This post is dedicated to my friend, RC D., who has a great interest in European hockey talent, specifically those players from Sweden (and to a lesser extent, Finland). The Boston Bruins haven't been to Scandinavia in a few years, and they went exclusively North American in each of the last two drafts. However, with another deep crop of Swedes and Finns available in 2010, the B's just might buck that trend. Strong performances by Sweden (silver medal) and Finland (bronze) at the recently concluded World Under-18 Championship tourney in Belarus has done nice things for the draft stock of several players, who will head to the NHL Draft Combine late this month on a high note.
So, without further ado, here is a roundup of some of bigger names from Sweden and Finland that you can expect to see come off the board in L.A. at some point. They're listed in the approximate order that I think you could see them selected.
Calle Jarnkrok, C Brynas Jr. 5-10, 165 Shoots: L 25 SEP 91
Little dynamo has really come on over the past last half of the season, according to sources. Two-way pivot is smart and competitive; very quick hands and excellent set-up skills. Good on faceoffs, but will struggle against bigger, stronger opponents who will physically overpower him at times. Not afraid to go into traffic to make plays despite small, light frame. A mundane start to the season put him behind his peers, but he picked it up and is now poised to be the top Swede to go in this draft, according to the Red Line Report, who has been on the bandwagon for him since being impressed with his performance at the 2009 under-18 tourney in Fargo. Want proof of Jarnkrok's tremendous second half? He was the 21st-ranked European skater on Central Scouting's midterm list. He's now fourth in their final rankings. Case closed.
Adam Pettersson, C Skelleftea Jr. 6-0, 195 Shoots: L 13 JAN 92
A superb set-up man, Pettersson's creativity, soft hands and vision allow him to set the table effectively. Doesn't have elite speed, but is a good skater who can shift direction quickly and is agile with and without the puck. Shows a willingness to go where the play is roughest, and will take a hit to make the play despite not having big size on his side. He made it into Central Scouting's top-10 at ninth overall, falling down two spots from seven at the midway mark.
Johan Larsson, LW Brynas Jr. 6-0, 200 Shoots: L 25 JUL 92
Stock is exploding after a dominating performance for Team Sweden at the under-18 tourney, finishing second to Teemu Pulkkinen in scoring. Extremely intelligent player reportedly hadn't done a lot all season, but picked the perfect time to elevate his game into the stratosphere. Not tall, but strong on his skates and protects the puck well. His a nice release on a wrist shot and is a skilled passer. Plays with energy and grit; leads by example and makes big plays at crunch time. Didn't appear on the scoresheet in the gold medal loss against USA, but it wasn't for a lack of trying from what I was told.
Oscar Lindberg, C Skelleftea Jr. 6-0, 195 Shoots: L 29 OCT 91
Late '91 would probably be higher on the list if he brought more offense to the equation. Although ranked fifth overall by Central on their final list, many scouts aren't convinced that Lindberg's game will translate offensively in the NHL. A solid two-way player who plays with enthusiasm and character, he lacks the touch and offensive instincts to be a consistent threat to score. He's solid, but more of a grinder and defensive presence, and players like him are a dime-a-dozen. He doesn't have the upside of others, but could be a safe bet to play even if on the bottom two lines.
Jonathan Johansson, C/LW Frolunda Jr. 6-3, 200 Shoots: L 30 JUN 91
Passed over in 2009 because of skating concerns, the big centerman has apparently addressed those with more jump in his stride and a solid, productive season. Plays a physical, in-your-face game atypical of many of his countrymen. Doesn't have elite skills or speed, but makes up for that with his heart and character. As one scout said earlier this season, some team could have taken this guy in the seventh round last year and come away with a steal. He's an intriguing player because of his size, style and upside.
Patrick Nemeth, D AIK Jr. 6-2, 210 Shoots: L 08 Feb 92
Big, mobile blue liner has had an up-and-down season and a lack of offensive upside is what prevents him from being at the head of Sweden's draft class, because he brings everything else in spades. Seems to play a strong physical game and relishes physical contact. An immovable force along the wall. Big wingspan and with footwork and fluid hips and turns. Solid hockey sense and vision, and makes a good first pass out of his zone. Not an instinctive offensive player and isn't an effective point man/PP shooter. Could go early in the second round if a team likes him enough, but may not ever be anything more than a low-end second pairing or solid third-pair defender at the NHL level.
Ludvig Rensfeldt, C Brynas Jr. 6-3, 200 Shoots: L 29 JAN 92
Big, wide-bodied power forward prospect is one of the most enigmatic of Sweden's Class of '10. When on his game, he uses his size, strength and great hands to bull his way to the net and finish off plays in close. Quick stick with a hard, powerful shot, but he also has questionable instincts. Kyle Woodlief said recently that Rensfeldt tends to just put his head down and drive the puck rather than survey the ice in order to make more effective plays. Another scout said that he tends to get lazy when the play leaves the offensive zone; needs to pick it up and show due diligence in all zones. On raw talent alone, Rensfeldt is a solid second-rounder (not to mention a great name), so it remains to be seen whether his scoring prowess at the under-18 championship was enough to get him there even with the concerns about hockey sense and work ethic.
Jesper Fasth, RW HV 71 6-0, 180 Shoots: R 02 DEC 91
Probably the best skater of the Swedish draft class, he explodes to top speed in just a few strides. Can beat defenders to the outside, but doesn't take puck to the net enough. Lacks size and functional strength, so he depends on superior speed and skills to produce. That alone won't work for him at the next level in North America. Interesting developmental prospect in the mid-rounds who could bring a big payoff if he can build some strength and develop some sandpaper in his game.
Johan Alm, D Frolunda Jr. 6-2, 195 Shoots: L 28 JAN 92
Smooth and speedy defender isn't a big name and is farther down on many draft lists, but could develop into a legit NHLer in time; there's some upside here. Can accelerate quickly and moves the puck well out of his own end. Possesses the nice size and skills to be attractive to teams, but has played on a deep team and hasn't had a chance to shine.
Johan Gustafsson, G Farjestads Jr. 6-2, 205 Catches: L 28 FEB 92
The good news: He has the size and athleticism to be a top-notch goaltender at any level. The bad: Poor form coupled with a lack of the intangibles that make good goalies great (anticipation, very short memory) push him away from the pack in this solid goalie draft group. He's shown some big-game ability with clutch saves, but the inconsistency and warts on his game will drop Gustafsson come draft time...he's no Jacob Markstrom.
Mikael Granlund, C HIFK Helsinki 5-10, 177 Shoots: L 26 FEB 92
The top European skater on Central's final list, the diminutive Finn is a hockey savant who deserves to be there. Amazingly, he grades out as the best Euro even with two huge factors-- size and skating-- working against him. Even so, he's got off-the-charts hockey sense and sublime hands to both set up the play and finish it off. Best of all, he was a point-per-game player in Finland's elite pro league. That's right-- he didn't turn 18 until February, so he spent much of the season doing it at 17. His stock dropped because of a mediocre World Jr. performance back in December and January, but he's come back with a vengeance to close out the year strong. Obvious comparisons to Saku Koivu will ensue because of Granlund's nationality and diminutive stature, but the '10 prospect differs in many ways from the former Canadiens captain, mainly in the lack of speed and the fact that he doesn't bring the kind of intensity and competitiveness that Koivu made a name for himself in the NHL with for over a decade (and really-- you can't fault Granlund for not being the same kind of heart-and-soul guy Koivu was with Montreal). Granlund had an outstanding under-18 tournament, where he and linemate Pulkkinen carried the Finnish offense on their backs. This guy is so underrated by some, but trust me-- NHL teams don't see it the same way. He'll go higher than he will in the vast majority of mock drafts you see simply because he's proven his effectiveness as a teen against AHL-comparable competition. He's a player.
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW Jokerit 5-10, 180 Shoots: Right 02 JAN 92
The Finnish version of Jeff Skinner (or is it Mark Recchi?) can score at will as evidenced by his 10 goals in six games at the under-18s last month, including a hat trick in the bronze medal game against Russia. Last year, Pulkkinen dazzled at the u-18s as well, playing with Granlund and Edmonton '09 pick Toni Rajala. A below-average skater who lacks breakaway speed and jump in his stride is the reason why Pulkkinen isn't rated higher, but this kid knows how to score goals. Like Kirill Kabanov, he had a major wrist injury to contend with this season, but he came back in enough time to play his way back into form, and hit his stride at a time when NHL scouts were in abundance in Belarus. His compete levels have improved, and even with the size and skating concerns, you have to think that an NHL team will jump on him rather than let him fall the way Rajala did last year to the Oilers at around 100.
Joonas Donskoi, LW Karpat 5-11, 178 Shoots: R 13 APR 92
Speedy winger has that extra separation gear and good hands. In addition to his skating prowess, he has the agility to maneuver in traffic and shake defenders with quick moves. Works hard and shows a willingness to play an honest game in his own end. Doesn't have a lot of size and must add strength and mass before he is ready to compete in North America. Intriguing developmental prospect who doesn't jump out at you, but is pretty solid in all areas. Underrated.
Sami Aittokalio, G Ilves Tampere 6-1, 170 Catches: L 06 AUG 92
Big classic butterfly netminder looks like a lot of guys who have come out of Finland's goalie factory of late with Tuukka Rask being at the forefront, but Aittokalio does not possess anywhere near Rask's athleticism or upside. Takes up a lot of the net with his big frame, but needs to work on his recovery and rebound control skills. Came into the season with some promise, but hasn't played well enough to be put into the first couple of tiers of a strong goalie crop.
Adam Larsson, D Skelleftea 6-2, 205 Shoots: R 21 NOV 92 (Eligible in 2011)
As of now, the prime competition for top overall selection in next year's draft, along with Drummondville forward Sean Couturier. A fluid and powerful skater who gets up to speed quickly and can change directions/recover rapidly. Excellent athlete; shows very strong balance and opens his hips/pivots well. Reads and anticipates the play and transitions the puck rapidly up the ice. Possesses an absolute howitzer for a shot; will wind up and drive the puck with violent torque, or is smart enough to recognize when time/space is limited and snaps off a hard, low bullet from the point. Creative; identifies shooting or passing lanes and then hits them with the appropriate play. A potential franchise cornerstone-type 'D' who can do it all. His biggest challenge next season will be to overcome the inevitable dissection of his game by scouts who have seen him emerge as a premier talent and will be looking to pick him apart in 2010-11.