Aleksander Barkov may be the most interesting man in the NHL Draft. Born of Russian parents in Finland, Barkov is almost the perfect hybrid of both nations' style of play. While he has some of the skill and creativity of a Russian player, he also plays a workmanlike two-way style that closely mirrors that of most Finnish national teams.
He's been fawned over for the last three years in Europe, as his game is so far advanced for a player of his age. He was playing U20 at age 15 and was a full-blown professional by 16 playing for Tappara of the SM-liiga in Finland.
Now he's the top-rated European prospect and is likely to be able to hop into an NHL lineup as early as next season. A natural center, Barkov has good size and is committed to playing at both ends of the ice, but he also has such skill that his defensive responsibilities never seem to hinder his production.
At just age 17, he was the second-leading scorer for Tappara, which finished second in one of the top professional leagues in Europe. Barkov averaged 0.90 points per game, playing against men. An injury cut his postseason short, but he had five assists over five playoff contests before going down.
In all likelihood, Barkov will be the fourth pick in this draft, with the Nashville Predators picking up a future No. 1 center. He very well could be the most skilled player the Preds have ever been able to acquire in the draft.
The Aleksander Barkov File
Height: 6-2 Weight: 205
Team: Tappara (SM-liiga)
Hometown: Tampere, Finland
Stats: 53 GP, 21-27—48, 8 PIM
CBS: 5; CSS: 1^; ISS: 5, HP: 4, TSN: 4
- Goes by "Sasha" and is fluent in Finnish, Russian and English.
- Finished second behind former NHLer Ville Nieminen with 48 points for Tappara this season. Nieminen is nearly 20 years Barkov's senior.
- Has represented Finland numerous times, including at each of the last two World Junior Championships. Barkov is the youngest player ever to score for Finland at the WJC, having done so at age 16 and four months. He had seven points in six games for the Finns at the 2013 World Juniors.
- Made his professional debut at age 16 and ended up registering 16 points in 32 games for Tappara as a rookie.
- Barkov's father, Alexander, had a 20-plus season professional hockey career in Europe, including stints with Spartak Moscow and Tappara. He also played in three IIHF World Championships with Russia and is now an assistant coach with Ak-Bars Kazan in the KHL.
- Peters' Scouting Report: He's NHL ready right now. Barkov is a terrific two-way center with solid puck skills. His skating could probably be a touch better to increase his potential, but he is already physically strong and averaged nearly a point per game in the top Finnish pro league. That is no small feat for a 17-year-old. Some scouts have him rated in the top three and, as I mentioned, it was very difficult to kick him down to No. 5. He's a terrific prospect and is bound to make whichever team he goes to very, very happy for a long time.
- Best highlight: Barkov's creativity was on display with this shootout goal against the Lahti (not New Orleans) Pelicans from February.
*Rankings key: CBS = Eye on Hockey Big Board, CSS = NHL Central Scouting Services (^European Skater Rankings), ISS = International Scouting Services, HP = Hockey Prospectus, TSN = Bob McKenzie's final draft rankings.