When looking at prospects from across the Atlantic, there are many factors one must consider. The European rink size is one variable that is brought up as a concern about European skaters. NHL scouts sometimes wonder how players will translate to North America, where they will have less room to maneuver and time to make decisions. The pro of taking kids from Europe is many of them are offered the opportunity to play professionally, something players in the U.S and Canada cannot do until they sign their rookie contract.
The SHL and Liiga both provide their young players with a ton of development. They are trying to groom their prospects into professionals, and it often shows with how quickly Europeans have been able to acclimate to the NHL game when they initially come over. Many of them are much more acclimated to playing against men than say someone who spent five years in the CHL.
The distance from Europe, as far as hockey is concerned, has symbolically shrunk. Europeans used to be a lottery ticket since they were heavily underscouted and nobody had exact reads on any of the players. Recently, we have seen plenty of different European countries represented in the top-three picks of the NHL Draft. This is a positive change because it shows that these countries are producing talent at a similar level to that of Canada and the U.S.
So let’s see exactly how the Devils have done scouting overseas.
No. 1: Jesper Boqvist
Simply put, Boqvist’s upside is through the roof. He is a smooth-skating center who loves to play with the puck on his stick. He excels in the offensive end due to his creativity and vision on the ice. His vision and puck skills also separate him from his peers. There is a chance Boqvist could step into the NHL as a top-six forward, and be a driver with the puck. He had a rough season last year due to a wrist injury, so hopefully this season he is able to get back into a real rhythm and produce at an even higher level in the SHL.
No. 2: Fabian Zetterlund
Zetterlund has NHLer written all over him. The main feature people will talk about is his shot. Zetterlund is a goal scorer first, and isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere on the ice. His shot is also extremely heavy and dangerous so there are many situations where he is able to create a scoring chance where his peers wouldn’t. He is an extremely hard worker and hustler up and down the ice. Zetterlund plays with a reckless abandon at times, but you never get the sense he is out of control. He is smart enough to know when to go at 150 percent, and when to wait in the weeds for the puck. It is safe to say we should expect to see him in New Jersey soon.
No. 3: Aarne Talvitie
This kid is a Swiss army knife…or technically Finnish. He has been an all-situation player for Finland’s national team over the course of his career, and captained their team at the World Junior Summer Showcase. During that tournament, Talvitie made a name for himself by playing extremely hard and showing off his ability to put the puck in the net. He is a little bit like Zetterlund in the fact he excels at playing the game in the dirty areas at a high pace. He is a little bit less of a goal scorer, but creates offense by being relentless on the puck. Talvitie is also coming over to play college hockey this year, so that gives him a leg up with acclimating to North American ice. Players like Talvitie are the kind you want as depth assets heading into the playoffs. Maybe we will see him in New Jersey after the end of Penn State’s upcoming season.
No. 4: Yegor Sharangovich
There is a bit of a drop between Talvitie and Sharangovich. Talvitie has the upside to potentially slot into a top-six role if a glue player is needed. Sharangovich will most likely be a complementary depth asset for the Devils. The thing about Sharangovich is his potential NHL-readiness for this season. He will probably start out in the AHL and acclimate himself to the smaller ice, but after that he could be a dark horse as the first injury call-up. Like Zetterlund and Talvitie, he is a high-character individual that works hard while also having a surprising set of skills. Sharangovich has some size and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work in order to win.
No. 5: Mikhail Maltsev
Maltsev is a guy who will step into the Devils lineup right after he gets signed. He is a big body who has been playing professional hockey in the KHL. Maltsev hasn’t really gotten a chance to showcase his skills because he has only been utilized in a depth role. He has shown an ability to create some offense by tallying five assists in limited minutes with SKA St. Petersburg. He comes off as a pro who knows his role and is comfortable getting the job done. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling but is a safe bet to be an NHLer.