The job of a GM and his scouting team for every draft is to try and garner the best possible collection of players down the line for their franchise. Since the Berlin Wall fell, this has meant a great influx of players from all over Europe into the NHL. In fact, my first article for Sons of Penn outlined this phenomenon from the Flyers franchise outlook in great depth.
The last team to hoist the famed Stanley Cup without integral contributions from European players was the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens. Since then there have been 23 cup winners, all have relied on a host of players from across the pond to claim the ultimate prize in hockey.
Increasingly, it seems that in the later rounds – or even with undrafted players – there is more value to be had from the European talent pool. Furthermore, NHL teams seem as happy as ever to select overage players if they are ahead of the trend for their age, whether they are 19, 20 or even 21 on draft day. The most recent poster-boy for European overagers narrowly missed out on helping the Nashville Predators to their first cup just weeks ago.
Viktor Arvidsson was passed over in three drafts before the Tennessee team plucked him out of Sweden with a 4th round pick after a great 2013-14 campaign with Skellefteå of the SHL, less than three years later he scored 30 goals and 60 points in the regular season before being the team’s third highest scorer in their playoff run.
Even more compelling arguments for picking such players are the cases of Artemi Panarin and Nikita Zaitsev. Neither were ever drafted. It was fair enough the first time they were passed over, both were solid players at age 18, but nothing exceptional. However, by the time it came to their last year of draft eligibility, both were senior Russian international players and high-end KHLers in their own right.
Imagine if any single NHL team could go back in time and change their final two selections from the 2013 draft with hindsight? It is a good bet that they would change them to pick the two talented Russians, who had already shown they were close to NHL ready in the world’s second best league at age 21.
So who are the Panarin’s, Zaitsev’s and Arvidsson’s of this draft? Players who might slide under the radar due to age and nationality despite having proven already in Europe that they are at or beyond the level of prospects drafted when they were passed over?
Linus Ölund, C/LW, 5’11, 185lbs, Brynäs, SHL (first draft eligible: 2015)
If ever there was a case of a player finally growing into his frame and in doing so managing to bring his game from a lower level right into top tier pro leagues, it is Ölund. The Gävle native has always had talent, and has played for every single one of Sweden’s junior age group teams, he even wore a letter for the u-18 and u-19 sides. In his draft year he went point-per-game in the u-18 WJC, and played solidly at the Hlinka as well. However he was unable to truly break into the Brynäs senior team and had a merely ‘solid’ SuperElit campaign, which undoubtedly led to him being passed over in the draft.
His draft+1 season was similarly frustrating, albeit for different reasons. He dominated at the junior level, putting up 38 points in 31 games, but while he managed to suit up for over 20 SHL games he rarely playing more than seven minutes a night. In fact, across his 24 games in the Swedish top tier he did not play over 10 minutes once.
To start this season Ölund must have rolled his eyes and had a sense of déjà vu.He started the season at the junior level, and once again dominated. However, 16 games into the SHL season he had played in one measly game and only seen less than nine minutes of ice time. After injuries helped him get a full-time spot in the line-up the East Swedish forward spent the next two months as a 13th forward or fourth line staple, given virtually no time on ice and low skilled line-mates. 33 games into the season and Ölund had only seen double figure minutes four times. He flashed his speed, skill and determination regularly, but without line-mates capable of capitalising, and with limited minutes, his output was restricted.
But then Brynäs’s injury ridden forward group suffered further blows, and Ölund was elevated into the top nine. He made sure they would never be able to demote him again. Through the last 35 games of the season the 19 year old forward was arguably one of the best three players on his team. He posted 13 goals and 22 points while being +10. Ölund also took over the running of the second power-play, and was the driving force on his line.
So what does the Swede bring to the table? As with most products off the Brynäs conveyor belt the versatile forward has a very well rounded game. He is mature and responsible defensively and rarely gets himself out of position, and while he is not the biggest player you would not know it with his fore-checking ability and puck pursuit. Now for the more fun stuff. Ölund is a good skater who can create separation when needed, he also has a nice wrist shot with a solid release. But arguably his best skill is his IQ. He plays defensemen like he is a wily old veteran, and can see passing lanes that don’t seem viable.
As for his NHL upside? Ölund is probably a middle six forward if he reaches his ceiling, but his well rounded game means he could be capable of a bottom six role. He is a natural center but at NHL level is is more likely he would play left wing. His penalty killing ability is solid and his vision means that he could possibly contribute on a second power-play unit. In terms of timescale he could possibly hold his own in the NHL in 2018-19 if he keeps developing. Given his development over the last year it would not be surprising to see him go inside the fourth round.
Andrei Svetlakov, C/LW, 6’0, 203lbs, CSKA Moscow, KHL (first draft eligible: 2014)
It is not surprising that the Moscow born center went undrafted at the first time of asking in 2014. At that point he was simply just another young forward plying his trade in the MHL. Eight points across 35 games does not exactly scream NHL potential, even if he had impressed the Russian national team staff enough the year before to get a spot on the u-17 World Hockey Challenge.
In his draft+1 season however Svetlakov broke out. He posted 63 points in 59 games in the MHL despite being known as a player for whom defense came first. That kind of performance for a draft+1 player was not quite enough to get drafted, especially as he was not included in any national team programmes over the season.
However, the 2015-16 season was somewhat of a breakout one for the Russian pivot. He played virtually the whole season in the KHL, posting 12 points across 38 games in the regular season and play-offs for CSKA Moscow. The club from Russia’s capital are stacked every year, and for Svetlakov to hold down a spot in the team and contribute to the level he did was impressive. Furthermore the well-rounded center played a role for Russia at the WJC, and also made his senior national team debut. It seemed likely that he would be drafted as a result, but once again he was passed over by all 30 teams.
Svetlakov took his game to the next level this season, and played a big role in CSKA’s top nine that finished the regular season at the top of the KHL. His KHL performances in every zone meant that he was a mainstay on the Russian national team over the course of the season, playing 11 games and posting five points.
So what does Svetlakov project as from an NHL perspective? Realistically he is a third line center. As for his skill-set, the pivot from Moscow is the kind of player that no-one would bat an eyelid at in North American leagues. His style is arguably more suited to North America than Europe in fact. ‘Grit’ defines his game, and he plays bigger than his 6’0, 203lb frame. He is also a player who obviously prides himself on his two-way game, and can play on the penalty-kill as well as match up against opposition top sixes. That is not to say he has no offensive chops though. Svetlakov has a solid shot and generally knows when to drive to the net. His passing game is nothing to write home about, but he can keep a cycle going and help create chances that way.
There are some downsides though that may mean he goes undrafted again and becomes an NHL UFA. Firstly is the fact that he has had concussion issues, with several reported over the last few seasons. Secondly Svetlakov is signed to CSKA Moscow until the end of 2020. Now of course that deal could be bought out by the player, but will NHL teams think it is worth the risk? However, something to consider is that as a Russian his rights would be indefinitely retained, and that upon the expiry of his KHL deal he would only be 24 years old, and likely ready to step right into an NHL third line role. If he is drafted expect him to go from the fifth round onwards.
Sebastian Repo, C/RW, 6’2, 190lbs, Tappara, Liiga (first draft eligible: 2014)
He has to be drafted? Surely. I mean, just for the nickname possibility. Repo is a player who has taken time to grow into his frame and his game. At u-16, u-17 and u-18 level he was a solid player who put himself on the junior national team radar – but was nothing to really write hom about. Therefore it was no surprise he went undrafted in 2014, as while there was an argument to be made that he should have been – he was certainly one of the best 10 draft eligible Finn’s in the countries top junior level – he did not really separate himself from the pack.
The Lahti born product then proceeded to have arguably a worse draft+1 season than his draft year. He made no leap in play level at the jr. level, could not truly hold his own in Finland’s top men’s league in his limited games at that tier, and when he attempted to show his wares across the pond in the USHL he failed to stand out in Sioux City.
Upon his return to the land of lakes in 2015-16 he took leaps and bounds forward in his development. He scored at over 0.5 points per game and played at a similar level to 2015 top-50 pick Roope Hintz, a player only five months younger. However, Repo failed to impress on the international stage on a stacked Finnish WJC team that won the tournament on home soil. Any other year he would likely have been in the top six and had a chance to shine, but instead played a supporting role amongst a host of future NHL stars. Still, the man from ‘Finland’s Chicago’ must have felt hard done by to be passed over again.
This season the big forward showed that last year was no fluke. He led all players under 21 in points and once again effectively matched his peer Roope Hintz in play level. It is worth noting that he played 90% of his season on powerhouse Tappara after moving on from hometown club Pelicans, but as a result his ice-time was not as expansive as it had been the year before. Repo also led his team in play-off goals as they raised the ‘Kanada-malja’.
As for his game, Repo is a player who while he has skill, soft hands, a great shot and solid speed, can also play an all-around style. His fore-checking is relentless and he never gives up on a play, he is also committed to getting back into his own zone when needed. Repo also possesses a ‘North American edge’ to his game, as he is a player who enjoys throwing a big hit and is a great board battler.
In terms of NHL upside? Likely Repo tops out as a good third liner who can play a supporting role on the second line if needed. At NHL level he would likely be a winger. It would be no surprise if the young Finn was taken in the later rounds of the draft, and could provide depth for an NHL team sooner rather than later.
Dominik Lakatoš, C/LW, 5’11, 179lbs, Liberec, Czech Extraliga (first draft eligible: 2015)
The Liberec player was realistically someone who in his initial draft year was not worth a pick. He had played for his nations u-16 and u-17 teams, and had been considered one of the countries best players as a child. However when he stepped up to the u-18 and u-20 levels he was simply – well – decent. It is likely that a host of NHL teams considered him as a late round pick in 2015 due to his solid u-18 performance, but at u-20 level he could not truly find his game and was outmatched.
His draft+1 year was a different story. Lakatoš had a fantastic season at senior level. He managed to go over point-per-game in the Czech WSM Liga – the second highest level of mens hockey in the Czech Republic – and was also the highest scoring u-19 year old in the top tier across the 48 games he played, with 16 points, as a result winning rookie of th year. The Bohemian forward also played a solid WJC. It was therefore somewhat of a surprise that he went undrafted last season.
Whatever doubts NHL teams had about the man from the Jizera Mountains should have been dismissed this season. His 22 points in 41 games led all players in the league under the age of 20, and then Lakatoš dominated in the play-offs as his team finished as runners up in the Extraliga final. His 13 points in 16 games were third amongst all Extraliga players in the play-offs, and he was arguably his teams MVP in their campaign. It was a shame that the talented forward broke his collarbone just before the WJC, as he would surely have turned heads on the international stage had he been fit.
As for the young Czech’s game, he is primarily an offensive talent. Despite not being the biggest he is not scared to go to the net or get to the slot, and has good vision and a solid shot. His skating is also good. Defensively he is not overly flawed, and is commited to help out his team-mates in the neutral zone and his own end – he is not a cerebral defensive forward, but his effort level generally makes up for it. If he can continue to develop while getting stronger Lakatoš could well be a middle six NHLer in the future. In terms of where he could go in the draft, a fair bet would be somwehere in the middle rounds, it would not overly surprise me if someone used a 4th round pick on the Czech forward.
Igor Shvyryov, C, 6’0, 205lbs, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL (first draft eligible: 2016)
Shvyryov should have been drafted last year. That is not using hindsight, the Russian youngster has been a player I have had my eye on for some time. In his draft season the pivot from Magnitogorsk led all u-18 year old MHLers in points and came very close to matching Flyers first round pick German Rubtsov in points-per-game.
Now Shvyryov has nowhere near the all-around game of Rubtsov, but nonetheless his offensively ability should have led to more NHL interest. He was probably not helped by the national team overlooking him for each of the major tournaments at junior level so far. He played for the u-17 and u-18 teams pre-draft, but was never selected for a tournament roster, instead playing – effectively – in exhibitions.
This season the talented forward should have cemented himself as a selection in the 2017 draft. While he was not able to truly establish himself in the KHL – he played 10 games – he dominated at the junior level, posting an absurd 70 points in 40 games. The only player in the MHL’s eight year history to post a higher points-per-game ratio at the same age or younger was Nikita Kucherov. Yep, that Nikita Kucherov. Is the young forward perfect? No. But no-one can deny the kind of offensive skill-set he has, and it would surprise me if he was passed up again.
Offensively, he is simply a player who makes those around him better, a cerebral passer of the puck who can manipulate every player on ice into playing his game when he wants to. On the power-play he is amongst the best in the world at his age – and that is not hyperbole. The Russian also has a set of smooth mitts that he uses to undress opposition players on a regular basis, be the player a forward, defenseman or even goalie. He also possesses a decent shot which combined with his nifty hands can result in goals that look easy. His top end speed is also quite good, and once in stride he can beat players in transition despite his thick frame.
So what is the catch? Well, while he has improved his skating over the last season he still is not the most agile player, and while he has refined his edge-work he can still fall flat on his face at times. Also Shvyryov is no defensive stalwart. He has got better in his own zone, but still misses assignments an occasionally gets caught in no-man’s land.
His potential NHL future? Well, if everything went perfectly his offensive ability could possibly garner a second line role and a spot on any teams power-play, be it first or second unit. The concern is that unlike the rest of the players in this article, if he does not develop into a 40+ point NHL level player there may be no legitimate role in the worlds best league due to his play outside the offensive zone – it is not awful but does need to improve. Despite his foibles there are surely NHL teams who are thinking of taking a chance on the Russian in the mid to late rounds.