I have to preface this list by letting you know I have only seen two of these players live, with a good chunk of viewings done during tournaments that are streamed or on TV (World Juniors, Ivan Hlinka, etc.) This list is made up of players born before 1996-12-7. The rankings are based on a combination of statistical success this year in relation to league, as well as the potential success they may have at the NHL level given team circumstance. It isn’t a perfect measuring stick as I haven’t “scouted” many of these players, so take it for what it is.
1. Rasmus Dahlin – LD – 2000-04-13 (16) – Frolunda HC (SHL) – 6’1 – 165 lbs
Up to this point, Rasmus Dahlin has established himself as a blue chip prospect in every sense of the term. After posting 16 points in 15 games in the SuperElit league, the 16 year old is now logging SHL minutes for Frolunda, and has two points on the year. Dahlin is a smooth skating puck transporter, and possesses the ability to be a dominant set up man on the powerplay. Dahlin has the innate ability to rifle passes through seams with precision, and will likely be a 30-40 assist guy in the NHL. The 2018 draft class is chock full of elite defenders, but Dahlin has clearly established himself as the number one guy.
Dahlin will attend Sweden’s World Junior selection camp.
2. Timothy Liljegren – RD – 1999-04-30 (17) – Rogle BK (SHL) – 6’0 – 198 lbs
After a rough start to the year due to mono, Timothy Liljegren is back on track and showing off why he is considered a top three prospect in this years draft. The right handed blue liner boasts a highly intelligent game with strong puck moving capabilities, as well as a lethal shot from a distance. Liljegren has excellent vision in all three zones, and much like Dahlin, has the ability to to make incredible passing plays with very little room. Liljegren is a strong technical skater, and currently projects to be a number two defenceman at the NHL level.
3. Ilya Samsonov – G – 1997-02-22 (19) – Metallburg Magnitogorsk (KHL) – 6’3 – 205 lbs
There are few goalies who have been able to post the kind of numbers that Ilya Samsonov, not only this year, but over the course of his entire hockey career. Samsonov is dominant, plain and simple. During his rookie campaign in the KHL, Samsonov managed a .925 save percentage, and has followed that up with a stellar .934 through 18 games this season. Samsonov is in an interesting position given the strength of the goaltenders in Washington, meaning he may not become a full time NHL starter for another couple years.
4. Klim Kostin – RW – 1999-05-05 (17) – HK MVD Balashikha (MHL) – 6’3 – 196 lbs
Statistics should not define Klim Kostin. The 6’3 Russian forward was held pointless through a combined 14 games in the KHL and MHL, ultimately leading to his demotion to the MHL. Kostin is an exciting player to watch and brings something to the ice every shift. Though he lacks explosive qualities, he has a strong toolset that features quick hands, good offensive zone vision, and a strong ability to protect the puck in the cycle. Kostin is a fiery guy, meaning discipline will have to improve as he’s shown he can get thrown off his game with chippy play. At the NHL level Kostin looks like he will be a top six winger, though offensive production may not reach over 60 points until his prime.
5. Kirill Kaprizov – LW/RW – 1997-04-26 (19) – Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) – 5’10 – 192 lbs
Not many players have surprised in the stats department like Minnesota Wild 5th rounder Kirill Kaprizov. The 19 year old winger has posted 28 points (14 goals) through 36 games in the KHL this season. Kaprizov’s high ranking stems not only from his ability to produce in one of the best leagues in the world, but the fact that the Wild are hungry for goal scoring in the top six, and will likely give Kaprizov an extended look there if he comes to North America for the 2018-19 season as a 21 year old.
6. Elias Pettersson – C/LW – 1998-11-12 (18) – Timra Ik (Allsvenskan) – 6’2 – 161 lbs
As an 18 year old, Elias Pettersson has managed to post over a point per game through 24 regular season games in Allsvenskan. Pettersson is one of the most creative players poised to go in the top ten of this years NHL draft, and will likely be given a chance to show off his creativity at this years World Juniors. Pettersson is a quick player who skates well, and relies on his elite level puck skills to be a dangerous offensive zone player. Pettersson likely won’t be an NHL regular any time soon, but with added development time in the SHL, he could very well become a second line NHL center.
7. Igor Shestyorkin – G – 1995-12-30 (20) – SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) – 6’1 -190 lbs
29 games. 1.53 GAA. .943 save percentage. What else needs to be said? The Rangers did extremely well with their fourth rounder and now have a future replacement for Henrik Lundqvist.
8. Oskar Lindblom – LW/RW – 1996-08-15 (20) – Brynas IF (SHL) – 6’2 – 196 lbs
With his contract in the SHL coming to an end following the 2016-17 season, Lindblom may be a major factor in the Flyers top six next season. Lindblom is a skilled forward with excellent offensive zone instincts, and that’s reflected in his point per game pace he’s currently at. Lindblom is an offensive catalyst who’s shooting ability is on par with his passing abilities. Look for Lindblom to put up 40 in his rookie season.
9. Mikko Kokkonen – LD – 2001-01-18 – Jukurit U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga) – 5’11 – 190 lbs
Anytime a 15 year old is playing in the top league in their respective country, they’re going to get a lot of attention. Kokkonen represented Finland at this years U17 tournament where he didn’t record a point, but played a steady, well rounded game. Through 15 games in Jr. A SM-liiga, Kokkonen has put up a total of four goals and four assists.
10. Kristian Vesalainen – C/LW – 1999-06-01 (17) – HPK (Liiga) – 6’3 – 203 lbs
Kristian Vesalainen is a highly intriguing player as he brings a combination of size, speed, and puck skills that you don’t find very often. His statistical totals throughout the first 24 games (16 SHL, 8 Liiga), have not been great, as he has been unable to produce after being loaned to Liiga, however he did manage to post five points in the SHL. The big bodied Fin will likely receive a lot of attention following the World Juniors, so watch for his name to rise in draft rankings.
11. Axel Holmstrom – C – 1996-06-29 (20) – Skelleftea AIK (SHL) – 6’1 – 198 lbs
Detroit has seen better days in terms of their on ice product, however their ability to draft high end prospects late in the draft remains near the top of the league. Axel Holmstrom, who went 196th overall, has done nothing but produce for the past four years, tallying a career total 13 points in 14 World Junior games, as well as 44 points in 98 SHL games. Holmstrom has yet to play a game this season as he is out with injury. In terms of his NHL potential, given his skating ability and puck skills, he looks like a fit in a top 9 role, and if Detroit does head down re-tool lane and he ends up with more ice time, he could be a top six guy when its all said and done.
12. Lias Andersson – LW – 1998-10-13 (18) – HV71 (SHL) – 5’11 – 198 lbs
There’s a lot to like about Lias Andersson, one of which is his ability to shoot from a distance. He sees the ice well and is a dangerous player when given room. One question that remains is whether or not he plays a game that will translate to the NHL. He’s a smaller player who likes to use his feet to weave in and out of Ozone traffic, which leads me to question what he can do on small ice. Luckily for me, that question will likely be answered when Andersson represents Sweden at the upcoming World Juniors.
13. German Rubtsov – C – 1998-06-27 (18) – Vityaz Podolsk (KHL) – 6’0 – 190 lbs
German Rubtsov doesn’t play the stereotypical Russian style of hockey in the sense that he’s not a pure playmaker and doesn’t have a lethal Ovechkin/Tarasenko/Kuznetsov. Rubtsov’s strengths come in his commitment to playing a sound defensive game in all three zones, as well as supporting the puck which allows for easier transitions out of the defensive zone. That being said, Rubtsov is an extremely talented skater with separation speed, and a strong set of hands. I’d expect Rubtsov to be a good third line center at the NHL level, similar to Nick Bonino in that he will be able to play a top six role.
14. Aleksi Saarela – C – 1997-01-07 (19) – Lukko (Liiga) – 5’11 – 198 lbs
Aleksi Saarela, a third round pick by the New York Rangers, was poised to dominate the WJC this year, after posting a point per game on last years championship squad, however we won’t be seeing him as he turned down the invite. Why? Not too sure. He’s been unable to produce at the same rate as last season with Assat, and his current team, Lukko, sits second last in the league which makes the decision to not join the Finnish WJ team even stranger. Saarela plays an intelligent game, and may come across as lazy to some, however I believe him to be somewhat cerebral in his approach, and very economical in his Ozone movement. At the NHL level, Saarela is likely a third liner with the ability to post between 30-40 points.
15. Marcus Westfalt – C/LW – 2000-03-12 (16) – Brynas IF J20 (SuperElit) – 6’3 – 187 lbs
Through 20 games in J18 Elit, Marcus Westfalt posted an impressive 10 goals and 22 assists, which earned him a call up to SuperElit. The 6’3, 187 pound forward. Little is known about the Swedish forward other than his ability to produce not only over in Sweden, but internationally as he also racked up three points in six games at this years U17 tournament.
16. Gabriel Carlsson – LD – 1997-01-02 (19) – Linkoping HC (SHL) – 6’4 – 183 lbs
Gabriel Carlsson is an assertive two way defender with strong defensive zone instincts. He’s not a guy who’s going to post big numbers as his value comes in his shutdown capabilities, however given his efficiency on the breakout he could be a guy who picks up a decent amount of secondary assists when he makes his way to Columbus. Carlsson’s contract comes to an end following the 2017/18 season, and he will represent Sweden at this years World Juniors.
17. Filip Gustavsson – G – 1998-06-07 (18) – Luela HF (SHL) – 6’2 – 185 lbs
Draft Swedish goalies. It’s the key. Gustavsson is already an SHL regular, and currently sits with a .931 save percentage through 7 games. During his time with the J20 team, Gustavsson posted a .935 save percentage before earning the call up. I believe he’s one of the highest potential goalies we’ve seen come from Sweden in a while, however with the strength of goaltending in Pittsburgh, there’s no sense in him making his way over any time soon. Gustavsson may be a guy teams look at near the deadline when offloading veterans.
18. Adam Bokvist – RD – 2000-08-15 (16) – Brynas IF J20 (SHL) – 5’10 – 170 lbs
Adam Bokvist, a right handed defenceman currently playing in the SuperElit league, is proving he can produce at a variety of levels. Bokvist posted 14 points in 8 games during his time in J18 Elit this year, and followed that up with two assists in two games in the SuperElit league. Bokvist really grabbed scouts attention during his time at the U17 tournament where he managed four goals. Bokvist, like many high end Swedish defenceman, excels in the offensive zone, often directing the play from the blue line. It won’t be long before he earns an SHL promotion.
19. Noah Rod – C/RW – 1996-06-07 (20) – Geneve-Servette HC (NLA) – 6’0 – 192 lbs
Noah Rod has been a dominant international player, plain and simple. The Swiss forward has a combined 18 points in 17 games with both the U20 and U18 teams, however his value stretches far beyond that with his speed and physical play adding a unique element to whichever team he’s on. Rod plays a North American style of game, and really excels down low in the cycle and funneling pucks to the net. Given that he’s signed in the NLA until the 21/22 season, he may be a player the Sharks will have to wait for, however he should be high on their priority list as he has the ability to make an impact on their bottom six in the very near future.
20. Carl Grundstrom – LW/RW – 1997-12-01 (19) – Frolunda HC (SHL) – 6’0 – 194 lbs
With 13 points in 25 SHL games, Grundstrom is only three points off last years total. The Swedish center has been excellent this year, and has taken a big step offensively, something I was unsure he’d be able to do as he appeared to be more of a complimentary player. That is not the case, and he’s proving that. Grundstrom will play for Sweden at the World Juniors, and will likely play a top six role, something all Leafs fans are hoping he can one day do in Toronto.
Linus Soderstrom (G) – New York Islanders
Yegor Korshkov (C/RW) – Toronto Maple Leafs
Lukas Wernblom (C/LW) – Eligible 2018
Jonathan Dahlen (C/LW) – Ottawa Senators
Pavel Kraskovsky (C/RW) – Winnipeg Jets
Did I leave anyone off the list that you think should have been there? Let me know!