Over the last couple of decades, the NHL has become more diversified. Each year we’re seeing more European players enter the league through the draft, as increased media coverage is growing the game in new markets. This is especially true in the United States, where we’re seeing a great deal of growth in some of the hottest climates. Arizona, for example, has more hockey players registered than Tennessee, North Carolina and Missouri.
We can already see the signs of greatness overseas preparing to make consistent headlines in North America. Each year the NHL Entry Draft selects a handful of European stars, some of which continue to dominate the NHL today. The 2017 NHL Draft will take place in Chicago at the United Center and we can expect to see a high number of top-tier European players taken on the first day.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Europe’s rising stars:
Top 10 Euro Prospects
1. Nico Hischier
Currently playing for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Hischier holds the highest point-per-game-played (P/GP) rate of all 2017 European top prospects. The Swiss centreman was named Top 3 Player on his team for the 2017 U20 World Junior Championship (WJC), as well as the U18 WJC in 2016.
He’s making significant progress in his development according to all the prominent prospect ranking services. As of January 2017, McKeen’s Hockey ranks Hischier at #1 on the list of top prospects. HockeyProspect ranks him at #2, which is a six spot rise from Sept., 2016. Future Considerations ranks him at #4, a 17 spot rise since Nov., 2016. ISS ranks him at #3, a 23 spot rise since Oct., 2016. Sportsnet ranks him at #3, a six spot rise since Sept., 2016.
2. Juuso Välimäki
McKeen’s Hockey: #20
Future Considerations: #13
Picture tells more than thousand words!! pic.twitter.com/EBZwxHuO6m
— Juuso Välimäki (@juike4) April 25, 2016
Currently playing for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Finnish defenseman has a P/GP rate of 1.03. He won the 2016 U18 WJC gold medal, as well as the 2015 U18 WJC silver medal, where he served as team captain. Before he started playing for the Tri-City Americans in the 2015-16 season, Välimäki played for Ilves U20 of the Jr. A SM-liiga (2014-15 season). This is the same league that Henrik Borgström played in before getting drafted in 2016 at No. 23 by the Florida Panthers.
3. Elias Pettersson
McKeen’s Hockey: #15
Future Considerations: #8
Currently playing for Allsvenskan’s Timrå IK, the 6-foot-2, 161-pound Swedish forward holds a P/GP rate of one point per game played. In 2016, he won the U18 WJC silver medal, as well as the Hlinka Memorial silver medal. Furthermore, he’s developing his skills in the same league as Mikael Backlund (drafted in 2007, No. 24 by CGY), as well as Patrik Berglund (drafted in 2006, No. 25 by STL).
4. Miro Heiskanen
McKeen’s Hockey: #11
Future Considerations: #16
Great shot on goal.
Currently playing for HIFK (Liiga), the 6-foot, 174-pound Finnish defenseman won the U18 WJC gold medal in 2016 and was named 2016 Jr. A SM-liiga Rookie of the Year. Heiskanen played for HIFK (Jr. A SM-liiga) in the 2015-16 season, alongside teammate Henrik Borgström (Drafted No. 23 in 2016 by Florida Panthers). They also played together in the 2014-15 season for HIFK U18 (Jr. B SM-sarja).
5. Martin Nečas
McKeen’s Hockey: #12
Future Considerations: #23
Currently playing for HC Kometa Brno (Czech), the Czech centreman has a P/GP rate of 0.41. He represented the Czech Republic in the 2017 WJC, where he registered three points in five games. In 2015, he played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in B.C., scoring four goals and notching one assist, also in five games.
6. Lias Andersson
McKeen’s Hockey: #21
Future Considerations: #10
— HV71 (@HV71) December 5, 2016
Currently playing for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), the 5-foot-11, 198-pound Swedish forward won the 2016 U18 WJC silver medal, was named Top 3 Player on his team, and won the Hlinka Memorial silver medal. While playing in the J20 SuperElit league during the 2015-16 season, Andersson was awarded (Top) Most Goals (11) and (Top) Most Penalized Player (61 PIM), Most Assists overall (35) and Most Points overall (59).
Andersson is in a great place to be honing his elite hockey talent, as some of the NHL’s best Swedish players have played in the SHL, including Nicklas Bäckström, Marcus Johansson and Adam Larsson.
7. Timothy Liljegren
McKeen’s Hockey: #4
Future Considerations: #2
Currently playing on loan to Timrå IK of Allsvenskan, the Swedish defenseman has found another top prospect to play with, Elias Pettersson. Liljegren won the U18 WJC silver medal back in 2016, as well as the 2016 U17 WHC bronze medal. He currently holds a P/GP rate of 0.67 with Rögle BK J20 (SuperElit) and is expected to see more playing time with Timrå.
8. Eeli Tolvanen
McKeen’s Hockey: #8
Future Considerations: #7
Currently playing for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, the 5-foot-11, 179-pound Finnish left winger holds a P/GP rate of 1.12. He won the U18 WJC gold medal in 2016 and was named Top 3 Player on his team. He also scored the most goals (7) in the tournament. In the 2014-15 season, Tolvanen played for Blues U18 (Jr. B SM-sarja), where he played against guys like Miro Heiskanen (2017 top prospect) and Henrik Borgström (drafted No. 23 in 2016).
9. Kristian Vesalainen
McKeen’s Hockey: #10
Future Considerations: #15
Currently playing for Frölunda HC of the SHL, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Finnish winger is playing on the same team that Erik Karlsson used to play on before being drafted into the NHL. Vesalainen won the U18 WJC gold medal in 2016, as well as the 2016 J18 SM gold medal.
10. Nikita A. Popugaev
McKeen’s Hockey: #7
Future Considerations: #36
Acquiring Popugaev from the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors was one of the first things the Prince George Cougars did in the New Year. The 6-foot-6, 203-pound Russian right winger had already tallied up 51 points in 40 games with the Warriors this season. In his first six games with the Cougars, he’s managed six points.
Finally, Popugaev also represented Russia in the CHL Canada-Russia Series in 2016 and won the U17 WHC gold medal in 2015.
I’m a Hockey Journalist based out of Barrie, Ontario, a Contributing Writer for The Hockey Writers covering OHL, and NHL prospects with an insatiable thirst for all things LA Kings, and PR gal for Abel Sports Management.