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Annunen Underrated for NHL Draft, Could Surprise

By Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer, 06/04/18, 12:00PM CDT

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The 2018 NHL Scouting Combine is taking place this week at KeyBank Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo. The combine will allow NHL teams an opportunity to conduct interviews and provide physical and medical assessments of 104 top prospects eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. NHL.com will bring you all the sights and sounds.

BUFFALO -- There's a good chance that for the first time in 19 years a player born in the United States or Canada will not be selected among the first three picks at the NHL Draft.

The last time the top of the draft featured European dominance was 1999, when the Atlanta Thrashers chose Czech Republic native Patrik Stefan No. 1, and the Vancouver Canucks selected Sweden-born forwards Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Then at No. 4, the New York Rangers chose Czech Republic-born forward Pavel Brendl.

The 2018 NHL Draft could have a similar vibe if defenseman Rasmus Dahlin from Frolunda in Sweden, Barrie right wing Andrei Svechnikov, from Russia, and Halifax right wing Filip Zadina, from the Czech Republic, are taken with the first three picks.

Zadina, No. 3 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, also could become the third wing from the Czech Republic to be selected in the top five in the draft, joining Jaromir Jagr (1990, Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 5) and Brendl.

"I'll never forget Jagr, and Brendl used to play for Pardubice in the Czech league when I was a young kid, so I went to watch those games," Zadina said. "It's an awesome feeling knowing I could be the third wing in the top five. Still, where I'm selected doesn't really matter. No one remembers what pick you were six years after being drafted but they will remember the team you're playing for."

The one player who could put a crimp in the European theme is U.S.-born left wing Brady Tkachuk from Boston University. After Dahlin likely is chosen No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres, many expect Svechnikov to go No. 2 to the Carolina Hurricanes before the Montreal Canadiens opt for Zadina or Tkachuk at No. 3.

Here are four takeaways from Day 3 at the Combine on Wednesday:

 

1. First-round feedback

Oliver Wahlstrom (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), No. 7 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, became a dominant right wing for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team after overcoming the disappointment of being cut from the U.S. team for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

Wahlstrom, who will attend Boston College in 2018-19, led the USNTDP with 94 points (48 goals, 46 assists), 13 power-play goals, six game-winning goals and 288 shots on goal in 62 games.

"It was tough when I got cut; that was the first time I got cut from a team, ever," Wahlstrom said. "It was very healthy for me to go through it though. I remember sitting in my hotel room and thinking, 'You could either sit and feel sorry for yourself or get back home, work out and train.' I went back home, worked out, trained and wanted to prove everyone wrong."

 

2. Scouts honor

Goran Stubb, the NHL Director of European Scouting, said goalie Justus Annunen of Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top pro league, has increased his value since NHL Central Scouting's final list of International goalies was released in April.

Annunen (6-4, 217), ranked No. 4, was the starting goalie for Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. He had a 2.00 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in six games to help Finland win the gold medal.

"His regular season was OK, but he really came on strong in the playoffs for the Karpat junior team and was great at the U-18 World Championship," Stubb said. "He's a good competitor, consistent and reliable, and improved a lot over the season."

3. Top underrated prospect

Center Jay O'Brien (5-10, 185) of Thayer Academy in Massachusetts might be the first high school player selected at the 2018 draft.

The right-handed O'Brien, No. 32 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, led all players in New England Prep Schools with 80 points (43 goals, 37 assists) in 30 games. O'Brien, who won the John Carlton Memorial Trophy, given by the Boston Bruins to high school seniors who combine hockey skills with academic excellence, is committed to Providence College in 2018-19. 

"He's doing everything in his power to make sure he gets better and he's gotten better," said David Gregory of Central Scouting. "It took him a very short time to adapt and be at whatever level he was at. I don't think it'll be long before he has a prominent role (at Providence) because he has that much ability."

 

4. Question of the day

Center Jakub Lauko, No. 20 in Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters, is 18 years old but was asked by one team for his thoughts if he were commissioner of the NHL.

"I was caught off guard a little bit because that's a big responsibility," said Lauko, who plays for Chomutov in the Czech Republic. "I said I'd put more teams in the NHL, add teams in Seattle and Houston."