Eurpoean prospects

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European Hockey Leagues

  • Kari Lehtonen, Goalie, Jokerit, Finland If you thought that Jay Bouwmeester is the only one to make noise among the 2002 class, you're gravely mistaken. It is no secret that Finland is producing a plethora of great young netminders, but Lehtonen could end up as the best of them all. A stand-up goalie, Lehtonen thrives by facing a lot of shots. He has lightning-quick reflexes and has already proven to be a clutch player not just at the junior but at the senior level as well. The young Lehtonen first earned fame during the under-18 championships in 2000. His domination of the favored Russian squad led to a shocking 2-1 victory by the underdog Finns. More recently, Lehtonen has gotten off to a spectacular start this year in the Finnish Elite League. Although Bouwmeester is the favorite to go No. 1, Lehtonen will make this a more exciting race for the top than previously believed. Lehtonen backed-up Ari Ahonen in 2001 WJC and earned a tie in a game versus Canada. Lehtonen led the Finnish squad to the bronze medal at the 2002 WJC in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Lehtonen is mainly a standup goalie with good size (6-foot-2 1/2, 190 pounds), quickness and net coverage. He can handle the puck decently. Lehtonen is a goalie of big games. He has let in some easy goals in "easy" games on juniors, but that hasn't happened in SM-liiga. On the other hand, Lehtonen can be very strong mentally when he has to carry the team. Lehtonen seems to be about a year ahead in development in this point of his career if compared to some Finnish goalies like and Ari Ahonen.
  • Joni Pitkanen, Defense, Karpat, Finland Pitkanen has been star of Finnish junior teams for some time. He missed the 2001 under-18 World Championships with shoulder injury he got in the SM-liiga playoffs. Pitkanen made his SM-liiga debut in Karpat last season and has been a regular this season. He has been playing in the Karpat junior organization since he was seven years old. Pitkanen is a good skater and playmaker. He can handle physical play if needed, but he is better known for his skills with the puck. He has to work on his shot and as he is 6-3 and 192, he has to get some more muscle. he has all the tools to be the best Finnish defenseman ever, but it'll take some time before he is mature enough to make the NHL.
  • Sean Bergenheim, Center, Jokerit, Finland Bergenheim is fast and quite a strong player although he isn't very big. He has good puckhandling skill. He is more of a speedster than playmaker. The question is whether he can score goals when playing against other top players. Sean is yet another fast winger produced by the Jokerit junior organization (Jani Rita and Teemu Laine are the previous ones.)
  • Jiri Hudler, Center, Vsetin, Czech Republic The diminutive HC Vsetin Sr. center was a known prospect since the mere age of 13, when he entered the midget Extraleague as a twice underage. The time before he spent in Olomouc, where he was coached first by his father and then by respected coach Radomir Kuzilek. This was followed by a rocket-style midget career, which saw Hudler grab one midget Extraleague scoring title and a very successful stint with the junior team of Vsetin. In 2001-02 Hudler already played his third season among the seniors, but the first one involved only two regular season games for the smallish playmaking wiz. Last season he played for two Extraleague teams, Vsetin and Havirov and the games with the Havirov team helped Hudler boost his confidence and prove himself and the NHL scouts that he is ready for a full time job among the seniors in 2001-02. People complain about his lack of size and an unwillingness to face the rough play. The NHL scouts may shy away from Hudler a bit in their top-five selections beacuse he already suffered a serious neck injury while playing for Havirov the last season, but they should also take into account what kind of a player Hudler is. He always faced older opposition and was able to compete with them well. Hudler's hockey sense and playmaking ability are really extremly rare and he makes plays happen like he wants to. He is a very good skater even if his skating could still be improved. His stickhandling and an uncanny ability to pass the puck through holes unseen by the others make him really great. Hudler possesses a nice scoring touch but he'll always be more of a playmaker. As a center, Hudler faces lots of faceoffs and that's a thing he should work on more. Playing in high traffic can also be difficult for him. Hudler needs to rely on his smarts. He is a pure offensive player, he doesn't like to play defensively, but once on the puck he shows great skill. He can be eliminated by tough play, but Hudler is fast and smart enough to avoid bone-crushing hits. Definitely a rare gem and a potential top-10 pick.
  • Jakub Koreis, Center, Plzen, Czech Republic A star in the making, Koreis uses his big frame well and has the tools of a great playmaking center who plays an all-round game. Koreis is an average skater but his uncanny ability to read the plays allows him to foresee the situations and be at the right place at the right time. His stickhandling is very solid and Koreis is strong on the puck. He can make very strong decisions with it and he likes to prepare scoring chances. Koreis won't probably ever be a huge goal-scoring threat, but a top-notch playmaker who can fight along the boards and in front of the net where he looks for rebounds. He also helps the defense a lot and is willing to take a hit or make a hit. Koreis needs to refine his scoring touch a bit and be more mature, else he has only very few weaknesses.
  • Ondrej Nemec, Defense, Vsetin, Czech Republic Nemec can be described as a skilled offensive defenseman. He sees the ice well and likes to join the rush. He is a very good outlet passer and can also carry the puck into the opponent's zone. Nemec is able to quarterback the power play and has a dangerous shot from the point. His shots are very accurate and quite hard, also good to deflect. His offensive side is well developed and Nemec is a solid skater, but he needs to work on this aspect more. Nemec 's problem on defense is his size. He is a bit undersized and sometimes has trouble with big, tough opposing forwards who can eliminate him. That doesn't happen very often, though. Nemec isn't afraid of the rough stuff and is willing to fight along the boards. But he needs to work on his consistency and showing up every game. He definitely has the tools and will develop into a premier offensive defenseman.
  • Alexander Semin, Left Wing, Chelyabinsk, Russia Semin is a product of the famous Traktor Chelyabinsk hockey school. During the 2001-02 season, he secured a spot in the team's main lineup and consistently saw a lot of ice time. Traktor plays in the Upper League, Russia's second elite league and Semin adjusted well to play with more experienced and skilled adult players. He has consistently been a member of the Team Russia. He has risen through the team's ranks and established himself as one of its most skilled scorers. At the Five Nations Tournament in Tyumen, he led the team in scoring with three goals and two assists. While some players' stats appear to be boosted by their linemates, Semin scored two of his three goals completely on his own. At the tournament he played on the same line with Maxim Shevjev, who finished second in scoring. While Shevjev is a strong player, he would not have had the three goals if Semin did not attract the attention of the defenders and set him up on two of those goals. Semin sees the ice well and makes responsible decisions with the puck. He is a great skater and is able to "undress" a defender with a burst of speed. He is an excellent puck handler. He has a powerful and well aimed slap shot and is able to make great shot while on the move at high speeds. The combination of his speed, puck handling and shot is simply scary — he makes it look easy. He is also a good passer and possesses the potential to be a complete scoring threat. The only thing that may hold him back is his size. He has grown to just under six feet in height, but still remains around 170 pounds. To play well at the next level, he will need to bulk up.
  • Vladislav Evseev, Left Wing, Central Army, Russia Evseev is a solid-sized winger with excellent skating and great puckhandling. He also has a great shot and plays a very aggressive style of hockey. He is a great passer and has a great hockey sense to understand his responsibility at all times. Evseev tries to be responsible on defense, forechecking and hitting his opponents in his own zone. However, his efforts aren't always fruitful, as he tends to overcompensate and get out of position to confront the opponent. Evseev has great leadership qualities, is able to lead by example, as well as drop the gloves when necessary. What Evseev does lack is maturity and joining Viktor Tikhonov's HC CSKA this year has definitely helped him in that department. Tikhonov's system has often been known to make stars or break players down and out of hockey. In the case of Evseev, it appears that he is maturing into a capable player. Evseev will likely be one of the top-five picks in the draft. His ratings have been hurt by his absence from the Russian National team at the Five Nations Tournament in Tyumen, but he has delivered a solid performance at the other 2001 tournament in the Czech Republic. He should be one of the top three picks in the draft, but he may slip to as low as eight or tenth with other "safer" draft choices, such as Grebeshkov and Babchuk leading the way.
  • Anton Babchuk, Defense, Elektrostal, Russia At 6-foot-5, Anton Babchuk has an imposing frame. Though he has not yet quite filled it in, weighing only 190 pounds, Babchuk has already developed a nasty physical edge to his game that will only get stronger as he grows. Defensively, Babchuk is a very good, hard hitter, able to deliver hits along the boards or out in open ice. Besides delivering the hits, Babchuk also effectively uses his large frame to block shots. He plays a strong positional game, able to keep the opponents in front of him. For a guy his stature, he is a solid skater with good speed and above average lateral movement, but still has room to improve in the skating department. Babchuk is a smart player and is willing to join the rush. He has a very good offensive upside. He is also a very effective power play quaterback, being a solid puck handler and being able to pass the puck right on the tape. Babchuk does have to improve his shooting. He has a powerful shot, but it is not very accurate. Mentally, Babchuk has a great hockey sense and plays a physical and simple style of hockey.
  • Denis Grebeshkov, Defense, Yaroslavl, Russia Grebeshkov absorbs knowledge like a sponge. He learns fast and always works hard on the ice. Offensively he has been developing well in the international competition at his age level, but has not been extensively used in an offensive role with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Grebeshkov possesses a strong and well-aimed shot. He is also a solid power play quarterback. His lack of experience is the main thing that is stopping him from taking a more prominent role on offense. Grebeshkov has the tools, but is prone to making mistakes and hence hesitates to take serious chances in the offensive zone. This is less evident if scouts only look at his play in international tournaments, because he is light years ahead of many other players his own age. He possesses a great hockey sense. Beyond the ice he is shy and timid. There were incidents when the security at the Lokomotiv arena did not allow him through, not believing that he is one of team's leading defensemen. Grebeshkov attended the 2001 NHL Entry Draft where several of his teammates got drafted, but found out in Florida that he was not eligible. He is the second-highest ranked European defenseman in the '02 draft, standing behind only another Russian, Anton Babchuk. Though Grebeshkov will never command Babchuk's physical presence on the ice, he may develop into a better all around defenseman. Grebeshkov has the potential of being a top-four NHL defenseman. He is already mature beyond his age and has earned the trust of Vladimir Vujtek, the head coach of Super League's gold winning team. Grebeshkov is NHL-ready for this upcoming season on the third or fourth line. However, such a move may seriously hurt his long-term development. Grebeshkov should stay in Russia for at least another season. In 2002-03, he will earn a promotion to the first or second defensive pairing with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. If his development continues at the current rate, he will be ready to make a serious impact in the NHL in 2003.
  • Kirill Koltsov, Defense, Omsk, Russia Standing 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Kiril Koltsov is not a huge physical presence on the ice. However, given his average height, Koltsov's wide frame could make him a vicious hitter if he bulked up the frame from the already respectable 183 pounds. Koltsov is already a very aggressive player, and is eager to take on the physical aspect of the game of hockey. His aggressiveness is also his downside as sometimes he gets a bit overzealous and takes unnecessary retaliatory penalties for crosschecking or slashing. Koltsov's lack of discipline was not really helped by his stint in North America with the Streetfields Derby of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he sharpened some of the less glamorous qualities of North American hockey. However, it was an important experience for him as he will have to adapt to this style of hockey if he hopes to play in the NHL. Talent-wise, Koltsov is an excellent stickhandler and is a solid skater, able to weave through traffic with the puck. His speed also allows him to rapidly carry the puck up ice through the neutral zone. He also possesses impressive hockey sense, able to make creative passes and be a good quarterback on the power play. At only 18 he has already developed a solid set of tools to become an NHL-level hockey player, but will need to work on his discipline not to hurt his career before it develops.
  • Alexander Steen, Center, Frolunda, Sweden Steen is a quite flashy player. He combines his skating and technical skills in a very impressive way. Another great thing about this young center is that he seems to be totally fearless. Playing against big and tough Elite League players doesn't seem to bother him even a bit. On the other hand Steen doesn't play overly physical, and like many other young players, he should bulk up, and get stronger. Steen has had an impressing season in the SEL. He has perhaps not scored a lot of points, but more importantly he has shown a great attitude and willingness to contribute. With limited ice-time (some games) Steen has worked really hard and received a lot of credit from his coach, as well as several newspapers. Not many 17-year olds are regular SEL players (or even semi-regular). The one's that are almost always get drafted in between the first and third round of the NHL Entry Draft. Steen is no exception. He is expected to be drafted in the first or second round. We can expect him to really establish himself in the Elite League next season.
  • Jonas Johansson, Left Wing, HV-71 Jr, Sweden Johansson is a strong player who needs to work with his physical game. There's no doubt that he has fine offensive skills, but an improved work ethic and strength would benefit his game. Johansson had a strong season and he is hoping to see more ice-time in the SEL next season. Hopefully Johansson will be able to challenge for a third- or fourth-line spot next year.
  • Tagged: Sabres, Mika Noronen

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