- 5 USNTDP Players to Watch
- 5 QMJHL Players to Watch
- 5 Russian Players to Watch
- 5 WHL Players to Watch
- 3 NCAA Players to Watch
- 5 OHL Players to Watch
While the 2020 NHL Draft hasn’t happened yet, this would normally be the time where we start to turn our attention to the following edition of the event. For the sake of normalcy, I’m going to begin the 2021 NHL Draft coverage with a seven-part series introducing some of the names you’ll want to keep an eye one when the 2020-21 hockey seasons start – whenever that may be.
This is the sixth edition in the series, and one of the ones I had a hard time with. I think I likely could have split this to have a Swedish and Finnish version, but there’s a couple of reasons I didn’t. First, I’m much more excited about the Swedish class than the Finnish class, at least at the top of group. And second, well then where would I put the stud defenseman from the Czech Republic?
The Swedish class is looking very good this year, and while there’s a potential first-overall pick from Finland, it’s not overly exciting. There are a few other prospects scattered across Europe that I’ll be keeping an eye on through the year, but for now, looking at the prospects that should stand out and impress, this list consists of six Swedes, two Finns, and one Czech player.
As we begin to look towards the upcoming hockey season, here are nine players from Europe that you need to keep an eye on (alphabetically listed).
William Eklund, F, Djurgårdens IF, Sweden
It’s early, but William Eklund intrigues me a lot. I think he’ll be one of my favourites heading into the 2021 NHL Draft. While he spent the majority of the season with Djurgardens IF J20 in the SuperElit, he also saw a pretty significant number of games in the SHL – pretty impressive for a 17-year-old.
In the SuperElit, Eklund played 31 games, collecting 12 goals, 24 assists, and 36 points. He also got a taste of the SHL with 20 games, but didn’t exactly put up big numbers. Keep in mind, most 17 years old and even 18 year old players are used in smaller roles at the SHL level. He collected two assists in those games. He impressed for Team Sweden at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, tallying five points (one goal, four assists) in five games.
What I love about Eklund is his pedal-to-the-metal game. He never lets up, always buzzing around the ice to make sure his team has the puck and they are doing what they can to get an offensive chance off. He’s just so determined out there that everytime he’s on the ice, you think he’s going to score.
The young forward will likely develop into a playmaker thanks to his ability to find teammates through traffic and navigate the offensive zone with his passes. He’s very patient in the attacking end, waiting for the defence to make a mistake and letting space open up before he makes his move. He could be a riser up draft boards with a strong season in the SHL.
Simon Edvinsson, D, Frölunda HC, Sweden
The first of two Frölunda products on this list, you can’t miss Simon Edvinsson on the ice. Seriously – at 6-foot-4, the big defender is pretty much impossible not to see out there. He’s a very interesting player, as where ever he plays he seems to put up points.
This past season, the defender saw time in the J18 Elit (10 points in nine games), J18 Allsvenskan (10 points in 10 games) and the SuperElit (six points in eight games). Oh, and he played for Team Sweden at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. And guess what? Five points in five games. It’s a little bizarre – but I like it.
With his size, you think he’d be a bit slow out there. Wrong. He has a long, smooth stride with his long limbs and is able to power past defenders as he carries the puck up the ice. He can make plays while in transition, and he seems to slow the game down when he needs to, dictating the pace of the game. He can then find his open man and create an offensive chance.
He’s shot needs some work still, which is why the majority of his points are assists (of the 31 points he had in all leagues/tournaments this year, only four were goals). Compared to other top defenseman in this class, Edvinsson needs to work on his shot strength and accuracy. In his own end, he’s very active with his stick and utilizes it well to break up plays and cut off the passing lanes with his long reach.
Fabian Lysell, LW, Frölunda HC, Sweden
The second Frölunda player is left-winger Fabian Lysell. It’s very likely that Lysell is the top-Swedish forward available in the 2021 NHL Draft Class and he could be one of the top-three forwards available along with United States Chaz Lucius and the next player on this list.
Lysell split the majority of his season between the J18 Elit and the SuperElit. In the J18 Elit, he really impressed on the scoresheet with 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in just 14 games. In the SuperElit, he had one goal and five assists for six points in 11 games. He also played four games in the J18 Allsvenskan, adding five goals, one assist, and six points to his year.
The forward screams creativity. When he has the puck on his stick, you know something’s about to happen. He’s dynamic in the offensive zone, often whipping out highlight-reel plays. He can surprise both defenders and goaltenders with his elusiveness and nose for open space where he can roof the puck. Or, he boasts an excellent pass that he uses to set up high-danger chances with.
There are times where that creativity catches up to him, resulting in a turnover, but the forward has the speed to rush back and backcheck. The reward is much higher than the risk though. Overall, Lysell is a high-ceiling player that should be very much in the top-10 consideration for 2021.
Aatu Räty, C, Kärpät, Finland
Leading up to the 2021 NHL Draft, Aatu Räty is the consensus number-one overall pick. However, there is also a lot of chatter that that’s not where he’ll stick as we get closer to draft. But for now, he’s very much in the thick of that conversation and deservedly so.
Räty split his time this season between the U20 SM-sarja and the Liiga. In the U20 SM-sarja, he played 30 games, collecting two goals and 19 assists for 21 points. At the Liiga level, he played another 12 games, adding two goals, two assists, and four points to his year. He also dressed for Team Finland twice this season, once for the Hlinka where he had four points in three games, and once as the youngest player at the 2020 World Junior Championships, adding another three points in seven games.
The Finnish centreman is an excellent skater that starts from his first step where he can explode to his top speed. When watching hi against his peers, his speed becomes very evident as there are few that can keep up. When the puck is on his stick, he changes direction quickly towards open space, leaving defenders scrambling to turn and catch up.
While he might not be the most offensive player, he makes up for that with extremely impressive two-way play, ensuring that he’s contributing at both ends of the ice. His high hockey IQ helps that, resulting in him forcing turnovers often, and leading the charge the other way. He doesn’t turn over the puck often, showing off high-end, possibly elite, decision-making and possession. He’s going to be a coaches dream.
Simon Robertsson, RW, Skellefteå AIK, Sweden
Swedish winger Simon Robertsson has already been putting together a very intriguing resume as he enters his draft year. While he finished third in the SuperElit in points among 2021-eligible players, he also got a taste at the SHL level at just 16 years old. That’s not entirely surprising though, after he dominated the U18 level at just 15.
He did spend the majority of the season in the SuperElit, where in his 41 games played he collected 13 goals, 17 assists, and 30 points. He collected one goal (seen below) in his eight games played. As noted below, he became the first 2003-born player to score in the SHL. He added a goal and two assists at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
One of his best assets is his shot, more specifically his wrist shot. He can get it off very quickly and it’s deadly accurate. He does very well at getting himself open in the offensive zone, allowing him to rip a one-time shot that can often find the back of the net. He can dish it out too, but he is a bit more of a sniper rather than a playmaker.
Getting from one end to the other is no problem for the winger either as he accelerates quickly and has a long, powerful stride at top speed. He’s above average in his own zone, positioning well and supporting his defenders as needed. Finally, despite playing against players quite a bit older than him, he handles the physicality of the game very well and doesn’t shy away. He’s a very intriguing player for 2021.
Isak Rosén, F, Leksands IF, Sweden
Players like Eklund, Lysell, and Robertsson have had their names mentioned quite often over a year out from the draft, but one player who hasn’t as much (but deserves it) is Isak Rosén. While it seems likely that Lysell has the title of top-Swedish forward locked down, Rosen is very much in the conversation for number two.
The winger played the majority of his season in the SuperElit for Leksands IF J20, where he impressed in a big way. Rosén finished second in the league among 2021 draft-eligibles in points, putting up 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 38 games. He also participated in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where he collected two assists. He even got his SHL debut this season, playing one game with no points.
What you’ll notice right away is that Rosén has a nose for the net. He wants to score, he wants his team to score, and he will do everything he can to make it happen. He can score goals in bunches and brings a crafty element to his approach and to his shot.
He’s not the biggest player at 5-foot-10, 154 pounds, but he makes up for it with that drive to make something happen every time he steps foot on the ice. Before the 2020-21 season is over, something tells me we’ll be talking about Rosén as the second-best Swede in the class.
Stanislav Svozil, D, HC Kometa Brno, Czech Republic
The lone player on this list not from Finland and Sweden, Stanislav Svozil is one of the reasons that I made this a European edition rather than split it into Sweden/Finland. He deserves a mention. At some point, I’m sure I’ll even give him his own article.
The potential next star out of the Czech Republic, Svozil spent most of his season with HC Kometa Brno in the top Czech league. As a 16 year old. In 41 games, he potted two goals and added three assists for five points. He also played three games at the U17 level, collecting eight points in three games. I guess he proved he was too good for the league.
He’s fairly average size at 6-foot, 172 pounds, but he more than held his own in the men’s league, not shying away from physicality and not after to battle along the boards. With likely three years of playing against men before he comes to North American, Svozil will be well prepared to battle at the next level.
What I love about Svozil is he makes extremely smart decisions. Whether it’s where he goes on the ice or what he does with the puck, it’s usually a good, calculated choice that results in something happening for his team. He’s not afraid to make plays and that is already paying off at his country’s top level. Keep a very close eye on this defender.
Samu Tuomaala, F, Kärpät, Finland
The second and last Finn on this list, Samu Tuomaala looks to be the second-best forward out of Finland in this draft. As of now, he could be a bottom-half first rounder, but he does have the potential to rise above that ranking a little bit.
Playing for Kärpät U20, Tuomaala spent his season in the U20 SM-sarja where in 40 games he scored 15 goals and added eight assists for 23 points. He did play in the Under-17s as well, adding five points (three goals, two assists) in five games.
Tuomaala is another player who seems to never give up on the ice. He just goes, goes, goes. It’s hard to pick one aspect of his game that I really like, because he’s a very well-balanced player. He’s a good skater with good speed and mobility, a powerful stride, and great balance. He’s also very agile and can quickly side step at top speed and blow past a defender.
His hands seem to match his feet with their speed and creativity. He has a hard, accurate shot (see above goal totals) and selects his shots well, which is very important. Don’t let that goal-to-assist ratio fool you though, he can also dish it out and make excellent passes. He reads plays very well and knows when to be patient and when to attack, making him very dangerous on the ice.
Jesper Wallstedt, G, Luleå HF, Sweden
Last but not least, we come to a player you’ve likely started hearing about, goaltender Jesper Wallstedt. In 2019 there was Spencer Knight, in 2020 there’s Yaroslav Askarov, and Wallstedt is right there for 2021. And yes, you should be getting excited.
The netminder played the majority of his season in the SuperElit for Luleå HF J20, going 16-11-0 in 28 games with a 2.53 goals against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%). He then got the call up to the SHL for one game, becoming the youngest goalie to ever play in the league, and despite losing, he finished with a very impressive 1.55 GAA and a .944 SV%. He played in three games at the Hlinka, recording a 2.54 GAA and .936 SV% en route to a bronze medal.
At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, Wallstedt definitely has the size to make it to the NHL and he has the skill to match. He’s technically sound for his age and his positioning is elite. Good luck catching him out of position. He’s very athletic, holding the ability to make a diving, desperation save when needed, but his play doesn’t usually require that.
Despite his young age, he always seems very calm in the net. Even in his historic SHL debut, he was collected and fluid in his motion. He controls rebounds well, he cuts down angles, and he’s extremely aware of his zone, both in regards to the puck and the opposition around him. He’s a very exciting young goaltender.
Others to Watch
- Verner Miettinen, C, Kiekko-Espoo
- Samu Salminen, F, Jokerit
- Oliver Moberg, RW, AIK
- Liam Dower Nilsson, C, Frölunda HC
- Elias Stenman, C, Skellefteå AIK
- Victor Stjernborg, F, Växjö Lakers HC
- Noah Meier, D, GC/Küsnacht
Lots of European Talent in 2021 NHL Draft
Full disclosure: there are many more prospects that I could include here with such a wide range, but I had to limit it somewhere. Also, while I think there are a ton of Swedish prospects that could see the first round and only named four Finnish prospects here, don’t sleep on the Finns. There are some that could surprise and jump up throughout the season and/or fill the second and third rounds. There are some very talented players coming out of the EU this year.
Also, there are many other Europeans of note not playing in Europe this season. Slovakians Alex Geci and Oleksii Myklukha and Switzerland’s Lorenzo Canonica and Giancarlo Chanton come to mind to start, playing in the OHL and QMJHL. Of course, if you have any other prospects that you think should be on this list, feel free to drop some names below!
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