In the constant battle to gain an upper edge on their opposition, NHl teams have drstically expanded their scouting into previously untapped areas. More and more europeans are being drafted than ever before, and a significant number of those “prospects” are well into their 20′s.It was european pioneers like Borje Salming, Mats Naslund and Jarri Kurri that originally gained Europe NHL attention. Eventually we saw defectors like Alexander Mogilny and Petr Nedved risk their lives to come to North America to play. Later, once Soviet and Czech players were free to leave their homelands, eurpean born NHLers were common place.
The latest trend in the league now is to scout and draft, not only 18 year old potential superstars, but also the veteran stars from all corners of Europe.
In ’98 Nashville drafted Karlis Skrastins (now 27) in the 9th round and got Patric Kjellberg (32) in ’98. Boston took Mikko Eloronta (now 29) in the 9th round of ’99 and Jarno Kultanen (28) in the 6th round of ’00. The Flyers took Roman Cechmanek (30) in the 6th round of ’00. The Capitals brought Ulf Dahlen (34) back to the league in ’99. Columbus had great fortune with Espen Knutsen (29) and David Vyborny (26) last year. St.Louis added Alex Khavanov (29) in the ’99 draft. Minnesota anchored their powerplay with Lubomir Sekeras (32) and also aquired Roman Simicek (29).
Following suit, there are a number of new Europeans, both young and old, who are attempting to crack the line ups of many teams this year. Who among them will have the successes that the above players have had?
Anaheim: It wasn’t long ago that Sami Pahlsson was considered a top prospect in Colorado. So far, he hasn’t shown that he’s more than a third liner after a brief stint with the Bruins last year. Timo Parssinen (24) could make an impact for the Ducks this season if he can overcome his size (5’10″ 176 lbs.)
Atlanta: Obviously all eyes are on Ilya Kovalchuk, but there is another Thrasher to watch. Tomi Kallio was a rookie last season and played in just 56 games. He should get more ice time this year.
Calgary: The Flames are counting on Jukka Hentunen (27) to provide some much needed scoring. Cowtown hopes that Hentunen can play on the second line, but know that his style of play could be used on a checking line too. Oleg Saprykin (20)could be good for Calgary this year too.
Colorado: Colorado will look to Ville Nieminen (24) to play full time this year. Vaclav Nedorost (19) has been getting rave reviews and might see action with Forsberg on the shelf.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets are looking forward to having their first ever draft pick in the line up for them this season. Rotislav Klesla (19) is expected to be in Calder trophy contention and is favored to lead all BJ defencemen in points.
Edmonton: Three europeans are trying desperately to make the Oilers this season. Defencemen Kari Haakana (27) and Ales Pisa (24) are on the bubble while goaltender Jussi Markkanen (26) is still the leading candidate to be Tommy Salo’s sidekick.
Florida: The Panthers have Kristian Huselius (22) who led the Swedish league in scoring. Also, Niklas Hagman (son of former Oiler Mati Hagman) has been impressing people at camp. Denis Shvidki should play full time this year too.
Los Angeles: The Kings like what they see in Jaroslav Bednar (24). The left winger was one of the top point getters in Finland last season.
Minnesota: The Wild are wild about Marion Gaborik (19) and plan to build their team around him. They also have a fella named Tony Virta (29) who could start the season with the team.
Nashville: Pavel Skrbek (22) is close to making the team. He’s a strong passer and ahs decent puck skill as well. Marian Cisar (23) has the potential to play on the second line. Denis Arkhipov (22) played in 40 games last year and is looking to get full time duty now.
New York Rangers: The blueshirts have three european prospects to brag about, but can they make the team? Tomas Kloucek (21) injured his ACL at the end of last season but hopes to be back in mid November. Peter Smrek (22) and Mikael Samuelsson (24) have impressed many Ranger watchers and, according to the Hockey News, might still have chances of making the team.
Philadelphia: Jiri Dopita (32), Pavel Brendl (20), Ruslan Fedotenko (22), and Roman Cechmanek (30) are all intricate parts of this machine. The Flyer faithful have liked what they’ve seen so far, and can’t wait for the season to begin.
Pittsburgh: Is this the year for Alexy Morozov (24) and Milan Kraft (21)? The Penguins hope so.
San Jose: Evgeny Nabokov (26) and Mikka Kiprusoff (24) will either be spectacular or just very good.
Toronto: The Leafs brought in Mikael Tellqvist (22) to support Curtis Joseph. Toronto believes that he is the best Swedish goalie prsopect since Tommy Salo.
Love it or hate it, the NHL is a global league now. In my opinion it’s necessary for the game, especially considering expansion. The style of the Europeans has help change the game, some would say for the worse, but none can deny what players like Jagr, Bure and Hasek provide.