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.
2017 has been the hardest draft ranking for me to do of nearly any class. We're publishing in a few weeks and couldn't name my top 10 now.— (((Corey Pronman))) (@coreypronman) May 2, 2017
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
|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.