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2013 NHL Draft: Examining the SM-Liiga & European Hockey

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We get an in-depth look at European hockey, especially in the Finnish leagues, with a great perspective from across the pond.

Martin Rose

Editor's Note: I'm excited to present what should be an interesting multi-part series on European hockey and the top prospects in Finland and Sweden, from our resident correspondent from across the pond. Thanks to Henri for putting these together for Defending Big D.

The draft is getting closer. The Dallas Stars have a new general manager and one of his first challenges will be the upcoming NHL draft.

This organization has some good options if they want to draft Finnish or Swedish players, but perhaps it would be a good thing to talk about the environment where these players grow. Therefore, let's talk about the Sm-Liiga, the Finnish hockey league. Elitserien, the Swedish league, is kind of different type of animal, but I won't forget it totally.

The two biggest things when you compare Sm-Liiga and NHL are size of the rink and the professionalism of the league.

Let's start with that last one. In NHL, no matter what you do, everything is very professional. In Sm-Liiga players, coaches, scouts and all the people that are working for teams are professionals.

The referees are not. It does show. Players like Erik Karlsson were quite angry sometimes. Directors of player disciplines do not have the same power that Brendan Shanahan does. The league can "destroy" their decisions. It's one of the biggest problems with this league right now. This is a big problem when we talk about suspending players.

Player safety is also somewhat different. Jokerit Helsinki is the only team that uses "a safety rink", the rink that is a standard in NHL. The ones in Finland are the ones NHL used to have during the 80s, they don't bounce back. Since the game is getting faster and faster, there will be some serious injuries.

The rink and the size of it might be the biggest difference. And the rinks in Sm-Liiga are not all the same. There are different sizes. It's one of the reasons why players during the lockout had some trouble, like Stephane Robidas did. In Elitserien the rink might be even a bit bigger.

The game is much faster in NHL. Players will not get tired as fast because the rink is smaller. Players in NHL are also much more talented, so you may rely on them as individuals much more. I know some of you want to tell few things about Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler, but won't change anything.

Since players in Sm-Liiga are not as talented as a group, tactics will have to be different. The tempo will not be as fast also. The biggest thing in European hockey is the flow in the game. This translation might not be the easiest one for me, but here goes.

In Europe and especially in Sm-Liiga teams will want to control the flow. You have two options. "Attack-Defend-Attack or Defend-Attack-Defend". Teams will want to do the first variation and force the another team to do the second one. The idea with attack-defend-attack is to hold the puck. And as much as possible to make sure that the opposite is forced to do the other one and eventually get tired.

Perhaps NBA uses this kind of style also. This type of hockey works more than well in bigger rink. Teams will also want to have the puck no matter what. As an example, if you change your line, it's very important to have the puck, not give it away. Since the players in this league are not as talented as a group as the ones in NHL, tactical nuances are everything. If your team is not good with those, your team will not make it.

This type of hockey will not be that easy to make happen in smaller rink, but teams like the Red Wings and Blackhawks use it with somehow different variations, with great success. The Red Wings are also a home of many European and Russian players. There is a reason why they are quite successful there.

When the Stars scout players from Finland, they have to think which kind of players they want. In Finland our motto is: "Everybody plays". Good thing with this is that players from Finland - and Sweden too - are team players with good morale and work ethics. They will follow the coaching stuff, almost blindly. It's also very vital thing also to be good without the puck. Finns train that a lot. The bad thing here is that, there are not many players - at least from Finland - who are true artists. Training with pure scoring is very poor. There is a reason why Teemu Selänne is so unique.

We all remember Jere Lehtinen and just like him, good Finnish players are often role players. In Finland it's pretty common thing to learn a certain role as a player. Jussi Jokinen and Valtteri Filppula are another very good examples. We can't build teams with a formula of few star players. Everyone must have a role. And that's why the Stars must find out what kind of players do they need and after that they may pick the ones they need. Scouting the European game system might help also. Talent such as Alexander Barkov is very unique in Finland, but these kind of players the Stars might find much more.

Another important thing is patience. European players will often have some serious growing pains when they make the jump to AHL/NHL. Just look at Mikael Granlund's problems right now.

The faster game will be very hard first. Same thing with the physical side of the game. Players will need more muscle and confidence. Just look Loui Eriksson. There were times when he was simply lost and after he found his way, he was and still is a very vital part of this team. If you want to point out one failed experiment, perhaps Fabian Brunnström will do.

There is an old saying in Europe. "In NHL it's jets & champagne. In AHL it's bus rides and McDonald's". But no matter how much easier it's to go back to KHL or Europe, every player's dream will be the NHL, always.