Part 2 of my interview with Jokke Nevalainen focuses on Prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft that played in Europe for all or most of the prior season. While the draft has been postponed to an undetermined date, it’s never too early to start brushing up on the prospects who will be drafted this summer (or fall).
I tried to pick Jokke’s brain on a variety of draft prospects that spanned the top end players, mid round picks, and even some 2nd/3rd year eligible players that are relatively unknown. As he did with Part 1 of this interview, Jokke once again did a wonderful job of showing why he’s the Head European scout for DobberProspects. His firsthand experience of scouting these players in Europe is something that we don’t get a glimpse of typically so enjoy and be sure to give him a follow on Twitter (@JokkeNevalainen).
Getting to Know Jokke
Q: What got you into scouting?
A: I’ve always been a big fan of hockey ever since I was a kid. What got me into prospects was playing fantasy hockey and joining a league that had a farm system. I’m a very competitive person and I knew that scouting prospects was a way to get a leg up against my competition. I guess you could say that things have kind of escalated from there. Watching the World Juniors was probably another big reason – it is such an exciting tournament but it wasn’t a well-known thing in Finland ten years ago (before Finland started to have success there), so I just wanted to spread awareness of it and the future superstars playing there.
Q: Do you focus on Liiga over all other leagues in Europe or is it a balance between them all?
A: Especially this season, I’ve been trying to balance the three big talent-producers (Finland, Sweden and Russia) quite evenly. I mostly focus on the junior leagues (Jr. SM-liiga, SuperElit and MHL) but I also follow the two highest men’s levels (Liiga/Mestis, SHL/Allsvenskan and KHL/VHL) depending on who’s playing where. The other European leagues get focus based on how many interesting prospects are playing there in any given year. For example, I watched a lot more DEL games this season because there were three very interesting draft-eligible prospects playing there. My goal is to get 20+ viewings of all draft-eligible European prospects with top 100 potential. For many of them, I reached that mark pretty early in the season, so I was able to shift my focus elsewhere after that. After the draft, I check in occasionally to see how they’ve progressed but my main focus is on the current draft class.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects
Q: Anton Lundell seems to fall out of the consensus top 7 of Draft Rankings. Do you feel this is warranted? What do you believe is his potential ceiling in the NHL?
A: This draft class has an extremely stacked top ten. Lundell has fallen out of the top five for me as well but I still have him in that top ten and I have a hard time seeing him slipping out of that range. Smart, reliable players who play a strong two-way game that’s not flashy don’t usually get the amount of love they should. In his prime, he can be a Mikko Koivu type number one center on most teams or a number two center on some. That’s not a sexy comparison but coaches love players like him who can be thrown onto the ice in any situation.
Q: Who is your favorite European first time eligible draft prospect in this class and why? (Doesn’t necessarily have to be the best.)
A: I don’t really have any favorites but let’s say Anton Johannesson because he’s such a fun player to watch and he isn’t a well-known name for most people.
Q: Which European defender do you view as the best in this class?
A: It’s a close race between Emil Andrae, Helge Grans, Topi Niemelä and William Wallinder. But if I had to choose, I’d say Andrae. I love his hockey smarts, I think he’s the smartest player out of those four options. He’s also very skilled and creative with the puck, a great skater, and pretty decent defensively as well. Because of his small size and offensive playing style, it’s easy to draw comparisons to Torey Krug.
Q: Tim Stutzle was ranked the best European prospect by Central Scouting. Do you agree with this and does he possess the highest ceiling of all European draft eligible players?
A: For me, the battle for highest ceiling among Europeans comes down between Stützle and Lucas Raymond. They both have potential to become top-line players and difference makers at the NHL level. Stützle is closer to the NHL and he has the ability to play down the middle, so I can definitely understand ranking him first among Europeans. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Raymond ended up being the best European to come out of this draft class.
Q: Which European forward isn’t getting nearly enough attention right now among Draft pundits?
A: This is a tough question because there are so many of them. Kasper Simontaival is one of the most talented players in this draft class but isn’t getting that level of respect. Theodor Niederbach and Marat Khusnutdinov are very talented centers but seem to be slipping through the cracks for some. But if I had to choose one, I’d say Oskar Magnusson. I have him in the second/third round range but haven’t really seen anyone else putting him in that range. He’s an offensive forward but also plays a pretty reliable defensive game as well. He’s versatile and can play all three forward positions but projects to be a winger at the NHL level. I think he’s a pretty safe bet to reach the NHL, and he has a lot of potential.
Q: What are your thoughts on Jan Mysak and his potential ceiling in the NHL?
A: I’ve been following Mysak for a couple of years now. He doesn’t necessarily have high-end skill or top-line potential but I think he’s a pretty safe bet to become a middle-six forward. He’s a versatile player because he can play all three forward positions and he can play up and down the lineup. I think he ends up being a Swiss Army Knife type of player who mostly plays at wing but can fill in at center when needed.
Q: While Veeti Miettinen is one of the oldest first time draft eligible players this year, he showed that he is a pure goal scorer. How well do you think his game would translate to the NHL?
A: I do think his game will translate to the NHL but it will take some time. He was more of a goal-scorer this season because he didn’t have much talent around him. But he can also be a very good playmaker when given the chance. Because of his offensive talent, it’s easy to overlook his play without the puck but he is a hard-working player who is always chasing after pucks and can even kill penalties at the junior level.
Q: Do you have a favorite overager in this years’ draft class?
A: He may not be the best European overager and may not even get drafted but I’m a fan of Aleks Haatanen. He’s a small offensive winger who has been adjusting to playing against men and improving his play without the puck this season. He’s a long-shot to make it to the NHL but he’s the type of player I would gamble on late in the draft and let him marinate in Europe for a few years. But there are a lot of players like that, especially in Russia. If you gamble on a few of them, you have a good chance of getting someone really good eventually.