The 2015 draft has largely focused on North America, what with twin terrors Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel dominating headlines, with Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin and Mitch Marner not far behind.
But there were some excellent prospects plying their trades on the other side of the Atlantic this season and they’re ready to let their skills do the talking.
Mikko Rantanen is a powerful right winger from Finland who played against men for TPS Turku. With a big frame and a wicked shot, he’s great with the puck but doesn’t shun his responsibilities away from it either. Like Aleksander Barkov two years ago, Rantanen hopes to make a splash right away in the NHL.
“I know the NHL is a tough league,” he said. “It’s the best league in the world. But my goal is to train so hard that I would be ready to fight for a place in the lineup.”
Though Rantanen signed a contract extension through 2017 with Turku this season, he says there is an out clause that allows him to leave for North America. The talented Finn would be eligible to play in the AHL next year and he has asked buddy Rasmus Ristolainen of Buffalo what that circuit is like, but Rantanen also noted that returning to Finland might be the way to go too, should he not crack an NHL roster.
Though all youngsters want to get to The Show quickly, Rantanen does have the chops to do it. His TPS squad was a bottom-feeder in the Liiga, but he improved as the campaign went on, getting many of his points in the last 25 games.
This was his second season playing against men and he knows what he must do to take the next step as a pro.
“I’m ready for physical play,” he said. “One thing I want to do more is take the body, but I’m not afraid of physical play.”
Another European player garnering a lot of interest is Swedish defenseman Gabriel Carlsson. More of a raw product than Rantanen, Carlsson is a lanky 6-foot-4, 183 pounds, but the weight can be fixed – it’s the height that is intriguing to teams. A shutdown blueliner who mainly played juniors this season, he will be jumping up to Linkoping’s top team next year, where he saw some time this season.
“It’s a good level,” Carlsson said. “A big difference from under-20. It’s faster with more physical play, but at the same time you play with better players and they help you more. It was good for me, I think it helped me climb in the rankings.”
Right now, Carlsson looks like a late first-rounder and the interest is palpable. He spoke with 28 teams at the draft combine in Buffalo and had 24 meetings back home in Sweden. Today, he had interviews with Toronto and Anaheim and it wouldn’t be crazy to see him selected by either team: Both have good records with Swedish defensemen and both have a late first-rounder right now (Toronto’s pick courtesy of Nashville).
While Carlsson won’t jump straight over here, the raw tools are there and it’s not difficult to project him as a solid pro. His journey to the NHL may take longer than Rantanen’s, but the excitement of the draft is still sky-high.
“In Sweden, on junior teams, there’s not a lot of media around,” Carlsson said. “It’s way different when you come here; a new beginning, as they say.”