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By Margann Laurissa
In recent years, it seems as though the NHL Entry Draft has truly gone international. There have been many players from unconventional hockey countries who have been garnering enough notice that NHL teams are realizing that the usual nations are not the only ones producing significant talent. For example, Nathan Walker became the first player from Australia to ever be chosen in an NHL draft when the Washington Capitals selected him in 2014 while playing for their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Two years ago, the New York Islanders made Andong Song the first mainland Chinese-born draft pick in NHL history when they chose him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. As well, just last summer, the Chicago Blackhawks made Wouter Peeters the first Belgian-born goaltender ever chosen in the draft when they chose him from a junior team in Austria.
Despite all the progress that is being made with international scouting, there are still several players from unconventional nations who fly under the radar of NHL scouts when it comes time for the annual Entry Draft. Whether it be the fact that they play in countries where hockey is not necessarily popular or the fact that their teams are obscured by others in their homelands, a number of players who deserve to have their NHL draft dreams fulfilled is almost immeasurable. In this list today, I am going to introduce you to my top 10 list of international junior-age players, all born between 1997 and 2000, who have proven that they deserve to be looked at for the annual Entry Draft.
Please note that, in order to qualify, no player was to have previously played in North America by the time of this article’s publication (which unfortunately disqualifies players such as Veselin Dikov and Artur Pavliukov).
10. Ferhat Bakal (Turkey) — DOB: March 16, 1998
A native of Kocaeli, Ferhat Bakal started playing competitive junior hockey in his homeland during the 2013-14 season when he was only fifteen years old for an under-18 team. In the years since he has been developing as one of the best young prospects in Turkey and, even before he reached legal adulthood, he was playing professionally in the Turkish Super League. For the last few years, the 6’3″, 165-pound left winger has been playing for Zeytinburnu Belediye SK, one of the up-and-coming franchises in the league. Playing for them has allowed for Bakal to receive significant exposure as they have been the only Turkish representative at the last two Continental Cups, putting them up against other teams from around Europe and Asia. His prodigious talents have also been well-represented on the international stage. In only four years, Bakal has represented Turkey eight times: two under-18s, four World Juniors, and two Men’s World Championships. He has won two gold medals and two silver medals, in addition to being named the Best Forward at the 2016 D3A World Under-18s. With underrated players across Turkey, others including Hüseyin Seçer and Fatih Faner, it would be a great step forward for the country if a player such as Bakal could get chosen in an NHL Entry Draft.
9. Jug Mitić (Serbia) — DOB: January 7, 1999
A native of Belgrade, Jug Mitić currently plays for KHK Crvena Zvezda, a team in his homeland. The 6’1″, 172-pound goaltender made his first professional appearance when he was only fifteen years old with HK Beostar. In 2014, he appeared in one game for them at that year’s Continental Cup. For the last two seasons, the eighteen-year-old has been alternating between junior and professional hockey with Crvena Zvezda, also known as the Red Stars, making the trip back and forth between his home country and Slovenia, where the junior hockey team resides. Where Mitić has truly shone is on the international stage where he has been Serbia’s top goaltender at both the World Under-18s and the World Juniors for Serbia. He made his first international appearance in 2014 where, at only fifteen, he appeared in two games at that year’s U18 tournament, putting up shutouts in both games he played. Between 2014 and 2017, he has played in four D2B World Under-18 championships, winning a bronze medal each year. Mitić led the tournament in save percentage in 2015 and 2016, as well as leading the tournament in goals-against average in the latter. He has also appeared in two D2B World Junior Championships, the first in 2015 and again in 2017. This past year, his 2.37 goals-against average and .927% save percentage in five games allowed for him to be named the tournament’s top goaltender.
8. Bartłomiej Jeziorski (Poland) — DOB: April 22, 1998
A native of Tychy, Bartłomiej Jeziorski currently plays for both GKS in his hometown and the under-20 team for SMS, a team in Sosnowiec. The 6’3″, the 176-pound left winger made his first professional appearance in 2015 at the age of sixteen, appearing in ten games for GKS, recording five points during that stretch.
In only two seasons since, he has been a regular mainstay in the PLH, playing 80 games over that stretch. In his first full professional season in 2015-16, he only recorded fifteen points; this season, however, his true offensive potential broke through and he recorded 25 points, including twelve goals. He has even appeared in consecutive Continental Cups for GKS Tychy, scoring three goals. As well, he has been on one Polish championship team and two championship silver medallists. It has been the international stage, however, where Jeziorski has truly made a name for himself. In 2013, when Jeziorski was only fourteen, he recorded sixteen points at an IIHF development camp, including eleven goals. He has appeared at two D2A World Under-18s, winning one gold and one silver medal, being named an alternate captain for the 2016 tournament where he led the tournament in plus/minus with a +13 ranking. Jeziorski has also appeared in two D1B World Junior Championships for Poland, serving as an alternate captain this past year. Just recently, the nineteen-year-old forward made his first appearance at the Men’s World Championships.
7. Elvinas Karla (Lithuania) — DOB: April 12, 1999
A native of Zarasai, Elvinas Karla most recently played for SC Energija, an Elektrėnai-based team that plays in the Belarusian Hockey League, and he will be coming to North America for the 2017-18 season. When he was only fifteen years old, he left Lithuania for Sweden, joining the J18 Elit team of AIK Härnösand. He would spend the next two seasons there. At the end of the 2014-15 season, Karla made his first appearance on the international stage, serving as the backup for Lithuania’s under-18 team at the 2015 D1B tournament.
He made one appearance during the tournament. For the 2015-16 season, the 6’2″, 187-pound goaltender returned to Härnösand, and he even garnered a brief call-up to their Division 1 team. He was also briefly loaned to the J18 Elit team of Kovlands IF before the season ended. Karla was quite busy on the international stage during the 2015-16 season, too. At the time only seventeen, he was chosen to be the backup goaltender for Lithuania at the 2016 D2A World Juniors, winning a silver medal. Later on that season, he was the starting goaltender for Lithuania at the D2A World Under-18s, and he helped them win a bronze medal. This past season, Karla returned to his homeland to play professionally. Many of his teammates on SC Energija this past season were seasoned national team veterans, and head coach Bernd Haake was heavily reliant on the young netminder, giving him 34 starts over the course of the season. Unfortunately, he was not sent to the World Junior team this past year but, at the end of the 2016-17 season, Karla once again played for Lithuania at the D2A World Under-18s. He had an impressive 2.13 goals-against average and a .925% save percentage in five games. As well, he even played one game at the Baltic Cup. As mentioned, Karla will be playing in North America this coming season, joining the Potomac Patriots, a team in the USPHL Premier junior league.
6. Maksymilian Mojzyszek (Iceland) — DOB: January 24, 2000
A native of Reykjavík, Maksymilian Mojzyszek is the youngest player on this list, as he is eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Mojzyszek currently plays for Björninn, one of the best professional teams in Iceland, and he is hoping to forge a similar path as other well-known Icelandic goaltenders, such as Dennis Hedström, Ævar Björnsson and Snorri Sigurbergsson. Mojzyszek got his first exposure to professional hockey with Hunar back in the 2012-13 season, when he was not even finished elementary school. After nearly two seasons of junior hockey, he was allowed to make his first professional appearance during the 2014-15 season at the age of fifteen. In 2015-16, the 5’9″, 152-pound goaltender joined UMFK Esja, and he played six games for them. That same year, he made his first appearance on the international stage, serving as the backup goaltender for Iceland’s under-18 team at the 2016 D2B tournament. He even managed to play in two games. This season, Mojzyszek rejoined Björninn, serving as the backup goaltender, an incredible accomplishment for a young man who is still in high school. Additionally, in 2016-17, he was quite busy in international tournaments, playing at both the D3 World Juniors and the D2B World Under-18s. At the D3 World Juniors, he had a 2.35 goals-against average and a .913% save percentage in three games, quite impressive for an underage goalie, and Iceland won bronze as a result. This upcoming season, two of his best friends — Vignir Arason and Kristján Kristinsson — are going to be playing in North America and, considering how well Mojzyszek has done in his career to date, it may not be too long until he joins them.
5. Max Hermens (Netherlands) — DOB: October 31, 1997
A native of Zoetermeer, Max Hermens started his career with his hometown Panters, spending two years in their organization. The team played in the second-highest professional league in the Netherlands and he got to play his first games as a pro at the age of fourteen. The 5’11”, 187-pound center joined the NIJA Talent team for the 2013-14 season and he recorded nineteen points in only fourteen games, giving him the chance to play one game in the highest Dutch professional league, the Eredivisie, with Eindhoven Kemphanen. In both 2012-13 and 2013-14, Hermens appeared in the Dutch Cup, with his best performance coming in the latter season as a member of NIJA.
In 2014, before he turned seventeen, Hermens left home for Sweden, joining the junior teams of Nacka HK. His presence was immediately felt, recording eighteen points in his first J18 season; he even scored a goal in a one-game cameo in the J20 Elitserien during the 2014-15 season. In 2015-16, his second season in Sweden, Hermens finished second on Nacka’s J20 team in scoring with 36 points. He also played eighteen games for Malmö’s J20 SuperElit team, where his teammates included Joachim Blichfeld and Makai Holdener. This season, he played a second campaign with Nacka HK J20 and his stellar play (59 points in only 30 games) allowed for him to play fifteen games for Nacka’s Division 1 team, recording three points, including his first Swedish professional goal. When he is not lighting it up in juniors, he is also doing the same internationally. Over the course of his international career, Hermens has played in three World Under-18s, two World Juniors, and two Men’s World Championships. In 2013, his first time representing the Netherlands, he won a gold medal. In the two years after, he led the tournament in assists both times, as well as leading the tournament in scoring with nine points in 2015, a year he served as alternate captain. In 2016, he recorded five points in as many games at his first Men’s World Championships, and he helped the Netherlands win gold. This past year, he was captain of the Dutch World Junior team.
4. Szilard Rokaly (Romania) — DOB: May 9, 1998
A native of Gyergyószentmiklós, Szilard Rokaly has quickly become one of the premier junior players in both his homeland of Romania and in nearby Hungary with his skills at both the domestic and international level. Rokaly made his first appearance in under-18 junior hockey during the 2013 playoffs for Progym Gheorgheni when he was only fourteen years old. The following season, he played for the under-18 squad of SC Csíkszereda, playing for teams in Romania and Hungary. Between the two teams, the 5’10”, 152-pound forward recorded 108 points (56 goals, 52 assists) in only 42 games; he also had a combined plus/minus of +73. He did the same thing during the 2014-15 season, as well, recording 68 points (31 goals, 37 assists) in only 27 games. Rokaly also played his first games of under-20 hockey during the 2014-15 season, too, and he recorded 22 points in only six games. For the last two seasons, Rokaly has remained solely in Hungary, playing in the EBYSL for the under-20 team of Fehérvár AV19, recording 53 points in 60 games. He has also appeared in games for the under-18 and under-20 teams of Ifj Ocskay Gábor JA, a team named in honor of the former Hungarian national team mainstay. Last season, Rokaly made his first appearance in the MOL Liga, where he will be playing full-time this season. Since 2014, Rokaly has been a regular fixture on Romanian national under-18 and junior teams. Rokaly has won both a gold and a silver medal at the World Under-18s, serving as an alternate captain in 2016. He even led the 2015 tournament with eight goals. For the last two years, Rokaly, despite being one of the youngest players, has served as the captain for Romania’s World Junior team. Under his captaincy, Romania won gold in 2016. On the topic of gold medals, this past year, he won one at this year’s World Championships, his first time playing for the men’s national team.
3. Samuel Duggan (Great Britain) — DOB: July 13, 1998
A native of Reading, England, Samuel Duggan proved that he was an exceptional talent early, starring for the Bracknell Stingers, an under-16 team when he was only fourteen years old. By the next season, he was setting team records at a remarkable pace. At only fifteen, the 6’1″, 187-pound forward had 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists) in only nineteen games for the under-16 team. Duggan even continued his frenetic scoring touch with the under-18 Drones, putting up 44 points in only fifteen games, despite being up to three years younger than everyone on the roster. In 2014, while serving as the Stingers’ captain, Duggan recorded 64 points in only fifteen games, and he was not done there either.
He played another fifteen games for the Drones, recording 67 points, including a personal best 35 goals, and helped them win a league championship. After dominating in England, Duggan decided to move to Sweden, joining the J20 Elit and Allsvenskan teams of Örebro HK. In his first season there, he finished first in scoring on the J18 Allsvenskan team and second in scoring on the J18 Elit team. He even got to play three games for the SuperElit team, a J20 team. In 2015-16, Duggan was so well-respected by his team that he served as captain for both the J18 Elit and Allsvenskan teams. He even got to play even more games in the SuperElit, recording seven points in 23 games as a seventeen-year-old in an under-20 league. This past year, he played full-time in the SuperElit, recording sixteen points in 39 games. Perhaps what has demonstrated Duggan’s prodigious talent the most has been his play on the international stage. Over the course of his international career, Duggan has played at three World Under-18s, three World Juniors, and one Men’s World Championships. He played in his first international tournament, the 2014 World Juniors, at the age of fifteen. He served as an alternate captain at his first two World Under-18s and, in 2016, he served as captain. He also wore an “A” at this year’s World Junior Championships. In 2015, he won a gold medal at the World Juniors and a bronze medal at the World Under-18s, leading both tournaments in faceoff percentage. This year, he helped Great Britain win gold at the Men’s World Championships.
2. Oriol Rubio (Spain) — DOB: March 8, 1997
A native of Barcelona, Oriol Rubio began playing for the under-18 team of his hometown team since he was only thirteen years old. Over the course of the next three years, he became one of the highest scorers in FC Barcelona U18’s history, scoring 127 points (72 goals, 55 assists) in only 38 games. The 6’2″, 157-pound winger also became a solid defensive forward during that time, too, with his final season of under-18 hockey garnering him a plus/minus ranking of +39. During the 2013-14 season, when he was only sixteen, Rubio made his first appearance in Spain’s highest professional league, scoring three goals in an eleven-game stint at the top level. Since then, he has been a mainstay on the professional team and, every year, his statistics have improved. He had his best offensive season this past year, recording 30 points in only twelve games. When it comes to international competition, Rubio has been a regular fixture on Spanish national teams at every level. He made his first national appearance on Spain’s under-18 team in 2013 when he was only sixteen years old. In the years since, he has played at two more under-18 tournaments, four World Juniors, and one Men’s World Championships, the latter being just this year. Rubio has won six silver medals and, this past year, he was named Best Forward at the D2B World Juniors after leading the tournament in scoring with eleven points.
1. Dimitar Dimitrov (Bulgaria) — DOB: October 12, 1997
A native of Sofia, Dimitar Dimitrov has quickly become an incredible force out of Bulgaria. He started playing junior hockey in the Czech Republic at the age of fourteen, playing for the under-16 team of BK Mladá Boleslav. The 5’11”, 165-pound goaltender played two years in the Czech under-16 league, honing his talents, before returning home to Bulgaria to join the under-18 team of CSKA Sofia, one of his hometown’s best-known hockey teams. Dimitrov played two years with the under-18 team before graduating to the men’s professional team in 2014 at the age of sixteen. He emerged playing for CSKA for nearly three seasons, playing at the Continental Cup in both 2015 and 2016. This past year, Dimitrov joined a new professional team in his hometown, Irbis Skate Sofia.
On the international stage, however, Dimitrov has become one of the go-to players for Bulgaria’s national teams. With not many goaltenders in the country, especially after the death of Kiril Vajarov in 2009, Dimitrov started his international career in 2014, playing at both the under-18s and the Men’s World Championships for the first time. In the years since, he has played in one more World Under-18s, two World Juniors, and three Men’s World Championships. Because of his play, he has won one gold medal (the first in Bulgaria’s World Championship history), two silver medals, and one bronze medal. He was even named the top goaltender at the 2015 Men’s World Championships, after recording a 5.49 goals-against average and .894% save percentage in five games, when he was only seventeen years old. With some of his international teammates already finding success in North America, it would be nice to see Dimitrov join them.