The Journey: Prospects Turning (North American) Pro – Europe
Thanks for joining me for another installment of The Journey. As usual, I’d like to start the week off by delivering some exciting news on the prospect front.
Since the pandemic began, we have had a multitude of sporting events canceled, especially those on the international stage. Although many IIHF events continue to remain postponed, this year’s World Junior Championship is set to run as scheduled during the usual holiday season (hooray). There is a small twist, and unfortunately, that twist comes at the expense of the Swedish fans. Despite the tournament originally scheduled to be held in Sweden, It will now be run in Edmonton, inside the same bubble that was put in for the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Much like this year’s playoffs, it will be very unfortunate not to have the passion of the crowd involved, which of course is always electric. I can speak to this personally, as I had a great opportunity to multiple game action in Victoria/Vancouver just two years ago, including the gold medal game. The atmosphere was on a different level. Yet, the fact that this incredibly sought-after the event can continue to run is simply fantastic news. What’s more, given the uncertainty surrounding the NHL/AHL start dates, we have the potential to see a full list of top-end talent.
I’d like to continue my quest around the top leagues, delivering some key names from each region who are slated to make their professional debuts, or in this case, North American debuts. If you missed them please check the previous lists:
This week, I head to Europe. I will admit, there were not as many high-profiled signings from this region as in the past, and many of the top-end prospects in the region will continue to play at least one more season overseas. However, there is a very skilled crop brewing over the next few seasons that should be making their way and should be making big splashes in your fantasy leagues.
Pius Suter (NLA), F- Chicago Blackhawks
Just one season removed from striking gold on a former Swiss League player and Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik, the Blackhawks have inked Suter to a one-year ELC deal. The 24-year-old broke out during the 2019-20 campaign with a league-leading 30 goals and 53 points over a 50 game span with ZSC Lions, earning himself the league’s MVP award. Assuming the 2020-21 season finally occurs, Suter is set to join the Hawks immediately and should slot into their top-9, barring any unforeseen circumstance. Despite going undrafted, he does have experience playing on the smaller ice surface, as he spent his junior career in the OHL with the Guelph Storm.
Suter is a strong two-way forward who manages himself well in all three zones. In fact, not only did he lead the Swiss league in both goals and points, but also led in plus/minus with a plus-24 rating. He is versatile in the sense that he can play both wings and up the middle, while capable of creating chances both off the wall and as a net-front presence on the power play. Overall, his offensive upside is decent, especially if he catches chemistry on a line with the obvious names on the top-6. Of course, it remains to be seen if his skills will translate to the NHL. Fantasy owners should tread lightly on how early you select him, but should warrant a low-risk gamble in the mid-range of your prospect draft.
After two seasons in the Liiga with the Pelicans, Ylonen is confirmed to be making his way to North America to begin his journey into becoming an NHL full-timer. The former second-round pick is considered an above-average skater and creates many chances off the wing by outright beating defenders in races. His shot is by no means elite, yet, his ability to carry plays using his terrific speed keeps him an offensive threat. Despite standing 6-foot-1, he is far from physical and could benefit from adding weight before his transitions into the NHL.
Time in the minors is guaranteed for Ylonen, and fantasy owners could have to wait a year, perhaps two before he even gets a sniff with the big club. Although his underlying statistics are strong, and he holds top-six potential, I do expect him to realistically cap out as middle-six forward for the Canadiens. He is a points-only prospect in regards to fantasy for now.
Despite a short stint in the NHL and AHL during the 2019-20 campaign, Heinola made the move back to Lukko (Finland) for the remainder of the season, posting seven points through 29 games. The 19-year-old blueliner is a strong skater, not fast, but very poised and smooth. He has terrific edge-work and is capable of taking matters into his own hands by driving the play up the ice himself. Although he has not posted huge offensive numbers at any level during his young career, his ability to find open shooting lanes through traffic while making crisp first passes should translate into offensive opportunity. At 178 pounds, he is still on the smaller size, but given the stature of many new-age rearguards in the league, his skating should be able to pick up the slack in that regard.
Heinola is expected to be at training camp this season and given the current state of the backend in Winnipeg, I fully expect him to earn a spot come opening day. He is considered a top prospect on the team's backend and should fulfill his top-4 potential with ease.
Buffalo's 2018 third-round-pick is officially making his way over to compete for a spot within the Sabres organization and will more-than-likely make his first stop at the AHL level. The 21-year-old is a smaller set, mobile defender who has spent the better half of his previous three seasons with Ilves. While he is not known for scoring goals, he makes very smart, crisp passes and gets on the scoresheet as a result. He may weigh just 165 pounds, yet, he has a long reach, which enables him to make sound defensive plays before making his transition up the ice.
In order to make the jump to the top, he will need to add some weight and learn how to make his decisions at a quicker pace. Regardless, the rest of his game should allow him to become a solid player within the club's pipeline. There is clear potential to eventually challenge for a Sabres roster spot, possibly as a fourth d-man. His status as a right-handed shot only stiffens those chances.
It’s always satisfying owning a player in fantasy with a triple position next to their name, and Zohorma should have just that come next season. While he is not a well-known or even a well-sought after prospect, the Czech native holds intangibles that could hold up in a bottom-six role as early as next season. As mentioned, he has the ability to play in all three forward positions, giving the Penguins many options in which they can utilize him within their lineup. He’s a smart, sensible player with a history of winning championships (has won two in the Czech league). What’s more, he is 6-6, 223-lbs. with six years matchup up against men.
As you can imagine, with a frame such as his, skating is not as smooth as many of the forwards on the ice surface today. However, his versatile, hard-nosed game should allow him to translate seamlessly. Perhaps not for offensive production, but as strong depth for the team. He should be considered a very late pick in fantasy drafts but is worthy of a low-risk gamble if you are in search of additional multi-cat statistics.
Berni, who played with the afformed mentioned Suter, is heading over from the ZSC Lions and will undoubtedly begin his season with the AHLs Cleveland Monsters. The 20-year-old is considered a bit of a project, with a likelihood of becoming a bottom-pairing defender. However, he took very strong strides in his overall game over the course of the 2019-20 season and has impressed many overseas.
He served as captain for the Swiss in the 2020 WJC tournament and earned himself a role as a top-4 defender for home his club. Keep him on your queue until the very later stages of your draft, but keep a close eye on his development through the minor league level.
Mathias Brome (SHL), F – Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings took a low-risk chance on Brome, a two-way forward who sat sixth in the SHL with 17 goals and 43 points just one season ago. At 26, he earned himself a one-year ELC after a respectable European career with 99 points over 156 games in Sweden’s top league, with some years spent in various leagues prior. Equipped with an offensive touch, Brome is a very hard-working, tenacious winger. He does not give up plays, which translates to a high turnover percentage, which ultimately results in offensive chances.
Although his offense may not translate fully at the NHL level, the Red Wings have a spot ready for him come the 2020-21 season, with hopes he can bring some sandpaper and work ethic to the mix. I would not expect a high output immediately, especially considering the state of the organization, but he may add some multi-cat benefits to a deeper squad in some formats.
Look out for next week, as I cover a full list of netminders across all regions. Enjoy the first round of the Stanley Cup Finals and as always, catch me on Twitter for more prospect news @hall1289.
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