European Undrafted Success Stories Revisited

Continuing my updates of undrafted success stories, here’s a look at players who developed in the European pro leagues without being drafted, who eventually made their way to the NHL.  Like the other articles I’ve focussed on the post-lockout NHL because of the different parameters in which players are viewed (particularly undersized players).  I’ve set the “European pro” bar at age 23 (anything earlier and I consider the player is still a prospect).  For goaltenders the comparisons are slightly less apt (in terms of numbers), but it’s interesting to look at the relative success enjoyed by them.  The numbers next to the player’s name are their stats prior to being signed by an NHL team.

2006 (3)
Niklas Backstrom (G, SM-Liiga) 32-9-10, 1.68, .940 – has played 369 NHL games and remains a starting NHL goaltender
Patrick Thoresen (SEL) 50-17-19-36 – played 106 NHL games; he’s now settled in as a career KHL player
Patrick Fischer (NLA) 44-21-32-53 – played 27 NHL games in his only season; now retired

2007 (4)
Jonas Hiller (G, NLA) 28-16, 2.60 – has played 276 NHL games and remains an NHL starter
Cory Murphy (D, SM-Liiga) 45-13-37-50 – played 91 NHL games over three seasons; entering his first season in the SHL
Erik Ersberg (G, SEL) 41GP, 2.39, .908 – played 69 NHL games over three seasons with LA; a UFA after three seasons in the KHL
Jaroslav Hlinka (Cze) 46-19-38-57 – played 63 NHL games in his only season; finishing his career in the Czech Elite League

2008 (7)
Ville Leino (SM-Liiga) 55-28-49-77 – has played 228 NHL games; signed long-term by Buffalo
Antti Niemi (G, SM-Liiga) 26-14-6, 2.35, .926 – he won a Stanley Cup with Chicago (2010) and has 213 NHL games to his credit; he remains a starting goaltender
Tim Stapleton (SM-Liiga) 55-29-33-62 – undersized NCAA grad played two years in Finland before coming back to North America; played 118 NHL games; beginning his second season in the KHL
Anssi Salmela (D, SM-Liiga) 56-16-16-32 (0.57) – played 112 NHL games over three seasons; entering his third season in the KHL
Fabian Brunnstrom (SEL) 54-9-28-37 – played 104 NHL games over four seasons; entering his second season in the SHL
Ryan Vesce (SM-Liiga) 56-26-18-44 – undersized NCAA grad had made the jump from the AHL to Finland to land a deal with San Jose where he saw all his limited action (19 NHL games); he’s currently in the KHL
Per Ledin (SEL) – played 3 NHL games in his only season; continues to play in Sweden

2009 (5)
Jonas Gustavsson (G, SEL) 42GP, 1.96, .932 – “The Monster” has played 114 NHL games; an NHL backup with Detroit
Mika Pyorala (SM-Liiga) 55-21-22-43 – played 36 NHL games in his only season; entering his first season in the KHL
Henrik Karlsson (G, SEL) 34GP, 2.45, .914 – has played 26 NHL games; he’s back in Sweden
Alexander Salak (G, SM-Liiga) 20-20-9, 2.40, .923 – played 2 NHL games; beginning his first season in the KHL
Johan Backlund (G, SEL) 49GP, 2.56, .907 – played 1 NHL game; beginning his first season in the KHL

2010 (3)
Mats Zuccarello (SEL) 55-23-41-64 (1.16) – pint-sized Norwegian played 67 NHL games; re-signed by the Rangers
Marcel Muller (DEL) 53-24-32-56 – played 3 NHL games; back in Germany
Jussi Rynnas (G, SM-Liiga) 14-13-1, 2.71, .911 – played 2 NHL games; back in Finland

2011 (3)
Raphael Diaz (D, NLA) 45-12-27-39 (0.86) – has played 82 NHL games; remains with Montreal
Victor Bartley (D, Allsvenskan) 52-11-23-34 – undrafted WHLer has played 24 NHL games; signed a three-year, one-way deal with Nashville
Iiro Tarkki (G, SM-Liiga) 20-20-14, 2.09, .924 – played 1 NHL game; entering his second season in the KHL

2012 (4)
Roman Cervenka (KHL) 54-23-16-39 – played 39 NHL games; returned to the KHL
Viktor Fasth (G, SHL) 2.04, .934 – played 25 NHL games; competing for the starting job in Anaheim
Daniel Bang (SHL) 50-8-10-18 – played 8 NHL games; playing in Switzerland
Harri Pesonen (SM-Liiga) 60-21-14-35 – played 4 NHL games; remains with the Devils

No players from the Slovak Elite League, Erste Bank Liga (Austria), Get Ligaen (Norway), or Al-Bank Ligaen (Denmark) have had players signed directly out of them.  The DEL (Germany), Czech Elite League, and KHL (Russia) have only had one each.

Conclusions: the vast majority of the players signed (23 of 29) come from either the Swedish or Finnish leagues and only 9 (if Zuccarello sticks) are NHL regulars.  The greatest success comes from foreign goaltenders, with up to 4 starting goaltenders arriving from the undrafted pool (and 5 of the 9 regulars are between the pipes).  It’s interesting to note how dwarfed the number of players here is by those who arrive via the NCAA route (66 players since 2006), given how large the available pool is in Europe (literally hundreds of players go undrafted).  Part of the reason for the smaller stream of players is twofold: the expense of properly scouting those players, and secondly, the fact that the KHL can pay marginal players a much better salary than they would earn playing in the AHL.  What we can say from this overview is that the scouting community doesn’t make many mistakes and there are very few diamonds in the rough overseas.  The most overlooked players remain undersized players along with the difficult-to-project goaltenders.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


Senators News: September 4th

-With Jarrod Maidens out of the rookie tournament lineup due to injury, Andre Petersson (himself no stranger to lingering injuries) has been tapped to replace himPetersson hasn’t played in a long time and it will be interesting to see how he does.

Nichols‘ transcription service checks in with Pierre Dorion’s comments about the rookie tourney and players for fans to look at:

I think if we’re looking at a few guys, who probably people haven’t heard too much about, I’m looking at a guy like Buddy Robinson. Coming out of Lake Superior last year, he had a great development camp. Big body. Skates. I’m anxious to see how he’s going to do in his first pro experience, even though he played a few games in Binghamton. I’m looking at a guy that we signed also as a free agent, a guy like Andrew Hammond, who we signed as a free agent out of Bowling Green. Both of these guys are a bit older, but guys want to see how they react to their first pro experience. Two other guys that we signed out of college, Ludvig Karlsson, that I know coach Paul (MacLean) talked about yesterday a bit. Coming out of Northeastern, (Karlsson) is 22 years old. And maybe a guy like Cole Schneider, who had a really good second half last year in Binghamton, to see where he is at compared to some of our other prospects.

Dorion only names FA signees out of college and simply wonders how they will do rather than predicting.  The absence of Troy Rutkowski‘s name is interesting–hype around the FA blueliner did not carry over into the rookie camp.  About Cody Ceci:

If I can be brutally honest, we had a chance to see Cody play for the 67s early in the year and everyone from management staff to the coaches were at some of the 67s games. And I think after some games, I was in the fetal position in the corner after watching Cody play a bit, but after that, things straightened out. He got much better in Owen Sound, but where his play really impressed me was in Binghamton at the end of the year. For a 19-year old kid coming into Binghamton, stepping up and controlling games, his play with the puck and pushing the play was so good. But what impressed me the most about Cody was: his play without the puck – which needed a lot of room (to grow); his battle level in front of the net; asserting himself against 25 and 26-year olds – guys who have played in the NHL. It was really something, not that we hadn’t seen it, we had seen it more in Owen Sound. But, he really stepped up and showed that he’s going to be a really good NHL player for us sooner, rather than later.

Not much new here–simply describing Ceci‘s season.  Then he discussed Matt Puempel:

His season was exceptional last year. Sometimes, you know… he had good stats. I think last year, he went from being a kid to being a man. Every time you went and saw him in Kitchener, he was on the puck, he was battling for pucks, he was scoring big goals, and he was going to the net. We really feel we have a real good prospect in Matt. I don’t know if Matt’s going to make our team this year, I think he’s a longshot. But, the way he progressed last year was really something to see. He played in Binghamton at the end of the year and it was a really good indication of where he is. He contributed, not always with goals, but just with how he played. We think Matt, down the road, has a chance to be a top six forward – someone who can score big goals and play the game the right way.

Essentially this is preaching patience–we probably won’t see him in a Sens uniform this year is how I’d read it.  Pierre moves on to Mark Stone:

His ankle is 100%. Mark has always been a guy that trains hard. He was in here by himself in the past two weeks, if I’m not mistaken. Mark is going to compete for a spot on the team. With Mark’s hockey sense, his offensive IQ, his hands, it’s something we’re looking for goals. The good thing is that he’s 100%. He’s healthy. Last year in the playoffs in Binghamton, he was probably our best forward, so it just shows you that he’s competing for a spot on our team.

Clearly Stone is close, but barring a roster move or an injury I can’t see him making the team out of camp.  I’m interested to see what he can do if he can stay healthy. On to Curtis Lazar:

I think Curtis made a big impression, as you just said, at development camp. Curtis, the way he plays the game, the way he skates, the way he shoots the puck, the way he drives the net, the character he brings to the table, I think he’s someone that… I think we have to be careful of our expectations of Curtis. I think if he has a good rookie camp and has a chance to get into some NHL exhibition games, we’ll have a chance to gauge his progression to play in the NHL. I know he’ll be a very good player down the road, whether it’s next year, this year or three years from now, but I know he’ll be a key component in us having a chance to win a Cup down the road. We’ve always got to be careful. A kid coming in at 18-years old to his first pro camp, it will be good if he does well at rookie camp. But when he goes up in an exhibition game against Phaneuf, we’ll see really where things are.

This is a lot of work done here by Dorion to temper expectations for the first-rounder, which is sensible.  Moving on to Jean-Gabriel Pageau:

Well, I think it’s just, with a guy like Pageau, even though he had a great playoffs for us and finished the year well, I think he’s someone that had only one rookie camp under his belt. He’s someone who was fighting to make a spot on the American (Hockey) League team last year. He barely played any NHL games. We just felt for him, starting the season with the kids, and he’s still on his entry-level deal, wouldn’t be a bad thing for him.

As Nichols points out, a small sample size of success doesn’t necessarily bode anything for the future (I like him using the example of Patrick Eaves).  Again, Dorion is tempering expectations (perhaps lessons learned from the Jesse Winchester‘s, Bobby Butler‘s, and Stephane Da Costa‘s of the world).  He moves on to Chris Driedger:

He had a tremendous year last year. They were probably, if you talked to anyone in Calgary last year, he was the main reason they went to seven games versus Edmonton in the (WHL) Conference Finals. He had a tremendous year. I think when he got back (to Calgary from development camp), I had the chance to talk to his coach Mike Williamson, he came back a bit immature thinking that everything was going to be easy. He just had a quick turnaround and he said, ‘I’m going to be the guy here. I’m going to be the hardest worker in practice.’ He just led his team. Unfortunately, what people don’t know is that, I’m not sure he would have been one of the three final guys (for the Team Canada World Juniors). He was hurt at the camp, which is one of the reasons why he barely played in development camp. But we think he’s got a chance to be one of Canada’s World Junior goalies, if not the starting guy. He plays and he beats Brent Sutter regularly when Calgary plays Red Deer, and I think they know how good he is. We’re expecting big things out of Chris, and I think he could surprise a lot of people by being on Canada’s World Junior team.

This is high praise for Driedger and it will be interesting to see how he performs at the tourney.  Finally Pierre offers a brief comment on Darren Kramer who struggled to stick in the AHL last season:

With Darren, it’s always trying to work on his foot speed and puck skills. I think he has enough hockey sense to play that role down the road; it’s just improving every year. He took a step last year, but this year is a big year for a guy like Darren Kramer.

What Dorion means by “big year” is that Kramer is able to establish himself as an AHL-regular and stop bouncing back and forth between Binghamton and Elmira.  Can he be anything other than a one-dimensional pugilist?  Time will tell.  Many other players on the tourney roster go unmentioned by Dorion, but there’s not much to be concluded from that other than (perhaps) the absence of Rutkowski.

Ken Warren suggests which prospects Sens fans should keep an eye on during the rookie tournament and picks Curtis Lazar, Cody Ceci, Shane Prince, Buddy Robins, and Fredrik Claesson.

-The lads at WTYKY offer their NHL predictions with a taste of humour–enjoy!

Jeremy Milks offers him potential line combinations and throws Mike Hoffman on the fourth line for kicks–that isn’t going to happen folks.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)