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2017 NHL Draft: Comparing the top 20 European Skaters

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They’re easier to compare to each other, so I took a look at the NHL Central Scouting list.

Sweden v Canada: Semifinal - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Every year, the NHL produces it’s own ranked scouting lists for the entry draft. For fans of a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are picking in the middle of the first round, this kind of list is important to help decide who, of the less famous prospects, are interesting to debate over for the next few weeks.

The NHL divides their list into North American and European skaters. They sort players between the two, not by country of origin, but by team the prospect plays on. So Auston Matthews was the top European skater last year and Alex Nylander was third on the North American list.

This year’s European list does not include either of the two players hotly contested as the number one pick. Both Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier play in North America. The list starts with an unusual name, one likely to be hotly contested as well by draft analysts, many of whom think he should be lower in the rankings. Klim Kostin has essentially missed the entire season, but hasn’t shifted off the top of the NHL’s list.

Once you move past that big question mark, there is a lot to contest on the European list. We are only weeks away from the draft, and there is still no consensus on rankings for players much lower down than the top two. Some are more than 20 places apart on different lists.

For today, we have the top 20 European skaters from the NHL Central Scouting list, which takes us from one controversy with Kostin to another with Robin Salo. More on him in a bit, but first, here are those skaters and their basic boxcars (via Elite Prospects) for the team they spent the most time playing for this season.

Elite Prospects has a handy list with links to each skater’s page if you want to dig deeper. There is also a Google Sheets page for the table here where it’s easier to see the boxcars and the notes for each person.

NHL Central Scouting 2017 European Skaters Top 20

Rank Name Nationality H W POS Team Country Junior GP G A P PIM Notes
Rank Name Nationality H W POS Team Country Junior GP G A P PIM Notes
1 KLIM KOSTIN Russia 6' 3" 196 LW/C Dynamo Balashikha Russia No 9 1 0 1 4 Injured for most of the season.
2 ELIAS PETTERSSON Sweden 6' 2" 161 C Timrå IK Sweden No 43 19 22 41 14 Signed to SHL for next year
3 LIAS ANDERSSON Sweden 5' 11" 198 C HV71 Sweden No 42 9 10 19 18
4 MIRO HEISKANEN Finland 6' 0" 170 D HIFK Finland No 37 5 5 10 4
5 MARTIN NECAS Czech Republic 6' 0" 167 C HC Kometa Brno Czech Republic No 41 7 8 15 6
6 TIMOTHY LILJEGREN Sweden 6' 0" 191 D Rögle BK Sweden No 19 1 4 5 1 Had a lot of J20 games, out with illness.
7 KRISTIAN VESALAINEN Finland 6' 3" 207 LW/RW Frölunda HC Sweden No 26 1 6 5 2 Signed with Liiga team for next year.
8 URHO VAAKANAINEN Finland 6' 0" 185 D JYP Finland No 41 2 4 6 12
9 ERIK BRANNSTROM Sweden 5' 10" 173 D HV71 Sweden No 35 1 5 6 2 Played a lot of J20.
10 JESPER BOQVIST Sweden 6' 0" 179 C Timrå IK Sweden No 19 3 9 12 0 Played some J20 and SHL.
11 FILIP CHYTIL Czech Republic 6' 0" 178 C HC Zlin Czech Republic No 38 4 4 8 16
12 MARCUS DAVIDSSON Sweden 6' 0" 191 C Djurgårdens IF Sweden No 45 5 4 9 6 Played a few J20 games.
13 ALEXEI LIPANOV Russia 6' 0" 165 C Dynamo Balashikha Russia No 21 3 5 8 8 Played a bit of junior.
14 OSTAP SAFIN Czech Republic 6' 4" 191 RW HC Sparta Praha U20 Czech Republic Yes 24 6 12 18 66 Played a few men's league games.
15 FILIP WESTERLUND Sweden 5' 11" 180 D Frölunda HC Sweden No 33 0 4 4 6 Played second half in J20.
16 ALEXANDRE TEXIER France 6' 0" 187 C Grenoble France No 40 10 9 19 69 Fifth in playoff points for his team.
17 JONI IKONEN Finland 6' 0" 178 C Frölunda HC J20 Sweden Yes 40 22 19 41 42 Had a short trial on the SHL team.
18 LUKAS ELVENES Sweden 6' 0" 173 RW/C Rögle BK J20 Sweden Yes 41 15 30 45 22 Had a short trial on the SHL team.
19 JONAS RONDBJERG Denmark 6' 2" 187 RW Växjö Lakers HC J20 Sweden Yes 42 9 22 31 4 Played 32 games for Danish national teams.
20 ROBIN SALO Finland 6' 1" 187 D Sport Finland No 54 1 15 16 14 No games in junior

As you look down the list of this year’s draft prospects, a clear pattern emerges. Bear in mind that 40 or so games in a European league is a full season with time off for the WJC. At the top you see players who spent all their time at the top level. As you move down, you get some part seasons with some time spent in J20 or lower level leagues. As you go farther down, the balance is often close to half and half, until you hit players who were mostly in J20 with a short try out up one level.

And then you hit Robin Salo. I don’t understand this ranking, and I can’t find anyone who can explain this break in the pattern. He played a full season in the Liiga. He did the mostly J20 season with a tryout up a level last year at 17. And he has a lot of points. And yet he’s ranked so low, not up with the other similar looking players like Miro Heiskanen.

He’s listed at 6’, so it isn’t the size concern that’s got Erik Brännström so low moving Salo down. The only knock on him is that his points are all assists. But try this thought experiment: cut his assists in half and he still has more points than Urho Vaakanainen. Points aren’t everything, obviously, but there’s got to be something going on there. More research on him might turn up the reasons for the low opinions.

You will notice a lot of defenders on this list. Whether that’s random or a sign that European clubs will develop young defenders faster or even better, I don’t know.

Another notable player is Danish prospect Jonas Røndbjerg. He might make the top 93 in most consolidated rankings—just barely—but he played 42 SuperElit games, one in J18, 5 SHL games and 32 games at J18 and J20 for Denmark. No other European skater had that sort of workload. He was named the top player on his U18 national team.

Røndbjerg is showing the indications that he’s at the level of a good, but not great, European prospect. He is excellent next to his peers. The great prospects are approaching excellence on men’s teams. The really tough thing is separating out all the ones in between.