The National Junior Evaluation Camp has become an annual must-see event for prospect junkies. With 45 of the best Americans, most of which are drafted by NHL teams, there is a great look at the U.S. player pool. However, the event is made even better by the presence of full rosters from Finland and Sweden.
Each year, the Finns and Swedes tend to bring a good portion of the best players in their Under-20 pools. This year is no different. Between Finland and Sweden, there will be seven first-round draft picks in Lake Placid.
Most NHL fans don’t get a lot of opportunities to see their European draft picks play, as they’re typically based out of their home country’s professional leagues. Outside of NHL camps, the actual World Juniors or if they got time in the NHL, this is the best opportunity to get a look at these guys.
Finland and Sweden will play a total of four games apiece in the camp, with two games against each other, each will play a game against one of the U.S. split squads and each will meet the full U.S. roster after cut-downs. All of the games will stream live on FASTHockey.com.
Sweden is the defending gold medalist at the World Junior Championship, while Finland took fourth, so there’s some serious pedigree coming into Lake Placid.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the top players from Sweden and Finland.
These are split by team, then go like this:
Name — Position — 2011-12 Team — NHL Draft Rights (Team, Rd., Overall, Year) — Report
Joel Armia — F — Assat Pori — BUF, 1st Rd., 16th overall, 2011 — Armia was a standout in Finland’s dramatic 4-1 win over Team USA at the 2012 WJC with the go-ahead goal and the one that iced the game. He is a highly skilled forward that can dangle through defenses and get pucks to the net. He had five goals for Finland in the 2012 WJC and did well to ease concerns that he disappears in physical games. At 6-3, 205, he has NHL size now and those puck skills can be deadly. When he’s firing on all cylinders, he is a blast to watch.
Teuvo Teravainen — F — Jokerit Helsinki — CHI, 1st, 18, 2012 — How this guy fell to the Blackhawks at 18, I’ll never quite understand. The Hawks are still trying to figure it out to I bet. They didn’t even have a name bar for him for his draft jersey because they didn’t think he’d be there. When I saw him at U18s, I thought he could become a Top 5 pick for the Draft. His puck skills and vision are elite. He has natural goal-scoring talent and an ability to make everyone around him better. Despite being a bit undersized, his skills are unavoidable. This is a guy everyone will have to be aware of in Lake Placid and later in Ufa. He’s a certifiable stud (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Blackhawks fan.)
Olli Maatta — D — London Knights — PIT, 1st, 22nd, 2012 — Maatta is an elite two-way defenseman who can really move the puck well. He has great size at 6-2, 198 and good strength to go along with it. He posted 23 points in London’s playoff run which ended with an OHL title and Memorial Cup berth. Maatta would have been a big part of Finland’s WJC outfit last year, but was concussed in the first game and lost for the tournament. A healthy Olli Maatta is a dangerous one and will make Finland a lot better in Ufa.
Rasumus Ristolainen — D — TPS Turku — 2013 Draft Eligible — A big, smooth-skating defenseman, Ristolainen was part of the Finnish Junior outfit as an underager in 2012. He’s also a likely first-rounder in the 2013 NHL Draft as a late 1994 birth year. Ristolainen has pro size at 6-3, 202. He’s a strong puck mover, smart defender and good skater. With a lot of NHL scouts and GMs in Lake Placid, Ristolainen has a chance to kick off his Draft season right.
Aleksander Barkov — F — Tappara Tampere — 2013 Draft Eligible — There is a lot of chatter that Barkov, a 1995-born, could be a top-five pick in the 2013 Draft. Having made the World Junior squad as a super underager, Barkov has been on a lot of radars. He didn’t look very good at the World U18s though, as he is not a high-end skater. That said he has an elite shot and really strong puck skills. Those abilities along with his 6-2, 208-pound frame should keep him in the top-five conversation for much of the year.
Ville Pokka — D — Karpat Oulu — NYI, 2nd, 34, 2012 — Finland’s D is really, really stacked for this year’s WJC. Pokka is an excellent puck mover and knows how to get pucks to the net. As a 1994-born, he was a strong defenseman in the professional ranks in Finland and was part of both the WJC squad and captained the U18 World Championship team. Pokka can produce points and is solid enough defensively to get big minutes on the blue line. Finland could push for a medal with this D corps.
Other Notables: Jusso Ikonen (2013-eligible), Miikka Salomaki (NSH), Arturri Lehkonen (2013-eligible), Esa Lindell (DAL)
Mika Zibanejad — F — Ottawa Senators/Djugardens — OTT, 1st, 6, 2011 — The gold-medal game hero for Sweden in 2012, Zibanejad had a roller coaster season in 2011-12. Starting the year with the Senators, Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden to get some more reps in pro hockey. The sleek skating Zibanejad scored the game-winner for Sweden ending a long drought for the Tre Kronor. He has tremendous skills and goal-scoring ability and good size at 6-1, 201. I’m not sure what Ottawa plans to do with Zibanejad this season, but he may not be available for the WJC if he’s on the big club. This camp will offer a great look at a very highly-touted prospect.
Hampus Lindholm – D — Rogle BK — ANA, 1st, 6, 2012 — The Ducks surprised everyone by picking Lindholm sixth overall, but perhaps he was underrated from the start. He was by far Sweden’s best defenseman in a silver-medal effort at the World U18s in April and has all the makings of a high-end defenseman. Lindholm skates extremely well and makes good decisions with the puck on his stick. He’s a heady defender, who knows how to close quickly. His puck-moving abilities are strong and he can let it go when he gets a chance from the point. He’s 6-2, 185 and uses his body well. Some think Lindholm has an outside shot at making the Ducks roster this year. I’m not sold on that just yet, but he certainly has a mature game. He could be a key to Sweden’s bid to repeat.
Oscar Klefbom — D — Farjestads BK — EDM, 1st, 19, 2011 — Klefbom was a standout for the gold-medal squad in 2012, logging tough minutes and working to shutdown opponents’ top lines. Though he doesn’t put up a lot of points, he’s a solid puck-mover. Klefbom also has a, um, bomb from the point when he has room. Still, he’s a better defensive defenseman, playing physically in all zones and often making great decisions with and without the puck. At 6-4, 201, he’s incredibly tough to match up against. Assuming Sweden has it’s top players available and not playing in the NHL, they’re going to be really tough to beat and Klefbom would be a big part of ensuring that.
Filip Forsberg — F — Leksands AF — WSH, 1st, 11, 2012 — I bet George McPhee had a good laugh to himself when Forsberg was available at 11. A consensus top-three pick heading into the draft, he fell out of the top 10. It’s an unbelievable now as it was then. Forsberg is a very strong forward and gets stronger when he has the puck on his stick. He’s so hard to dispossess the puck from and that’s a key piece of his offensive value. Forsberg finds time and space and can really wire the puck. He was part of the 2012 WJC team, but underwhelmed with just a goal on the gold-medal squad. He was dynamic at the U18 level however, scoring five goals and was a consistent threat all tournament. This is a big chance for Forsberg to show he can play at the elite U20 level and produce.
Pontus Aberg — F — Djugardens IF — NSH, 2nd, 37, 2012 — I was moderately surprised to see Aberg slip past the first round in the Draft, but he didn’t last long in the second when Nashville got a great value pick with this highly skilled forward. He wasn’t part of the WJC last year, but played in the World Junior A challenge and dominated. Aberg is not necessarily big at 5-11, 190, but he has some standout puck skills and skating ability. Since there haven’t been many looks at him internationally, I am greatly looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the table in Lake Placid. Should be a pretty revelatory camp for what he’s really capable of.
Oscar Dansk — G — Byrnas IF — CBJ, 2nd, 31, 2012 — Selected with the first pick in the second round, Dansk is one of the better goaltending prospects under-20 right now. Having played in the Ivan Hlinka, World Jr. A Challenge and World U18 Championship last year, Dansk showed flashes of brilliance. Despite getting shelled in the U18 gold-medal game, this is a kid that has some high upside in the position. He’s coming to the OHL next season after getting selected by Erie in the CHL Import Draft, so this will be a good chance for OHL fans to familiarize themselves with this former Shattuck-St. Mary’s product. He’s athletic, covers the net well and typically shows really strong rebound control to go along with his 6-2, 190-pound frame. Should be good to see how he matches up against some tough U20 competition with so many elite forwards
Other Notables: Victor Rask (CAR), William Karlsson (ANA), Alexander Wennberg (2013 Eligible), Rasmus Bengtsson (FLA)
The camp begins with the U.S. split-squads facing off at 4 p.m. EDT on FASTHockey.com. Sweden and Finland enter the fray on Monday with Sweden taking on Team White and Finland meeting Team Blue. For a full camp schedule, click here.