NHL Draft Primer: Finnish star on top among European skaters despite strong Swedish crop

By David Hahn
Mikko Rantanen - Team Finland - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: TPS Turku forward and 2015 prospect Mikko Rantanen produced nine goals and 28 points in 56 games in Liiga in 2014-15 (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)



NHL Central Scouting hasn’t been able to nail down a consistent list among European skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, with wide-ranging fluctuations occurring among these talented prospects. Once ranked as the top European skater during the middle of the season, Oliver Kylington has fallen out of the top five, and right out of the first round according to some draft pundits.

On his heels all season is a strong contingent of Swedish prospects, especially on defense, where two high-end prospects are pushing to be the first Swede drafted this year.

Overall, there is a strong group jockeying for position in one of the strongest drafts in recent memory. Opinions vary widely when it comes to where the top European draftees will slot in, but recent history tells us that most of this group won’t have to wait long to hear their names called.

Below is a rundown of the top 10 prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft as ranked by NHL Central Scouting.

10. Jens Looke, Right Wing, Brynas (SHL)
6’0”, 185 pounds, Gavle, SWE

Brynas winger Jens Looke has been overlooked over the last two years, despite playing over 30 international games for Sweden and recently finishing his first full season in the SHL. He is a bit of a sleeper, but is one of the most consistent and trustworthy options from the Swedish contingent.

Looke is as elusive as they come, and often comes up with a creative deke or pass out of his bag of tricks. Despite his flashy ability and point-per-game pace playing against his peers at the junior level, his innate scoring ability will drive his success moving forward.

9. Filip Ahl, Left Wing, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
6’4”, 212 pounds, Jonkoping, SWE

NHL scouts will point to North American options like Lawson Crouse, Paul Bittner, and Jordan Greenway when looking for a power forward, but Filip Ahl won’t be far behind that group. Ahl’s presence on the ice can’t be ignored, and the sturdy winger is just figuring out how to effectively use it.

Ahl was among the SuperElit’s leading scorers, notching 20 goals and 22 assists in just 34 games. As a reward, Ahl appeared in 15 games with HV71’s SHL squad where he contributed two assists, learning how to play against tougher, older opponents, something that will serve him well as he expects to play with the senior team full-time next season.

8. Robin Kovacs, Left Wing, AIK (Allsvenskan)
6’0”, 172 pounds, Stockholm, SWE

The Swedish “super-pest” Robin Kovacs is gaining momentum lately, especially after his final two months of the season, where his aggressive nature was a big story in the Allsvenskan playoffs. Kovacs likes having the puck on his stick, and enjoys the physical side of the game just as much.

He was nominated as the Allsvenskan’s best junior player, finishing with the most goals and points by a junior-aged player. With a long history of being an agitator, Kovacs’ blend of tenacity and offensive ability will surely entice an NHL team to draft this potential fan favorite.

7. Denis Gurianov, Right Wing, Ladia Togliatti (MHL)
6’2”, 187 pounds, Togliatti, RUS

Perhaps slipping a bit in the rankings due to the fact that he is playing in the MHL and not the KHL, which might be a bit premature for a player who certainly has first-round talent. Denis Gurianov led the MHL in scoring by an 18-year-old and is not afraid to shoot the puck.

He already plays a North American style, and has been found driving the net while playing for his country during numerous international competitions. Gurianov is one of the purest goal scorers in the draft, and is a dangerous and effective option from anywhere in the offensive zone.

6. Oliver Kylington, Defenseman, Farjestad (SHL)
6’0”, 181 pounds, Stockholm, SWE

Opinions are all over the place when it comes to Oliver Kylington. Playing in the SHL since he was 16, Kylington forged through a difficult season which saw him miss the 2015 World Junior Championship due to injury. He is a smooth skater, makes a good first pass, and projects as a power play quarterback at the very least.

Kylington was ranked first among European skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, so his descent down draft boards might leave a team with an absolute home-run.

5. Michael Spacek, Center, HC Dynamo Pardubice (Czech)
5’11”, 187 pounds, Marianske Lazne, CZE

There’s a lot to like about Michael Spacek’s skill, but his diminutive stature might leave a bit to be desired. Spacek can impact the game in the blink of an eye, and is quietly developing into one of the brightest young stars out of the Czech Republic.

Spacek spent the season playing against grown men in the top tier of Czech hockey and didn’t look too far out of place, putting up 12 points in 40 games. Spacek has been a staple with his country’s international team and has been a very consistent member of that club, never scoring at less than a point-per-game pace.

4. Joel Eriksson Ek, Center, Farjestad (SHL)
6’2”, 183 pounds, Karlstad, SWE

You won’t confuse Joel Eriksson Ek as his club’s most offensively gifted player, but his consistent effort every night will leave you wondering how high his ceiling is. He is a bit of an awkward skater, a throwback to the lanky Swedes that have come before him through the Farjestad system, though his puck control and accurate shot release are more notable.

At the junior level, Eriksson Ek has been as consistent a goal scorer as there is, and he responded well this year when tested at the SHL level. He may not develop into a top-flight forward, but is about as safe a prospect as there is, bringing plenty of promise to whichever NHL team drafts him.

3. Jacob Larsson, Defenseman, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
6’2”, 190 pounds, Ljungby, SWE

Jacob Larsson split the season between Frolunda’s SuperElit and SHL teams, blossoming into an effective defensive defenseman. He is willing to block shots and manage the oncoming opposition with solid gap control and overall positioning.

Larsson certainly won’t be confused as the next coming of Erik Karlsson, but represents a safe, consistent option for a team looking for an intelligent, defensively sound defender. The former Allsvenkan standout could very well be the first Swedish rearguard selected.

2. Gabriel Carlsson, Defenseman, Linkoping J20 (SuperElit)
6’4”, 183 pounds, Orebro, SWE

Sitting one place ahead of Jacob Larsson in the rankings, Gabriel Carlsson finished the year as the J18 Allsvenskan’s Best Defenseman, marking him as the highest-ranked of three high-end Swedish options on defense. Carlsson plays a mature and composed game, and possesses a heavy shot and fantastic ability to read the play in front of him.

Carlsson is the most physical of the three, and is often found cleaning up the mess in his defensive zone. The rangy defenseman has a bit of a mean streak to his game, something scouts became enamored with as the season wore on. Overall, Carlsson’s ability to think one step ahead combined with his defensive acumen makes him an intriguing option.

1. Mikko Rantanen, Right Wing, TPS Turku (Liiga)
6’4″, 212 pounds, Nousaiinen, FIN

At just 16 years of age, Mikko Rantanen was introduced to the top level of hockey in Finland, playing for TPS in Liiga, and has been a hired gun when sent to their junior team. As an example, Rantanen participated for their U20 team solely for the playoffs and finished with 14 points in just 7 games, nice numbers to go along with a championship.

Rantanen has the size of a power forward, but plays like an energetic and enigmatic skilled winger. He has incredible hands for his size, darting in-and-out of traffic with ease. Rantanen has been regarded as potentially ready for NHL action right away, a testament to his superb skill and complete game.

The final NHL Draft Primer will feature the top North American skaters as ranked by NHL Central Scouting.

NDP1 | NDP2 | NDP3 | NDP4 | NDP5 | NDP6 | NDP7 | NDP8 | NDP9 | NDP10 | NDP11 | NDP12 | NDP13

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