2022 NHL Draft: European Players to Watch
Europe continues to produce top-quality NHL prospects, and not just those from Russia, Sweden and Finland.
This season, there are a couple of Slovakians in particular who are looking to make themselves household names, both are in the top-10 discussions. That country isn’t alone in that bid, either.
With FCHockey getting set for the season, our scouts agreed on seven 2022 NHL Draft-eligible players from Europe that you’ll need to see this season. From the LIIGA, the DEL, and the Slovak League, the European leagues will be well-represented throughout the 2022 NHL Draft.
Here are FCHockey’s seven prospects in Europe to watch this season (in alphabetical order):
Lian Bichsel, D, Leksands IF (SHL)
Swiss defenseman Lian Bichsel could surprise a lot of people and become a first round selection at the 2022 NHL Draft. The Wolfwil, SUI prospect has taken his talents to Sweden where he will play for Leksands in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
Last season, Bischel played for Biel-Bienne in the U20-Elit League and he registered 28 points (five goals, 23 assists) in 45 games. He also saw action in the Swiss National League, playing four games for EHC Biel-Bienne, but held zero points. He represented Switzerland at 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, where he finished the tournament with two points (one goal, one assist) in five games.
He also donned the Swiss jersey at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was named Captain and would record one assist in four games.
“Bichsel is a mobile, puck-moving defender who plays with a physical edge,” FCHockey scout Austin Broad said. “He catches your eye because of his physical traits, he’s tall and has a pro ready frame. When you watch him closer you realize that he’s much more than physically impressive. He skates extremely well and can handle the puck even while facing pressure.
“With his size, puck skills and mobility I think there’s a lot to unlock in his game. I can see a top-four NHL upside in his game if he’s able to iron out some kinks in his game.”
All in all, his talents were noticed and Bischel will play this year for Leksands to further his development.
David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Czech)
Czech blueliner David Jiricek has been on the radar for quite some time. The 6-foot-3 defender spent last season the Czech Extraliga playing for HC Plzen. In 34 games, he recorded nine points (three goals, six assists) and managed to make a name for himself a league that is dominated by men.
He represented the Czech Republic on two separate occasions, one being the World Juniors, where he had two points (one goal, one assist) in five games, being named a top-three player on his team, and the Under-18’s, where he was held without a point in four games.
“Jiricek is a huge, complete defender who uses his size effectively in the defensive zone, is a good skater for his size and possesses good offensive skills,” Simurka said. “He seems to be the real deal as one of the better defensemen in this draft class.
“In my opinion, he is not one of the defenders with the highest offensive upside in this draft class, but with Jiricek a team will get a complete two-way defender who forces the opponents offensive players to play on perimeter, breaks up plays before they develop but who also will transition the puck and get solid numbers from the blue line.”
Jiricek will spend the rest of this season with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga. His CHL rights are held by the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Marco Kasper, C, Rögle BK (SHL)
Austrian forward Maro Kasper is another player who has taken his talents elsewhere in Europe.
Last season, Kasper saw action in three different leagues in Sweden. While playing for the Rögle BK Program, he saw action in the J18 Region, J20 Nationell and most notably the SHL. While in the SHL, Kasper had one assist in 10 games, but it’s his work ethic, never quit attitude that has made him a polarizing prospect. He represented Austria at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships this past year and put up one assist.
“Kasper is a versatile forward who has the skating ability and quick processing mentality to be a two-way center,” FCHockey scout Curtis Schwartzkopf said. “With his high-end offensive awareness, Kasper finds himself open frequently in the offensive zone, due in part to him constantly moving his feet. Kasper also has high-end agility, which allow him to skate away from crowded areas with subtle changes in direction and an efficient stride that generates a lot of power but looks effortless.
“Personally, I’d like to see him be more aggressive and allow himself to take over games as he has dynamic traits that likely make him a first round pick in the upcoming 2022 draft.”
This season, Kasper looks to get his name out into the mix even more. He will be playing for Rögle BK in the SHL.
Julian Lutz, C, EHC München (DEL)
German forward Julian Lutz has been able to make a name for himself as one of the top regarded German prospects for the 2022 NHL Draft.
Lutz has spent much of his young career with the RB Hockey Academy in Austria, but now has brought his talents home and will be starring for EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). Last season, Lutz played for the RB Hockey Juniors in the Alps Hockey League (AlpsHL) where he recorded 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 31 games.
He also saw some action with EC Salzburg of the ICEHL where he had three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games. He represented Germany at the Under-18’s, recording one assist.
“Lutz is a big, hard forechecking winger with good offensive skills,” Simurka said. “Red Bull Academy is well known in Central Europe for their skating development, and Lutz seems to be one of their best product in this area in their short but relatively successful history. He is fast, quick, mobile, can get around defenses with quick turns, stops, direction changes or simply by his speed.
“Lutz is a fun to watch player. He is also a solid stickhandler, controls the puck in full speed, is successful with the puck in tight areas, drawing oppositions attention, having always head up and then passing the puck in the lanes he created. He is not only forechecking hard, but also forechecking smart, positioning his body and stick properly.”
This season, Lutz will look to further his development even more with EHC München and become one of a few Germans selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.
Filip Mesar, F, HK Poprad (Slovakia)
Slovakia has been pumping out the talent, and this year will be another draft full of talented Slovaks. Add Filip Mesar to that list.
Mesar has been apart of and dominated the HK Poprad program for years. Last season, he recorded 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 36 games in the Slovakian Men’s league. Mesar played two games for Slovakia at the 2021 World Juniors as a 16-year-old and looked to be comfortable at that level. As an assistant captain for Slovakia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he had eight (two goals, six assists) in five games, winning silver.
“I see him much more as a playmaker and pass-first guy at the next level then as a scorer,” Simurka said. “He is agile, quick and very effective skater. He has quick first steps and accelerates to top speed outright. Mesar was winning battles for loose pucks, his compete level was high.”
Mesar will spend the season with HK Poprad of the Slovakian Men’s League where he looks to take his development to the next step and fulfill his dream of becoming a first round NHL draft pick.
Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Simon Nemec spent the 2020-21 season playing for HK Nitra where he registered 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 37 games. He went on to represent Slovakia at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, recording four assists in five games and was a crucial part to Slovakia’s run. He was a captain at this past years Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament, where he lead the Slovaks to a Silver medal and put up six points (one goa, five assists) in five games. Nemec was named the tournament MVP.
“Nemec is a very gifted two-way defenseman that is effective on both ends of the ice,” FCHockey scout Douglas Larsson said. “All aspects of his defensive game are exceptional, especially when looking at his rush-defense. Nemec is not afraid to shoot the puck when he sees an opening, and when he did it was low as he was shooting for a tip or rebound. His decision-making needs some work, as I often saw him making a quick decision that was often not the best decision.
“I would be willing to take Nemec’s smart and complete game in the top-10 in the upcoming 2022 draft.”
Nemec will spend this season again with HK Nitra of the Slovakian League. He was drafted fourth overall in the 2021 CHL Import Draft by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Juraj Slafkovsky, C, Turku TPS (LIIGA)
Last season, Juraj Slafkovsky starred on the under-20 TPS squad in the U20 SM-sarja league, he recorded 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 16 games. He represented Slovakia at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, the then 16-year-old played in five games but held zero points. He was also apart of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup squad that won silver, Slafkovsky had nine points (three goals, six assists) in five games.
He is sure to be a lock on the World Juniors roster once again, expect a big tournament this year from him.
“Slafkovsky is a big forward who can shoot and has great puck skills,” FCHockey scout Mirolsav Simurka said. “Because of his size, it may be a little surprising that Slafkovsky has one of the softest pairs of hands in this draft class. He is very strong with the puck on the rush, controlling the puck at full speed, drawing defenders and creating passing lanes for his teammates. Slafkovsky can get away a perfect pass in the tightest area in any form that is needed — soft, hard, backhand, saucer, hook pass etc.
“Slafkovsky projects as a top-six winger with elite playmaking and passing skills but he can also shoot the puck with great velocity given for his age. Slafkovsky is in the top-10 if not top-five conversation right now.”
Slafkovsky will remain with TPS, splitting time between the U20 SM-sarja league, and the Finnish Men’s League (LIIGA). His CHL rights are held by the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).