One of the interesting aspects about the Devils most recent draft class was the amount of European forwards that were selected. Players such as Nico Hischier, Nikita Popugayev, and Marian Studenic are European forwards that are already plying their trade in North America. Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, and Aarne Talvitie still in their native countries developing their games prior to coming over. This post will focus on those European based forwards and some things to keep an eye on for in this upcoming season.
Will Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund earn full time roles in the SHL?
After Nico Hischier, Jesper Boqvist is perhaps the prospect with the highest amount of potential from the Devils most recent draft class. The Devils selected the offensively talented forward with the the 36th overall pick last June. Last season was an interesting one for Boqvist as he played at both the junior and professional level for his club, Brynas IF. He excelled at the junior level with 10 goals and 5 assists in 15 games for the junior team. He had a brief spell with Brynas IF in SHL play, the top flight of Swedish hockey, where he had 6 assists in 16 games. Among players below the age of 19, he had the 3rd highest Pts/GP rate at 0.38 and 2nd most assists. Boqvist enjoyed a successful loan spell in the Swedish 2nd division, the Allsvenskan, with Timra IK. He had 3 goals and 9 assists in 19 games. That was good for him to finish 3rd in overall scoring among players under the age of 19 in the Allsvenskan. A quick skater with creative playmaking skills, he's able to use his finesse game to compete against both his peers and those older than him. He will turn 19 at the end of October and could very well find himself playing a full time role for Bryans IF in the SHL. He's already proven himself at the junior level and in the second division. The time is now for Boqvist to show that he is a legitimate top 6 NHL prospect by producing at the top level in his home country. I anticipate 2017-18 being a big year for his development in all aspects of the game. Hopefully he cements his role with Brynas IF in the SHL.
Fabian Zetterlund is another Swedish prospect trying to earn a spot in the SHL. While he has some similarities to Boqvist in his offensive capability and great skating ability, there are a few differences that make his situation a bit different. First, while being in the same draft class, Zetterlund being selected by New Jersey at 63rd overall, Zetterlund was relatively young for the 2017 draft. He doesn't turn 18 until later in August making him quite a bit younger than Boqvist. Secondly, while Boqvist can effectively play at center or on the wing, Zetterlund is much more comfortable as a right winger. While he has experience at center, I think Farjestad BK will look to keep him on the wing where he is most effective using his size. That lack of versatility could very well be a factor in determining whether or not he earns a spot on the senior team in the SHL. Zetterlund did excel at the junior level for Farjestad BK's U20 team with 16 goals and 20 assists in 40 games. That left him tied for the team lead in assists and points. Among players under the age of 18 in the SuperElit (junior) league he was 4th in scoring. He managed to get into 14 SHL games last season where he was held off the scoresheet in limited action. With this upcoming season being his age 18 year, I could see him splitting time between the junior league and perhaps a loan to the Allsvenskan. By no means is a SHL opportunity out of reach, but he could be on the outside looking in as one of the youngest players on the Farjestad BK roster. A chance to play meaningful minutes against older, more experience competition in the Allsvenskan could be a great move for him. It will be interesting to see what this upcoming season brings for Zetterlund.
Back to the Finnish juniors for Aarne Talvitie?
The Devils selected Aarne Talvitie in the 6th round at 160th overall last June. Talvitie has developed in his native Finland under the Espoo Blues program and has turned into a feisty, hard-working center that can kill penalties and provide secondary scoring. There has been the question of where he would play the 2017-18 season ever since he was drafted. The 18 year old Talvitie turns 19 in February but isn't committed to play for Penn State until the 2018-19 season. He had the option of staying home in Espoo, Finland or making the move to North America to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News caught up with Talvitie at the recent World Junior Summer Showcase a few days ago. He reports that Talvitie is leaning towards returning to Finland for another year of play. I find this decision interesting for a few reasons. First, by returning to Finland, he can't play in the The Liiga (formerly known as SM-liiga) as it is a professional league and would nullify his NCAA eligibility. Secondly, I am a little bit surprised he doesn't want to try to acclimate to the North American game against future college peers in the USHL. I would think that would help make his eventual transition to college hockey easier. With that being said, perhaps the chance to play another year of junior hockey in Finland (Jr. A SM-liiga) is too good to pass up. He'll be in an environment that he's comfortable in and feels that he can grow his game at his pace. He'll be on a team where he can play in all situations and receive a ton of ice time. If he was to transfer to the USHL, he would have to impress a new organization while adjusting to a different lifestyle. I can understand the argument that some may make that he needs to challenge himself in a new environment. At the same time I can also understand that staying in a familiar situation will allow him to further develop his game, especially on the offensive side, more than a switch to North America at this moment in time. He finished tied for 3rd in scoring on last year's Blues U20 team with 13 goals and 24 assists in 46 games. He will have the chance to be the go to guy for them next year and I hope it works out for him.
What are your expectations for each of Boqvist, Zetterlund, and Talvitie? How do you view each of these players as prospects going forward? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!