DRAFT CENTRAL: EUROCENTRIC
By Jason Lockhart
European prospects continue to impress each year. This crop is no exception, with a few forwards anticipated to go early in this year's NHL Entry Draft.
Draft Central continues with a glance at the top three European picks predicted to make a splash in the NHL.
Nicklas Backstrom, Center
2005-2006 Team: Brynas (Swe)
2005-2006 Stats: GP: 46, Goals: 10, Assists: 16, Points: 26, PIM: 30
The best Swedish prospect in some time, Nicklas Backstrom is making serious strides towards becoming an elite NHLer. Backstrom earned Rookie of the Year honors this season in the Swedish Elite League and garnered rave reviews at the World Championships in May.
Backstrom has good hockey sense, superb puck control and uncanny playmaking ability. He reminds many scouts of Peter Forsberg because of his ability to thread the needle on seemingly impossible passes.
Like his fellow Swedes, Backstrom is defensively responsible. His quick stick is effective in cutting off centering passes.
"He's not as tough as Forsberg," one scout told The Hockey News. "(But), he plays heads-up hockey all the time. You see him go into a corner and he comes out with the puck. He has no problems with physical play."
Some scouts say he's NHL-ready, but another year in the Swedish Elite League will help improve his game.
Michael Frolik, Right Wing
Kladno, Czech Republic
2005-2006 Team: Kladno (Cze)
2005-2006 Stats: GP: 48, Goals: 2, Assists: 7, Points: 9, PIM: 32
Like Phil Kessel, Michael Frolik was highly touted and a sure lock to go in the top three of this year's draft as recently as 18 months ago, but his stock dropped a bit on the International Scouting Service chart.
One theory suggests he lost some dexterity because of his growth spurt that added five inches and 27 pounds.
Despite his drop in stock, Frolik is still considered a top ten pick with an explosive skating ability and excellent acceleration. He knows how to score, but is also a terrific passer.
Scouts say Frolik needs to work on his strength and physical play to effectively compete in the 82-game NHL grind.
Jiri Tlusty, Left Wing
Slany, Czech Republic
2005-2006 Team: Kladno (Cze)/ Under-18 Czech National Team
2005-2006 Stats: Kladno GP: 44, Goals: 7, Assists: 3, Points: 10, PIM: 51/WJC GP: 4, Goals: 0, Assists: 0, Points: 0, PIM: 0
Jiri Tlusty may not be as highly regarded as Backstrom or Frolik, but he's got enough talent to land a spot on the first or second line.
Don't be fooled by Tlusty's poor production in the Czech league. He was one of the youngest players in the league and played hard to the end on a terrible team.
"(Tlusty is) an elite talent, but the pieces need to come together," one scout said to McKeen's Hockey Prospects. "(He) has a strong, well-balanced lower-body and meanness, but lacks consistency and fluidity. He'll score more when he moves better with the puck at full speed."
According to the Central Scouting Report, Tlusty is an excellent skater with a shot that's hard to stop.
The Czech Republic native is more of a sniper than a playmaker indicated by his penchant for producing greater goal totals than assist totals.
The 2006 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 24 in Vancouver, BC.