While the first installment on sleeper prospects looked into the niche market of overage prospects plying their trade in Europe, this installment examines more conventional potential Euro sleeper picks for the upcoming draft. This list was harder to compile than the previous – as while all season long there have been rumblings about the lack of depth in the 2017 NHL draft, I am not sure this is as applicable for those based across the pond – the Euro pool is as strong as ever from a depth perspective, and as a result there will not be a modicum of talent left later on in the draft.
The reasons these players have been glossed over in draft rankings and prospect lists is generally similar. They have either been buried in junior leagues due to the high end nature of their parent clubs level, or have not dazzled at the international stage for their age group. Due to the propensity of potential sleeper picks out of Europe this year – at least in my eyes – the following players in general do not have any glaring problems with their games. Of course every player needs to improve and develop, but in terms of foundational skills each of these five players will not have to massively outstrip their natural perceived development curve in a specific area.
Filip Sveningsson, LW, 6’0, 181lbs, HV71, SHL
The first player on this list is one who you cannot help notice when he is on ice. The Southern Swede from Småland makes you get out of your seat when he plays. Sveningsson is a great skater who can burn past defensemen when he needs to, but that is not the only area in which he can beat you. His shot – especially the release on his wrist-shot – is deadly, and can leave goalies shocked as they remain bolted to the edge of their crease as the puck nestles in the top corner behind them. At the tender age of 17 he has already learned what many goalscoring forwards do not until their mid-20’s, as he intuitively understands how to change the angle of his release to deceive goalies. He can use this skill both on the rush and also when set up around the slot or circles on the power-play. While his trademarks are his speed and shot he also shows flashes of excellent vision with deft passing.
But he is no finesse winger. While he is not the largest player he has decent size, and is likely still growing, but watch him and you would think he was a few inches bigger. The Gislaved born forward is not scared of mixing it up around the net and along the boards, and can wind opposition players up with his chippy style of play. He is naturally aggressive and seems to love chirping and getting involved in scrums. At time it can result in ill-discipline, but generally he knows where to draw the line and keep himself in check.
As for the downsides to his game, while Sveningsson is all about effort his defensive game can be suspect at times as he loses assignments or gets caught up ice. However, assuming he can apply himself in training and the video room as he does on ice he should be able to remedy that foible as he gains both age and experience. Furthermore the HV71 product needs to continue to add to him frame, he is by no means weak for his age, but he sometimes gets knocked off the puck in a situation where with increased bulk and strength he would create solid scoring chances. He has not quite shown at various age-group international levels what he can do so far, but that could change next year – it is worth noting that as a July birthday he is quite young for his draft year and therefore not quite as mature as some of his u-18 national team counterparts. Also due to his energy-laden skill-set he has often seen himself relegated to a bottom six role for Sweden. However, he got his SHL cup of coffee last season on a stacked HV71 team and with a good summer could possibly force his way into the bottom-end of their line-up next year.
Now for the two questions everyone wants to know? What is his upside and where will he go in the draft? Personally I do not think it is unrealistic for the young Swede to one day turn into a solid middle-sixer in the NHL, capable of providing energy, speed and a wicked release. He will never be someone who carries a line, but could be a dangerous complimentary player if he continues to develop. His offensive game seems suited for North America and the modern NHL if he can reach that level. In terms of where he will be selected I would imagine the earliest possible would be the 5th round, but more than likely Sveningsson’s name is called in the tail-end of the draft. If a team can get a player with his skill-set in the 5th-7th round they should be very happy.
Jesse Koskenkorva, C/RW, 6’1, 179lbs, Kärpät, Liiga
It is a surprise for me that Koskenkorva has not been receiving more hype over the season. While he is arguably the most vaunted of the prospects on this list he has struggled to crack the top 100 rankings on most experts lists. For a player with a pretty rounded skill-set and no obvious flaws it seems strange that there is not more fanfare. Furthermore, the man from Oulu already showed this season that he could hold his own in the top tier of Finnish hockey – Liiga – as he played 14 games and scored 2 goals. Liiga is not far from AHL level and Koskenkorva does not turn 18 for over a month. It is also worth noting that the Kärpät product has hockey in his blood. Uncle Kimmo hung up his skates at the end of last season after a 20 year professional career in which he hoisted the Kanada-malja as Liiga champion, played in the SHL, and played for Finland on the international stage.
His uncle Kimmo forged out a successful career despite his diminutive 5’8 frame. Genetics have been kinder to Jesse. At 6’1 no-one will ever look down on his game because of size, and while he is not fully filled out yet he has the frame to get up towards the 200lb mark as he ages.
Much like Sveningsson, Koskenkorva’s stand out attribute his his release. Wow can this kid shoot. As a lefty he often prefers coming down the right wing or cutting to center ice to unleash wicked wrist-shots, and as with Sveningsson he understands all to well the importance of being able to change the angle of release just as the goalie gets set. The Finn is also a solid skater, maybe not quite as explosive as Sveningsson, but he can move, has good agility and it will never hold him back. What is impressive about the man who hails from one of the most northern cities on earth is that while he has offensive skill he is also well developed in his own end for his age. As a natural center he is aware of how the play is developing when the puck is on the oppositions stick, and as a result when he has played wing against men he has done a very good job of helping to nullify opposition forwards twice his age. You can tell he has lived, breathed and ate hockey since he was an infant – he rarely makes bad decisions on ice.
As for his flaws, while Koskenkorva is a decent passer of a puck he is not overly creative, and his offense generally comes from either his great release or simply reading a play well to get to the right position. He is not dissimilar to the Flyers own lefty RW Brayden Schenn in the offensive zone in that regard, albeit not as overall talented as the Saskatoon native. While the Finn is not the most physical of players he is not scared to take a hit to make a play or get gritty near the net or on the boards.
Upside wise? Most likely a complimentary middle-sixer, though due to his defensive game and versatility it would not be a shock if he forged a bottom six role in the NHL if he developed to a level where he was capable of playing in the world’s best league. In terms of the draft the 3rd round seems the highest he would realistically be taken, though concerns about potential upside may push him down to the 4th-5th round, where he would be an excellent value pick.
Patrik Hrehorčák, LW, 5’10, 174lbs, HC Oceláři Třinec, Czech Extraliga
Slovakia have been much maligned in recent history for the lack of top talent being brought through their youth system. It is therefore unfortunate that the winger from the foot of the Tatra Mountains is not a few inches taller. Size may not be the only reason that Hrehorčák seems overlooked for a player of his talent amongst draft rankings and scouts, but it is a big part of it – as one of the other ‘concerns’ is that he has not played one single game at a senior level yet – which is undoubtedly tied to his size and lack of physical maturity.
The Slovakian is from a hockey family. Both his father and brother – Peter Sr. and Peter Jr. – are pro hockey players, but Patrik is a cut above his close family members in terms of talent. When you watch the left winger you cannot help wonder just what the future could hold for him. Apart from the issue of size it is quite hard to identify many flaws in his game. His shot is a serious plus, and not just his wrister – his slap and snap-shots are also hard and accurate, which can cause havoc in the offensive zone.
Skating ability should also not hold him back, he is not rocket-propelled, but he is agile and fast enough to beat opposition defensemen regularly. The young winger also has a soft pair of mitts, and can dangle and deke to a good level, be it is traffic or one-on-one with a goalie. Despite his size he is also not reluctant to go to the tough areas, and can often be seen rotating into the slot or net-front positions on the power-play. He is a bundle of energy who forechecks hard and does not shirk his responsibilities on the backcheck either. Hrehorčák also uses his soft hands to create, and can pick out nice passes on a regular basis.
In terms of weaknesses much of what he cannot do is due to his size. Of course like most players his age he needs to continue to refine his defensive game, but it is not a real problem – but due to his small stature and lack of strength he can be overwhelmed by players even his own age, despite his superior ability level. This has been the one thing that has prevented him stepping up to play in the senior level so far, and has certainly hurt his draft stock as a result. However, he did impress on an international level with the Slovak’s, playing well at both the Hlinka and u-18 WJC. His team-mate Adam Růžička – tipped to go inside the 2nd round in the draft – played at a similar level to the undersized winger, though his 6’4 frame obviously gives him an advantage going forward. Hrehorčák showed in the games against Canada and Finland especially that he could go up against the best his age-group could offer and excel.
Potential wise the Slovakian winger could possibly top out as a middle-sixer. He has no real major flaws in his game and if he can continue to add to his frame and get stronger he will hopefully be able to play as well against men as he can against top players his age. It is likely that he plays against men next year, likely splitting time between the Czech Extraliga and WSM liga. Depending on his performances there his stock could rise very quickly. In terms of where he will be drafted – most likely Hrehorčák will slip to the 5th-6th round. His stats for his age in the junior Czech leagues are very good, but probably not enough when combined with his size to elevate him above the 4th round. Getting the amount of skill the undersized Slav has whoever picks him should be happy to add him to their prospect pool.
Tobias Geisser, LHD, 6’4, 201lbs, EV Zug, NLA
The NLA, the top tier of hockey in Switzerland, is almost certainly one of the best five leagues on earth. The salaries that are paid to top players can only be out-stripped by the financial might of the NHL and KHL, and as a result top players from around Europe migrate there. When you examine the list of players who manage to even hold their own in the league during their draft year it is effectively a list of future NHLers and Swiss internationals. Since the turn of the century there have been around 10 defensemen who have taken even semi-regular NLA shifts before being drafted. Ottawa’s 2003 3rd round draft pick Philippe Seydoux is the only one who did not go on to at least play international hockey. Geisser played 14 games at that level and got an assist this season. Arguably more impressive was his performance in the Swiss second mens tier, the NLB. Here he got 10 points in 34 games. That is the fifth highest points-per-game in the leagues history for a player his age or younger. Three of the four players higher on the list became regular Swiss internationals, and the other a good middle pairing NLA player.
So the stats are good – but so are a lot of players. However, most players with good stats are not 6’4 with plus level skating. The Swiss defenseman has a physical skill-set that NHL scouts would wish any defenseman in their prospect pool possess. It might be ‘NFL’ speak – but he is the prototypical modern day defenseman from a physical standpoint. Broad-shouldered, skates like he is 5’11, more agile than you would expect and with upper body strength to rival his lower body strength. Then you start talking about the technical skill-set. His shot is impressive for starters. It stands out. You notice this most on the power-play, when he winds up penalty killers wince and expect the worst. You just have to look at his junior level stats to show what a weapon the lefty has when he gets blade on puck. From the age of 11 until 16 there was only one season he picked up more assists than goals. For a big-man he also has pretty soft hands, and seems to see the ice pretty well.
In terms of downsides the major one is that for a man with a monster frame and great skating he is not the physical force he should be. There is nothing wrong with the positional style defensive game he plays, but you would really like to see him throw his weight around more and be more assertive with smaller opponents. Geisser is also not the most creative, he has a good outlet pass and can skate out of trouble, and is not bad in transition at all, but just don’t expect him to see perfect passing lanes or create chances out of nothing.
As for his NHL potential, it would be unfair to try and expect Geisser to be more than a solid #4 in the future. However, that is a valuable NHLer, especially if they are 6’4 with solid defense, a booming shot and can skate like he can. In terms of where he is likely to go – if a team fall in love with what he brings and can see the tools rounding out into a total package it would not be absurd to see him go in the 3rd round, but more than likely the man from the shores of Lake Sarnen ends up being taken in the 4th-5th rounds.
Calle Själin, LHD, 6’1, 176lbs, Leksands IF, Allsvenskan
Just because a specific path is generally left untread does not necessarily mean it is the wrong one. The all-round defenseman from the ‘Winter City’ of Östersund is trying to prove just that. While most of his peers were plying their trade in the top Swedish junior leagues Själin was playing against men this season in the Swedish third tier for his hometown club. At age 15-16 the lefty defenseman was touted as one of the more talented youngsters in Sweden, and was a mainstay on the national u-16 team, but a devastating knee injury wiped off a year of his development last season.
Despite missing a whole year of hockey Själin showed exceptional determination this season. He won a spot on his hometowns senior squad to start the season and then went on to put up 15 points in 34 games against men. When you look at the list of players who have managed to do better or similar at the same age the amount of recognisable names is startling. From being a forgotten man at the start of the season his play meant that by spring he was a mainstay in the Swedish under-18 squad, and provided a solid defensive presence at the u-18 WJC. He also finished out the season on loan to Timrå in the Allsvenskan, where he more than held his own, and even got his first point in the Swedish 2nd tier in the play-offs.
But while the man from slap bang in the middle of Sweden does posses a mature, well-rounded defensive game that belies his age is not all that he can do. Yes, he can penalty kill, and yes, his game is based around making smart, simple plays – but he is by no means one dimensional. His skating is more than solid, and he possesses the smooth stride that has become synonymous with Swedish defensemen. He also transitions a puck well, a requirement to play at a high level in today’s hockey landscape. His game offensively is also a simple one that relies on smart decisions and mitigation of risk, but he does have a solid shot and can surprise at times with some deft passes.
When you think of a potential NHL future for the Swede #5 generally springs to mind. But the lack of holes in his game, the impressive defensive ability he has at his age and the smooth-skating ability makes you wonder if he might be able to play slightly higher one day as a modern ‘shut-down’ style defenseman. Next year he will play for Leksands in the Allsvenskan, I would expect him to take to the higher tier of mens hockey like a duck to water and maybe even force his way onto the WJC team. It is worth noting that were he two weeks younger Själin would be 2018 draft eligible. So where will he go? Some teams may doubt his upside despite a relatively high floor for a potential late rounder, but if a team thinks he can bring his offensive and transition game to a higher level they may be tempted by him in the 4th round. More than likely however is that he is taken in the 5th-7th rounds. At that stage he would be a more than solid pick, realistically you would expect him to at least be a respectable SHL level player down the line.