7Ilya Nikolayev
Photo Credit: courtesy MHL

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series: Europe

The last stop on this year’s edition of the NHL Draft Scout Series is, well, the rest of Europe.

Finland and Sweden always pump out a ton of prospects to validate their own individual sections, so I consolidate everyone else together. While the usual prospect producing Euro suspects such as the Czech Republic and Switzerland are expected to have relative down years, Russia is poised to have an especially strong entry. Future Considerations‘ Head of European Scouting Dennis Schellenberg breaks it all down.

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Christian Roatis: When one thinks of European hockey, and European prospects, the mind immediately goes to Finland, Sweden and Russia. Yet, the gap has been closing of late with countries such as the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and to a lesser extent Slovakia and Denmark producing quality NHL prospects on a yearly basis. How would you characterize the growth and development of hockey in European markets where hockey is not necessarily a traditional sport? Do you see the trend of lesser hockey countries producing high end talent continuing at the pace its been on?

Programs in smaller hockey markets are clearly getting better and help players develop in a better fashion. That is seen in the latest results at U18 and U20 level, where those smaller countries are not that far off anymore from top nations, like was the case for a long time. That, of course, has also been seen in the production of quality NHL prospects. We will see more and more NHL prospects from those regions of Europe because of the solid work in player development as well as more attention countries get with the hockey, and scouting market becoming more professional and international.

Vasili Podkolzin is as polarizing a prospect as the 2019 NHL Draft has. Some see him as the third best prospect in the class, while others offer much cooler reviews of the big Russian. What is your evaluation of Podkolzin and why do you think he garners so much debate?

I think he has seen a small stagnation in development in the second half of the season. This was shown at the U18, where he was slightly disappointing and not as effective offensively as displayed in earlier viewings. Podkolzin is still very raw and needs lots of more development in many areas of his game. Another factor for his (ranking) decrease as of late is surely how close it is after Kakko and Hughes. There are several players I’d see at third overall that would not be misplaced at all. Coming back to Podkolzin, he’s a Russian winger that plays a strong physical game and contributes defensively, shows great work ethic and gives everything he has to help his team. On top of that, he knows how to score and get the puck to the net. That surely draws lots of interest and solidifies his name into a potential 3rd overall debate.

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Big German defenceman Moritz Seider has been a mainstay inside the first round of Future Considerations’ rankings for the 2019 NHL Draft all year, but has seen a surge in stock recently. What is it that’s been fueling Moritz’s rise, and what’s your take on the player? How does he project on North American ice?

I think for a guy like Moritz Seider, it is harder to get the attention of people as he has not been playing in international competition with the other top nations. Only as of lately after the IIHF Worlds, he has been more in the spotlight. However, I don’t think he has been flying under the radar of NHL scouts. He has played tons of U20 already and was dominant. I have been high on Seider since day 1 seeing him play. Such a dominant player that rarely has a flaw in his game. Has played more of a defensive-first role with Adler Mannheim of the DEL and has a lot more offensive upside than what his stats say. He might be the top European defenceman in this draft if you ask me.

Pavel Dorofeyev spent a fair bit of time in the KHL this year as an 18 year old, and absolutely crushed the MHL, Russia’s CHL equivalent. What sort of player would a team get in Dorofeyev; does he carry the same “no defence” label assigned to many young Russian dynamos? Can you see his stock slipping due to the so called “Russian factor”?

For Dorofeyev it is a bit similar like with Seider. He has not really spent much time in international competition. Due to that, he is kind of a dark-horse and comparisons to other European first rounders are a bit more difficult to draw. Surely his strength lays in the offensive side of the game, where he really thrives. Defensively, he often speculates for counter attacks and positions himself so. Still, he’s not afraid of contribute defensively with an active stick and is not afraid of going to dirty areas to get lose pucks. I don’t see the Russian factor an issue with him, he may just not come over to North America before playing a few season in the KHL.

The Czech and Swiss development programs have churned out their fair share of top prospects in recent years, but judging by FC’s rankings, they both might take 2019 off. Is this a down year for these countries that have really been boosting their stock as NHL prospect pipelines in recent years?

The Swiss have a down year, yes. There aren’t really players I was excited about this year. They might see Yves Stoffel getting picked late and here and there an overager like Janis Moser. Nothing else as Sopa, Nussbaumer and Eggenberger all play in North America. The Czechs are lacking high-end prospects this season, they might even have to wait for round three to see their first guy selected. A few interesting overagers in their program, though.

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Are there any European goaltenders (outside Sweden and Finland) in this draft class that you think have the potential to be impactful at the NHL level? In that vein, Russia has recently produced a number of high-end goaltending prospects, is that trend set to continue in 2019?

Not really as they’re all Swedes or Finns. The only one I can think of is big-sized over-ager Pyotr Kochetkov, who was decent at the U20 and had a .930 SV% in the VHL. Amir Miftakhov, also an overager, has been decent in my viewings and had a .919 SV% in the VHL, but his size is a concern.

Every draft produces a number of diamonds in the rough – high potential players that can be had in the later rounds because there’s plenty of work to do to reach that potential. Who do you consider this European (minus Sweden and Finland) draft class’ diamond(s) in the rough, and why?

’99-born Kirill Slepets might be one. Offensively very gifted but his size and strength is a huge concern and probably one of the reasons he still remains undrafted. Czech Jonas Peterek another one of those potential diamonds. Enjoyed watching him create scoring chances. Does a lot of things the right way but might not have such a high ceiling. Yevgeni Oxentyuk and Vojtech Strondala are very skilled players too, but also extremely raw.

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Which European (minus Sweden and Finland) draft eligible has been your biggest surprise this season?

Yegor Spiridonov. I was not overly impressed of him in my first viewings but learned to value his game with the season progressing. He’s not a prospect you’re amazed on first glance, but he does a lot of amazing, small plays properly, is extremely valuable for a team and one of the better two-way players that still possess offensive tools.

Who has been your biggest disappointment?

The word disappointment might be too strong but I thought Russian forward Ilya Nikolayev could have done more given his offensive tools. Had too many stretches of disappearing games in my opinion.

If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated European (minus Sweden and Finland) prospect (in the public forum) for this year’s draft class, who would they be?

Most overrated probably Dmitri Sheshin. I have seen him projected way too high. I am not convinced he even becomes an NHLer.

A guy that is underrated is Swiss defenceman Janis Moser. Only with his games at the IIHF Worlds he has gotten the attention he deserved. Played a strong season in Switzerland and I project him to become a solid and reliable stay-at-home defender with great size and work ethic.

Lastly, who is your favorite European (minus Sweden and Finland) draft eligible this year, and why?

It gotta be Moritz Seider. Also because I have followed him since several years and seen his game develop so nicely. I loved watching him at U20 level, where he was so dominant and took over control. So reliable defensively and able to deliver offensively. It was pure joy to see him score at the IIHF Worlds and get more attention.

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series

Western Canada | OHL | QMJHL | USA Hockey | Finland | Sweden

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