European Undrafted Success Stories Revisited

I haven’t updated my undrafted success stories out of Europe article in a couple of years and there’s no time like the present. 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 23 (anything earlier and I consider the player still a prospect).  The numbers next to the player’s name are their stats prior to being signed by an NHL team.

2006 (3)
Niklas Backstrom (G, Liiga) 32-9-10, 1.68, .940 – 409 games; remains with Minnesota
Patrick Thoresen (SEL) 50-17-19-36 – played 106 NHL games
Patrick Fischer (NLA) 44-21-32-53 – played 27 NHL games

2007 (4)
Jonas Hiller (G, NLA) 28-16, 2.60 – 378 games; with Calgary
Cory Murphy (D, Liiga) 45-13-37-50 – played 91 NHL games
Erik Ersberg (G, SEL) 41GP, 2.39, .908 – played 69 NHL games
Jaroslav Hlinka (Cze) 46-19-38-57 – played 63 NHL games

2008 (7)
Antti Niemi (G, Liiga) 26-14-6, 2.35, .926 – 328 games; won a Cup with Chicago; with San Jose
Ville Leino (Liiga) 55-28-49-77 – played 296 NHL games
Tim Stapleton (Liiga) 55-29-33-62 – 118 NHL games
Anssi Salmela (D, Liiga) 56-16-16-32 – played 112 NHL games
Fabian Brunnstrom (SEL) 54-9-28-37 – played 104 NHL games
Ryan Vesce (Liiga) 56-26-18-44 – 19 NHL games
Per Ledin (SEL) – played 3 NHL games

2009 (5)
Jonas Gustavsson (G, SEL) 42GP, 1.96, .932 – 106 NHL games; unsigned
Mika Pyorala (Liiga) 55-21-22-43 – played 36 NHL games
Henrik Karlsson (G, SEL) 34GP, 2.45, .914 – played 26 NHL games
Alexander Salak (G, Liiga) 20-20-9, 2.40, .923 – played 2 NHL games
Johan Backlund (G, SEL) 49GP, 2.56, .907 – played 1 NHL game

2010 (3)
Mats Zuccarello (SEL) 55-23-41-64 (1.16) – played 222 NHL games; remains with the Rangers
Jussi Rynnas (G, Liiga) 14-13-1, 2.71, .911 – played 4 NHL games
Marcel Muller (DEL) 53-24-32-56 – played 3 NHL games

2011 (3)
Raphael Diaz (D, NLA) 45-12-27-39 (0.86) – 201 NHL games; with the New York Rangers
Victor Bartley (D, Allsvenskan) 52-11-23-34 – 111 NHL games; remains with Nashville
Iiro Tarkki (G, Liiga) 20-20-14, 2.09, .924 – played 1 NHL game

2012 (4)
Viktor Fasth (G, SHL) 2.04, .934 – played 63 NHL games
Roman Cervenka (KHL) 54-23-16-39 – played 39 NHL games
Daniel Bang (SHL) 50-8-10-18 – played 8 NHL games
Harri Pesonen (Liiga) 60-21-14-35 – played 4 NHL games

2013 (2)
Michael Raffl (Allsvenskan) 49-24-22-46 – 135 NHL games; remains with Philadelphia
Reto Berra (G, NLA) 3.01 .906 – 50 NHL games; remains with Colorado

2014 (4)
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (SHL) 52-20-15-35 – played 82 NHL games; remains with Philadelphia
Dennis Everberg (Allsvenskan) 47-17-17-34 – played 67 NHL games; remains with Colorado
Melker Karlsson (SHL) 48-9-16-25 – 53 NHL games; remains with San Jose
Ronalds Kenins (NLA) 39-8-17-25 – played 30 NHL games; remains with Vancouver

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.

Conclusions: the vast majority of the players signed (27 of 34) come from either the Swedish or Finnish leagues; 13 are or were NHL regulars (including those from last season).  The greatest successes are the goaltenders, which isn’t hugely surprising given that remains the biggest blind spot for scouts at the draft.  It’s interesting to note how dwarfed the number of players here is by those who arrive via the NCAA route, despite how large the available pool is in Europe.  Part of the reason for the smaller stream of players is the expense of properly scouting those players and the difficulty of deciphering how big ice hockey play will translate to smaller rinks.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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