Monday, January 11, 2010

NHL Central Scouting Service Midseason Rankings: Europe- How Far Will The Russians Fall?

Here is the link to the European midseason rankings by the NHL's Central Scouting Service

The big question will be how far the skilled and talented Russians near the top of the list, headlined by Vladimir Tarasenko (I posted a scouting report on his WJC performance here last week) drop on draft day.

I've talked a bit before about how the imperfect storm of a nonexistent IIHF transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia, the competition and lucrative contracts of Kontinental Hockey League and cultural barriers are providing a major impetus for NHL teams to stay away from Russian players at the top of the draft in recent years.

The risk is proving to be too high, and the death of Alexei Cherepanov (17th overall by the Rangers in 2007) and defections of Alexander Radulov (15th by the Predators in 2004) and Nikita Filatov (5th by the Bluejackets in 2008) to Russia, depriving their NHL teams of their talent and services after investing the major capital of picks and in the latter cases, money, have hurt the chances of prospective Russians in future drafts.

I'm not saying these guys won't be picked, but the guess is that they'll drop lower than what their talent and upside dictates they should be picked given where they were going a decade ago.

Bottom line: Even if Tarasenko continues to impress on the ice, don't be at all surprised if he drops completely out of the top-10 and closer to 20 at the draft. NHL clubs have nobody protecting their interests as they apply to Russian players, and even with the most honest, heartfelt cases made by those players to their scouts and management in pre-draft interviews, what has happened with Filatov and Radulov will weigh heavily on the minds of the decision-makers who own those critical high picks who could have a significant impact on a team's fortunes in a cost-certain hockey world.

Now, the CSS list has Finnish forward Mikael Granlund at the top and deservedly so. He's a fine prospect who has amazing hockey sense and great hands. His skating isn't bad, but not exactly a strength either. But, he's been so productive playing against men as a 17-year-old. I've heard people in the know cautioning away from the obvious Saku Koivu comparisons because Granlund isn't believed to have the former Montreal captain's maturity or intensity, but he's still a heck of a grab in the early 1st.

Three Russians are next in Taresenko, big Maxim Kitsyn and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who showed some positive flashes at the WJC.

Last year, Sweden had the greatest draft in history, and while not as top-heavy as it was in '09, there are eight Swedish prospects in the top-20 of CSS's rankings.

I don't know a great deal about these guys, but will do some research and learn more about them. Patrick Nemeth (13th out of AIK Jr.) is a nice blend of size and skill, but some feel he lacks that high-end offensive upside you look for and may not ever develop it.

German Tom Kuhnhackl has dropped a bit this year and is a tough find in the German pro leagues, especially since his country was relegated to the B Pool in the WJC this year. A very skilled player, he's not been all that productive bouncing between Germany's top pro league and the second division, but could be a steal if he drops into the bottom-20 or lower. He's currently ranked by CSS as the 10th-best European skater.

Jokerit winger Teemu Pulkinen is 17th, but like Kabanov, that ranking is colored by injuries and a lack of playing time. He's a highly skilled, if undersized scorer who has nice potential if he can play to his abilities.

Swedish forward Victor Ohman of Malmo Jr. is a surprise to me ranked all the way down at 38. I'd heard him being mentioned in some circles as Sweden's top forward, so once again- you see the disparity in hockey scouting with Ohman's position here.

Finally, Slovakian D Martin Marincin is 11th and showed off an intriguing game at the WJC. If you only watched him against Team USA, he's a solid top-15 selection given his size, mobility and all-around game. Unfortunately, he struggled with his consistency, so he's one of those rough-around-the edges guys who will require a lot of time and patience, but who could pan out for whichever team grabs him.

It's a weak goalie crop coming out of Europe, with Swedish netminder Jonas Gunnarsson leading the class. But, Swiss goalie Benjamin Conz, passed over last year, is fifth on the list, no doubt owing to his very good performance in Saskatoon. He got lit up against Sweden in the bronze medal game, but the guy held his team in about every game he played and keyed a huge quarterfinal upset over Russia.

Don't forget the Midterm Rankings Show on the NHL Network tonight- 7 ET. And, can't wait to check out the NHL Prospects Game right around the corner.

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