Liiga)
6’1, 172lbs
7th round, 201st overall, 2008

In his first full season in the SM-Liiga, Lajunen did pretty well on the offensive side of the ice, given his limited ice time. Lajunen scored seven goals, and added nine assists in 46 games with the Blues. In the playoffs he had no points in three games, and in the World Juniors for Finland he had five points in six games. He is showing improvement, but still needs plenty of seasoning in Europe. He’ll be 20 in June.

Lajunen needs to add bulk to his frame if he is to make it in North America. He has good instincts and is very quick. While he has potential, it is unrealistic to expect him in Nashville anytime soon.

Niko Snellman, C – Ilves

6’3, 208lbs
4th round, 105th overall, 2006

Snellman played for Ilves in the SM-Liiga and for LeKi in the second division. He had scored no points in 11 games with Ilves, and seven points in 17 games with the lower leveled LeKi. However, scoring is not his game as Snellman has also collected 118 penalty minutes between the two leagues.

Snellman is an agitator who has shown he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He draws penalties, takes penalties, and fights well, but has shown very little in terms of offensive ability while in Europe. There are plenty of agitators looking for a job in the NHL, so he would have to distinguish himself to make it. Snellman is indeed big and strong, but at this point in his career it looks unlikely that he’ll ever make it out of Europe, let alone to Nashville.

Stanislav Balan, C – Rl Okna Zlin

6’2, 161lbs
7th round, 209th overall, 2004

Never an offensive powerhouse, Balan still is not scoring a lot in the Czech Republic. However, even is his production has not been spectacular, he has still shown improvement this season. Prior to this year, he had never scored more than eight points in a season, but he doubled that this season, with five goals and 16 points in 52 games.

Balan is already 25. He has some decent skills, but would need to turn things around in a hurry.