Top 10 European prospects for the 2011-12 NHL season

At the end of July I had a look at the top 12 Swedish prospects for the 2011-12 season. They included the best rookies of 2010-11 as well as the next wave of Swedish rookies who will battle for the Calder Trophy. Now it’s time to have a look at the rest of the European prospects who will have an impact with their respective teams in 2011-12. Some of them have already shown flashes of brilliance in 2010-12, while others have yet to play regularly in the NHL.

Notables: Pavel Valentenko (NYR), Alexei Yemelin (MTL), Evgeny Dadonov (FLA), Nikita Nikitin (STL), Alexander Salak (CHI), Jakub Kindl (DET), Jan Mursak (DET), Philip Larsen (DAL), Vyacheslav Voynov (LA), Vladimir Zharkov (NJ), Viktor Tikhonov (PHX)

10. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Philadelphia Flyers (Russia) – Height: 6-2, Weight: 190
After a very surprising and efficient rookie season during which he won 28 games in 54 games, Bobrovsky is now Ilya Bryzgalov’s backup in Philadelphia. This hampers Bobrovsky’s value on draft day and should stay away from the “Bob”. Unless, Bryzgalov gets injured or the 22 year-old netminder gets traded during the season, his value will be limited because of a lack of playing time.
Prediction: 22 games, 10-8-2, 2.62 GAA, .912 Save %

9. Tomas Tatar, C, Detroit Red Wings (Slovakia) – Height: 5-11, Weight: 176
Drafted at the end of the second round in 2009 by the Red Wings, Tatar had a great offensive season with Grand Rapids last season, he even got a few cups of tea with Detroit. However, the 20 year-old Slovakian is buried in a very deep organization and could very well end up starting the year in the AHL. His hockey sense and offensive instincts are off the charts and he boasts strong puck handling ability and has great wheels. Tatar can also score goals as shown by his 24 tallies in 70 games with the Griffins last year.
Prediction: 40 games, 7 goals and 13 assists for 20 points, +2 +/- rating

8. Andrei Loktionov, C, Los Angeles Kings (Russia) – Height: 5-10, Weight: 180
Loktionov is a playmaking centre who should crack the top nine positions with the Kings and inherit third-line center duties if Mike Richards is used on the wing. Loktionov has averaged at least a point per game in the AHL and doesn’t have much to gain going back to the minors. The Moscow native is a solid two-way player who can fulfill various roles on the team ranging from a defensive expert on shorthanded units to a playmaker on a power-play unit. He sees a great vision and he is a great passer.
Prediction: 65 games, 10 goal and 15 assists for 25 points, +5 +/- rating

7. Yannick Weber, D, Montreal Canadiens (Switzerland) – Height: 5-11, Weight: 195
Used as the team’s seventh defenseman and sometimes as a forward, Weber was called-up in late November last year. He dressed for half of the Canadiens’s games, scoring 1 goal and adding 10 assists for 11 points. The Swiss rearguard will get more responsibilities this season with the departures of Brent Spoel and Roman Hamrlik. Weber will get plenty of power play on the second unit and regularly be in the line-up whether it is as the team’s sixth defenseman or thirteenth forward.
Prediction: 76 games, 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points, -3 +/- rating

6. Lars Eller, C, Montreal Canadiens (Denmark) – Height: 6-0, Weight: 200
Ahead of schedule in his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery, Eller should be ready for the regular season. The young Dane had a very inconsistent rookie season with Montreal, showing flashes of brilliance at times while going AWOL for long stretches still trying to adapt to the rigors of the challenging NHL season. Eller should improve in all aspects of his game, but don’t expect big numbers from him as he is buried down the depth chart at center. The 22 year-old pivot will battle David Desharnais to be the Canadiens’ third line centre out of training camp.
Prediction: 75 games, 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points, -5 +/- rating

5. Nino Niederreiter, LW, New York Islanders (Switzerland) – Height: 6-2, Weight: 205
After playing 9 games with the Islanders last season, before being sent back to junior, Niederreiter is ready to make the jump full time in the NHL. “El Nino”, a physically mature player who can play both wings, dominated in the WHL playoffs with Portland last season and has an opportunity to crack the Islanders top six on the right out of training camp. The Swiss native will only turn 19 in September, so he hasn’t yet reached his physical potential. The skillful Niederreiter is a real leader on and off the ice and his determination and skills will help blossom into a great NHLer.
Prediction: 78 games, 17 goals and 13 assists for 30 points, -15 +/- rating

4. Alexander Burmistrov, C, Winnipeg Jets (Russia) – Height: 5-11, Weight: 175
The talented Russian played very well at times last season in Atlanta, but he also struggled at time. The flashy Burmistrov scored only six goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 74 games. He struggled defensively, finishing the season with -12 plus/minus rating. The lanky pivot should start the season on the Jets’ third line behind Bryan Little and Nik Antropov. Expect a slight increase in production from Burmistrov, but don’t overrate him as he still has to bulk up and polish his overall game to be an effective top-six player.
Prediction: 78 games, 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points, -7 +/- rating

3. Nikita Filatov, LW, Ottawa Senators (Russia) – Height: 6-0, Weight: 190
After being traded to the Senators during the off-season, Filatov will get another chance to crack a very shallow group of forwards and show his offensive skills. The boom or bust Filatov is likely getting his last chance to stick in the NHL after playing only 44 games in the past three seasons with the Blue Jackets. His elite offensive skills and versatility should allow him to produce on a consistent basis with the more offensive-minded Senators. Remember that Filatov is still only 21 year-old despite being around for the past three season. If Filatov lands a spot on Jason Spezza’s line, expect him to produce good offensive numbers on one of the streakiest lines in the NHL.
Prediction: 70 games, 21 goals and 16 assists for 37 points, -15 +/- rating

2. Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, RW, New York Rangers (Norway) – Height: 5-7, Weight: 170
The diminutive winger dazzled Rangers fans with his excellent offensive skills after he was called-up from the AHL following a rash of injuries to key BlueShirts forwards. Zuccarello managed to play half a season in the Big Apple, appearing in 42 games, scoring six goals and adding 17 assists for 23 points. The small Norwegian winger was especially valuable in the shootout where he excelled. The 24 year-old speedster has fantastic technical skills and great passing ability. He can also man the point on the power play.
Prediction: 75 games, 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points, +6 +/- rating

1. Michael Grabner, LW, New York Islanders (Austria) – Height: 6-0, Weight: 170
After being plucked out of waivers by the Islanders from the Florida Panthers, Grabner blossomed during his rookie season. In 76 games in Long Island, Grabner scored an impressive 34 goals and 52 points while finishing +13 on a very weak team defensively. Don’t expect Grabner to repeat his goal totals in 2011-12, as other teams will put better defenders against him this season. Yet, Grabner is still a very talented forward boasting extraordinary speed and great offensive instincts. He needs to improve on his consistency as he can be red-hot for a few games just to go on a cold streak right after that.
Prediction: 77 games, 27 goals and 20 assists for 47 points, -5 +/- rating

I find it quite surprising that none of the above players comes from Finland and Czech Republic, which have been successful countries at an international level for quite some time now. Sweden is now by far the leading provider of talented hockey players born in Europe after looking at the best oversea prospects in the past two articles.

Do you agree or disagree with the above list? Do you think I overlooked a player? Feel free to add your comments below.

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About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish.

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  1. RobJ74 says:

    After the AllStar break, Grabner stayed hot for an extended period of time and didn’t go on any prolonged slumps…

    • Fred Poulin says:

      Yes he was much more consistent from mid-January to the end of the season… now he has to be consistent over 82 games, which is hard to do for a player like Grabner!

  2. HyeDray says:

    Grabner was more consistent throughout the season — more so then some may think.

    While goal total were not “there” the first few weeks, he was one of the few players producing during the 14 game skid that ended the Isles season. I believe he had 15 of his goals by the time he reached the all star break.

    While I agree that other teams will field better defenses against Grabner this season, there are 2 things going for him.

    First: Defenders best be as fast as he is to catch him. If not, he will be able to fly past them regardless of how “good” that particular defender is.

    Second: I would hope that he may bury more of his breakaway chances then he did last season.

    Scoring 30 goals in an NHL season is no easy task. While I agree there is no guarantee he will repeat, I am not so sure he wouldn’t eclipse 30 again.

    Happy you gave Nino some creds. He is most deserving.

    On Filatov — He may have the skillset, but can he get his head out of his butt long enough to play hockey?