Aleksander Barkov stands fourth in the consensus rankings and is someone that the Oilers have talked about targeting if they're able to move up in this year's draft. They have good reason. By all accounts, Barkov is one of the most impressive prospects in the draft, and one of the most impressive to ever come out of Finland. In Corey Pronman's draft profile, he nicked Barkov because of his inferior skating, but suggested that the sum of his other high-end skills (patience, vision, defensive presence, size, strength, hands) make up for that in a big way. Statistically, he had one of the more impressive seasons ever for a draft eligible forward in the SM-Liiga even though he's one of the youngest players available in the draft. In the last thirty entry drafts, just thirteen other players have been taken out of the SM-Liiga with one of the first thirty picks, and Barkov's offense puts him near the top of that list:
Looking at this list for comparables, I was trying to find a player who played his draft year in the SM-Liiga, had a goals per game rate between 0.32 and 0.40 and points per game rate between 0.82 and 1.00 (90% to 110% of Barkov 's production), and was selected with one of the draft's first nine selections. There are no players who fit all of the criteria, but Granlund and Jokinen only miss in the goal-scoring department, making them near matches.
But Barkov's presence at the top of this list isn't what stood out for me. Instead, it's the fact that four of the top five players on this list were eligible for the draft in the last four years. There are a few possible explanations for this, but the most likely one to me is a general decline in the quality of the SM-Liiga.
When Gabriel Desjardins brought his NHL equivalencies together, Finland's top league finished fourth in Europe, and saw players bring about 54% of their offense with them to the NHL. But these translations are now almost a decade old, and it's certainly possible that the SM-Liiga has regressed. Fortunately, Bruce Peter did some work on the relative strength of European leagues in the summer of 2011. In that article, he found that the Czech Extraliga has taken a huge hit, allowing the SM-Liiga to move into third on the list of European leagues. This order was confirmed in a subsequent 2011 article that used Gabriel Desjardins's methodology to gauge the strength of various European leagues using the KHL as a standard. While the SM-Liiga had improved its standing in Europe, there was some indication that Europe as a whole was on the decline: the KHL itself was given an NHL equivalency of just 0.65, which made the SM-Liiga's implied NHL equivalency just 0.42, a sharp decline from Desjardins's earlier findings.
I don't think this work is definitive, but with 35-year-old Brian Willsie and 36-year-old Ville Nieminen among the league's top ten goal-scorers this season, the quality of the SM-Liiga (and the rest of Europe) is something that definitely needs some attention. An overall decline in quality isn't all bad, of course; it gives players like Barkov, Granlund, Armia, and Teravainen a chance to play a larger role, which no doubt helps with their development. Still, any team looking closely at Barkov will want to get a good handle on the quality of competition that Barkov was really facing in Finland.
Next up this afternoon: Valeri Nichushkin
My Draft List: