Yaroslav Askarov. Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada
The prospect and draft game is going to be all sorts of different from here on out, but the one upside is that we will likely have constant hockey to talk about thanks to scheduling differences. Over in Europe, a number of leagues have begun their 2020-21 campaigns, even as the NHL has yet to finish the 2019-20 playoffs.
As I wrote about recently, a slew of NHL prospects have either moved back to Europe or gone over for the first time in order to play games while North American junior leagues sort out their Return to Play protocols and some of those kids are off to excellent starts. Here’s a look at 10 prospects making noise right now.
Vitali Kravtsov, LW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL): His 2019-20 campaign was a roller coaster than involved multiple trips to North American and Russia, but Kravtsov is staking his claim to a big 2020-21 in the KHL. The New York Rangers prospect has six goals and seven points in seven games to lead his team and the big, talented kid has looked deadly.
Philp Broberg, D, Skelleftea (Swe.): The big, sweet-skating defenseman was part of the Edmonton Oilers’ Return to Play roster and now he’s back home in the SHL where he can continue his development. Broberg kicked off the regular season with three points in his first regular-season game.
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat Oulu (Fin.): I’m counting Puljujarvi as a prospect even though he has already played 139 NHL games with Edmonton, since his return to Finland last year was a reset for the big, strong kid. With 24 points in 15 exhibition games, Puljujarvi is tops in Finland’s Liiga by a country mile.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL): The goalie and rookie of the week in the KHL, Askarov earned the accolades with one shutout and a .974 save percentage in three games. Not bad for a newbie, but Askarov is no typical rookie: he’s one of the best goaltending prospects of his generation and the top netminder available in the 2020 draft.
Brad Lambert, C, JYP (Fin.): A phenom to watch for the 2022 NHL draft, Lambert is a Finn with Canadian heritage who boasts an excellent wrist shot, great skating and superb puckhandling skills. The 16-year-old had nine points in six games against men in the Liiga pre-season.
Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (Swe.): One of the top 2020 draft prospects, Raymond was impressive in the pre-season and continued his good run with a goal in his first match of the SHL campaign. Raymond is awesome with the puck on his stick and could be a top-five pick in a few weeks.
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Fin.): The best two-way center available in the 2020 draft class, Lundell is a big kid who excels on the defensive side of the puck. In the Finnish pre-season, he showed off his offense with eight points in nine games, while winning almost 60 percent of his faceoffs.
Matej Blumel, LW, Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.): An Edmonton Oilers pick who boasts great speed and the ability to play with an edge, Blumel is playing in Czechia’s top league, where he has posted four points in six games so far. Blumel previously played in North America with USHL Waterloo.
Ruslan Iskhakov, C, TPS (Fin.): A New York Islanders pick who came over from Russia to play NCAA hockey at UConn, Iskhakov is now in Finland where he posted 11 points in 11 pre-season games, good for third overall and tops on his team. He’s undersized, but incredibly skilled.
Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA-1946 (Rus.): Another phenom kid who is proving why the hype is there, Michkov is just 15, but he’s already one of the top scorers in Russia’s junior league with 10 points in eight games. That puts the dynamic 2023 NHL draft prospect third overall.