T he first thing I ever heard about Aleksander Barkov was that he was “going to be the next Teemu Selanne.” The second thing I ever heard about him was precisely the opposite: their similarities ended somewhere between Finnish and forward (they don’t even play the same position). However, not warranting the coveted Teemu Selanne superlative doesn’t mean that Sasha Barkov isn’t the biggest young player to come out of Finland in a long, long time. Because of his rankings, rave scouting reviews and fancy stats, Barkov is certainly on the radar of most draft-savvy Nashville Predators followers.
Being consistently ranked between 4th and 6th in most overall rankings, Barkov falls into Nashville’s pool of could-be draft picks. The Predators have had some pretty good luck with some late round Finnish draft picks (ie: Pekka Rinne), but until recent years haven’t had the greatest success in drafting Finnish skaters. Nashville recently signed 2012 draftee Mikko Vainonen and 2011 pick Miikka Salomaki while Joonas Rask made his NHL debut at the end of the Predators’ regular season. Rask’s jump from Draft to the NHL was probably one of the fastest in the franchise’s recent history. Rask, like Forsberg (as discussed in my previous blog), did not the take the traditional “road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee” route that other Predators prospects have taken in the past. He only played one game for the Admirals after completing his season with Jokerit in Finland’s SM-liiga before skating onto NHL ice.
With all of these recent signings, it’s clear that the Predators organization has an interest in what Finnish hockey can bring to a team that just couldn’t seem to get it together in an abbreviated season. Barkov had 48 points in 52 games in his first full season in the Finnish big boy league; the most points ever scored by someone his age in the league. Future Considerations states that he “produced one of the most impressive draft-eligible seasons in SM-liiga history.” For teams who have been watching him all season, he did not disappoint.
Obviously, if Sasha Barkov was going to be the next Teemu Selanne (inarguably the greatest Finnish hockey player of all time), what NHL team wouldn’t want him? I think at that point, he’d be competing for number one or two, not four or five, if that was truly the case… Does anyone have a really accurate Ouija board? Anyway… a guy who is compared to Ryan Getzlaf by the International Scouting Service and who another scout says “you can’t compare [...] to anybody in the past in Finland” is hard to draw a comparison to Selanne even if I wanted to. Most Predators fans might not be Ryan Getzlaf fans, but like other players they love to hate, it’s hard to deny that Getzlaf is a good player. Like Getzlaf, Barkov is a big, offensive centerman. (Selanne is a speedy, sniper-like winger… Many reports comment that one of Barkov’s downfalls is his speed… or lack there of, but I digress). The Hockey News says Barkov is “almost man-sized” which makes me think he has more filling out to do at 6’3”, 205-210 pounds at just 17 years old and might be able to fill in the empty hole in the face-off circle when Paul Gaustad’s upper body is giving him grief.
From the following video, there isn’t much to say about his face-off ability (because they don’t show him taking a single face-off, but I haven’t read anything to tell me that he is otherwise a poor face-off man). Some of the highlights though are obviously his scoring ability, clean passes, SHOOTING! (this is always a highlight, I know), successful appearances in the shootout and making plays happen down low in the slot. He seems to always be there to pick up a rebound and is persistent about making plays happen. He is described by some as “highly methodical” and “will wait that extra second for plays to open up. [He] never panics or rushes decisions.” If the Predators decide to deviate from the usual route for prospects, I have confidence in someone who is seemingly so poised and mature for his age to take the step to the NHL and make plays happen. He “plays tough games every night… there aren’t many 17-year-olds who can do that,” says one scout.
Barkov is #16… Why he is the only one that gets to wear a gold helmet, I do not know. Just further proof that he is special. (Again, with snazzy music! This really pumps me up!)
Finland has medaled 12 times in post-1977 World Junior Championship history, most recently in 2001 through 2004 and again in 2006. Finland produces good hockey players and there are plenty of notable Finnish skaters who have broken into the NHL system. But in recent years, the highest Finn to be drafted was Minnesota forward Mikael Granlund who was drafted 9th overall in 2010. In the last 15 years, only a handful of Finns have been drafted inside the top 10 and only two have been drafted top four: Kari Lehtonen and Joni Pitkanen at number two and number four respectively in 2001. If Barkov does not go to the Predators, he will certainly be drafted well within the top 10 and I think he will live up to the hype.
Unless in a huge upset Barkov is drafted before fourth overall, I think the odds of the Predators drafting a European player are high (Lindholm and Nischukshin being the other two I am throwing into the pool). The only time the Predators have drafted a player in the first round who was not from the United States or Canada was Alexander Radulov in 2004. The highest Finnish player they have ever drafted was Salomaaki at 52… Heck, Pekka Rinne was drafted in the 8th round… There isn’t even an 8th round anymore! I think whoever Nashville drafts at number four, whether is be Barkov or Lindholm or someone off the map, it is going to be something new and different for the organization in one way or another. They might be a European, they might be take the unconventional road to Nashville right out of the gates. Whatever or whoever it is, in trending with the fact that the Predators have a top four pick at all, it will most likely be something we have yet to see in Nashville before.