While the hockey season in North America is still in the very early stage, most European leagues are already a month old. Therefore it isn’t too early to have a look at how some of the top European prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft started the season. Besides Auston Matthews, the rest of the potential European based top prospects are all playing in either the Finnish or Swedish league. One name that keeps popping up in terms of progress and impressing performance is Patrik Laine. The Finnish forward from Tappara Tampere constantly saw his stock rising over the past months.
Strong Start of the Season
Laine was projected as a mid first rounder at the end of last season in some early 2016 draft rankings but with constantly putting up good numbers and performances he catapulted himself into the top five in most rankings. His stock probably started to rise at last year’s U18 World Championship where he had 11 points including eight goals and led Finland to the gold medal game. He started the season in the highest Finnish league with Tappara and was off to a good start until an injury stopped him. He is currently Tappara’s fifth best scorer with six points in 10 games. He also played very well in the group stage of the Champions Hockey League in August and early September, where he was wearing the team’s top scorer shirt for a short period of time.
Laine’s playing style is definitely attracting attention, and this may not only be because of his impressive blond hair. 6-4 and 209 lbs towering Laine brings along exceptional offensive skills and is an absolute treat to watch. Personally, I like his accurate and powerful shot as well as his ability to make plays in very tight spaces. He stays very calm on the puck and doesn’t panic when under pressure.
He is one of those forwards who bring a lot of skills to the game but are capable of playing the game with a physical edge. Laine is a very competitive forward with offensive upside who likes to use his heavy shot and shows decent vision. He is a good puckhandler, understands the game very well and tries to be responsible in his own zone with solid backchecking, though this is something he needs to do with more consistency. One thing he needs to work on is his first strides which are not very powerful and could be more explosive.
You can find a more detailed scouting report from last year here
Is He a Top 3 Prospect?
While Matthews and defenceman Jakob Chychrun are the first and second overall picks in most of the rankings, the race for the third overall spot seems to be more open currently. By end of last season Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi looked like a safe third overall in most of the rankings. As of now some scouting agencies have Laine slipped into the top three. Hockeyprospect for example has him at number three in their September update, while FutureConsiderations sees him still behind Puljujarvi at number four. ISSHockey listed him at number six in their October list.
In general it can be mentioned that the 2016 version of the NHL draft will be a strong one for Finland with not only Puljujarvi and Laine projected as first rounder, but also with London Knights defenceman Olli Juolevi, who is considered a top 15 pick as of now. Furthermore, forwards Otto Makinen, Otto Somppi and Janne Kuokkanen are three players I have on the radar for a potential slip into the top 30 if they have a strong season.
Nevermind, let’s focus on the top five for now. It is still early to make a first judgement, especially as the North American based players only had a couple of games. However, as of now I would say Puljujarvi is still ahead of Laine as I have the feeling NHL-teams are shying away from Laine because they are uncertain about his work ethic. There are some rumors out there that his work ethic could be an issue and as Puljujarvi is a hard worker on the ice my feeling is that he is still slightly ahead of Laine because of this.
Top 2 Euro plyrs for '16 NHL Draft went head2head today: Karpat's Jesse Puljujarvi/Tappara's Patrik Laine. Puljujarvi 1-1–2. Laine 0-0-0.
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) October 8, 2015
Nevertheless, those are only rumors and what I have seen from him on the ice was impressive, therefore I would say he has the upside to become a top five pick.
Let’s hope his shoulder injury is not keeping him off the ice for too long as there is no official timetable for his return yet. It will be interesting to see how Laine and Puljujarvi battle it out for a top position in the 2016 NHL Draft while playing in the same league, and to see how they are doing compared to the CHL players once this league has picked up some more games. It will be another interesting draft coming up in 2016, even without Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
Independent Scout covering European Hockey and Prospects for TheHockeyWriters. Located in Switzerland and blogging on www.scouting-factory.blogspot.com. Opinions on blog are my own