One of the great treats for European hockey fans is the chance to watch top prospects play for their club teams before going onto stardom in international hockey or the NHL. In the Champions Hockey League, fans can watch some of these players from other countries.
Due to the unfortunate cancellation of the 2020/21 CHL campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are not many players projected to be selected in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft who have already played in the CHL. But there are a couple. Additionally, there are several players whom we can expect to play in this year’s CHL after being drafted.
One player who played in the 2019/20 CHL season and three more who will probably play this season should be taken in the first round.
We’ll start with William Eklund. Eklund won’t play in this year’s CHL but did play two years ago as a 16-year-old, dressing for Djurgarden Stockholm for two games during the Group Stage. The speedy forward is coming off a fine season where he won the SHL Rookie of the Year award with 23 points in 40 games, and his 11 goals led all under-20 players. He is expected to go in the top 10 and is ranked as high as second by some sources.
He's just a crafty problem-solver who knows his game and how to play within himself to make something happen from shift-to-shift.
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
Throughout the history of the CHL, fans have been treated to many great young Frölunda players before they became international stars, and the latest is defenceman Simon Edvinsson who, like Eklund, is a consensus top-10 pick. He is also ranked as high as third by some sources. The 195cm, 94kg defenceman made his SHL debut last season, dressing in 10 regular-season and one playoff game and recording one assist. He also had seven points in four games at the U18 World Championship, helping Sweden to a bronze medal.
Projected to be a middle to late pick in the first round is Finnish centre Aatu Räty, who already has a recognizable name in the hockey world thanks to his older brother Aku. Add to the fact his participation in the World Junior Championship along with his 50 Liiga games and Räty boasts some elite experience. As is the case with Frölunda, we have become used to seeing many skilled young players suit up for Kärpät at the beginning of their career.
Like Räty, Leksand IF winger Isak Rosén should go somewhere in the last half of the first round. The skilled scorer, who tends to collect more goals than assists, was another member of Sweden’s U18 bronze-medal team and first got his feet wet in the SHL. Expect him to play a larger role this season.
We then move into a category of players who could be taken late in the first round or early in the second.
Samu Tuomaala, also of Kärpät, had an outstanding U18 World Championship with 11 points in seven games and was named to the tournament all-star team. He also played his first five professional games in Liiga. Simon Robertsson of Skelleftea AIK has already played in 22 SHL games and, yes, won a bronze at the U18 Worlds.
Beyond the first round, Kärpät and Frölunda each have another prospect who should go somewhere in the second or third round. Winger Ville Koivunen had an outstanding rookie season in the Finnish junior league and should make his Liiga debut this season. And centre Liam Dower Nilsson appeared in six SHL games last season and also took home a bronze medal from the U18 Worlds.
Outside of Sweden and Finland, some players from Central Europe that we could see drafted include Sebastian Cimmerman of Red Bull Munich, Florian Elias of Adler Mannheim, Haakon Hänelt of Eisbären Berlin, Brian Zanetti of HC Lugano, Noah Meier of ZSC Lions Zurich, Dario Sidler of EV Zug, Michal Klimo and Marek Chvatal of Sparta Prague and goaltender Florian Bugl of Red Bull Salzburg.