NHL Draft prospects: No. 4 Aleksander Barkov

Barkov burst onto the scene as a skilled 16-year-old at the 2012 under-20 world junior championship in Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Sportsnet.ca is previewing the top 30 prospects in the 30 days leading up to the National Hockey League draft in New Jersey on June 30.

The No. 4 prospect may be the best Finnish export in years, with the supremely-skilled forward Aleksander Barkov.

Stats: Tappara (SM-liiga) | 53 GP | 21 G | 27 A | 48 P | +18 | 8 PIM

Who is Aleksander Barkov?

Barkov burst onto the scene as a skilled 16-year-old at the 2012 world junior championship in Alberta. During Finland’s 8-5 quarterfinal win over Slovakia, Barkov put his name in the record books by becoming the second-youngest player in tournament history to light the lamp. His goal stood up as the game-winner, and surpassed Sidney Crosby’s first tournament goal (Crosby was 21 days older when he scored at 16).

It wasn’t the last time Barkov would see his name ahead of the elite. He scored 48 points in his first full season in the SM-liiga, which outscored countryman Olli Jokinen at the same age. Barkov represented his country at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, along with the 2012 under-18 world championship and 2012-13 world juniors.

His father, Alexander, is a former Russian forward who played the final 10 seasons of his career for Tappara in the SM-liiga, the same team Aleksander now plays for.

Aleksander Barkov scouting report:

Barkov has the size, skill and poise that make him a deadly playmaker. His hands are soft and his vision sublime, which enables him to spot his teammates with some nifty feeds. Barkov’s hockey sense is superb and one of his greatest assets. He can read and react to plays more quickly than his adversaries and uses his intelligence to create offensive opportunities. His skating is considered his downfall, but his smarts compensate for his feet. His shot is potent and accentuated by a quick release. Barkov has all the skill to evolve into one of hockey’s premier scorers.

Teams who might be interested in Aleksander Barkov:

The Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators will all be discussing his merits for their picks. Barkov’s immense talent level and bright future will make him the go-to player and face of his franchise in the not-too-distant future. He’s in the conversation to go anywhere from first-overall to fourth.

Scout’s take: “A big, strong and intelligent player who can read the game exceptionally well in a variety of situations on the ice,” says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He excels at protecting the puck and can really draw opponents well with the puck and makes them pay using his vision and superb puck skills. He’s a tremendous playmaker with great set up ability but he is also a strong shooter and is very dangerous at sneaking into dead ice areas in the offensive zone. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck and exudes a maturity that very few in this draft class can come close to matching. His style compares well to a Ryan Getzlaf even in his weaknesses, as he could shoot more and does need to improve his foot speed. He is a very likeable player who should be a strong component to a successful NHL club very soon.”

“Barkov had unbelievable numbers this year in the SM-liiga,” says David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “He played on the first line and first-unit power play. This guy just scores goals in a multitude of ways. He’s got great hands, he’s got unbelievable instincts for the game and he can slow the game down. He does a great job of using his blade to disguise his intentions and he’s one of those players that the puck just seems to follow. He’s got to work a little bit on his skating and he’s got to work on playing up to his size, but all indications are that Barkov already has the ability to step into the NHL next year considering what he’s done already at a youthful age in the SM-liiga. He’s got the potential to be a first-line player for a National Hockey League team.”

Rankings: Barkov was ranked first by the NHL’s Central Scouting (European skaters) and fifth by McKeen’s Hockey and International Scouting Services.

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