2024 NHL Draft Coverage: European Forwards

Ivan Demidov is an offensive dynamo, while Konsta Helenius is well-rounded

2024 NHL Draft Coverage: European Forwards
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

We continue our coverage of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft today by looking at European forwards who may be available in the #7 spot.

Ivan Demidov (RW/C, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg)

5'11", 168 lbs, shoots left

Ivan Demidov falls into the category of a player who really, really shouldn't be around at #7. He's #2 on the Elite Prospects consolidated rankings, and those are partially based on mid-season rankings. His lowest ranking in their consolidated was #6 on Bob McKenzie's mid-season rankings, but he's since risen to #2 in McKenzie's latest list. That being said, draft day can be weird, and teams can be wary of Russian players in particular—Matvei Michkov went 7th overall last year partially over concerns of when he'd commit to moving to North America.

Background: Demidov hails from Sergiyev Posad, a town of 100,000 about an hour and a half north of Moscow. Unsurprisingly, as he started to excel, he entered the Moscow-based Hockey Club Vityaz system as a teenager, even playing a handful of games for their U18 team at age 15, scoring 2 goals and 7 assists in 6 games. From there, he joined the SKA St. Petersburg system, and continued to dominate his peers. His points per game for the SKA-1946, their junior affiliate, climbed from 0.54 at age 15/16 to 1.5 at age 15/17 to 2.0 this past season, in which he turned 18 in December. He also played for Russia at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in 2021-22 (yes, a U18 tournament at age 16), scoring 2 goals and 3 assists in 5 games as Russia took gold. He's played a handful of games for the big club in the KHL (4 this season, 2 the year before), with no points, but considering he's only played ~7 minutes per game, it's unsurprising he hasn't scored much. Also, while he has played at centre and left wing, he's played primarily at right wing, and that's likely where teams will project him.

Scouting report: The reports on Demidov are of an offensive wizard. Many see him as the highest-ceiling player in the draft after Macklin Celebrini. Craig Button claims he's better than Michkov, and several have made the "next Nikita Kucherov" comparison. He is equal parts high-level playmaker and high-level scorer, with excellent passing, shooting, and hockey IQ. He has a wicked, accurate shot that he gets off in a hurry, and efficiently: people mention his impressive weight transfer as he shoots, providing both power and accuracy. He also has the ability to read the play, and to make thread-the-needle passes that few others could see. While his skating isn't fast, it is elusive, and he shows the ability to throw off defenders with his unpredictability while carrying the puck. He excels at both transitioning the puck and entering the attacking zone with possession. One word shows up repeatedly in all the scouting reports I read: dynamic.

As you may expect for an offensive dynamo, there are concerns about his defensive play. While he is great at generating turnovers, he is also known to cheat out of the defensive zone, anticipating a breakout. As with many players his age, he's known to try to force the fancy pass rather than taking the easier, higher-percentage shot. And he is known to get muscled off the puck if teams can land a good stickcheck. To me, these sound like common issues with skilled forward prospects, and given the impressive skillset, a team will likely pounce on his high ceiling, hoping they can coach the occasional liabilities out of him. The bigger concerns on him are that he was nursing a knee injury at times this season, and that it's a little unpredictable when Russian players will come over. As of right now, he's only signed by St. Petersburg until the end of the 2024-25 season.

Stats: To say he obliterated his opponents in the MHL is an understatement. His 2.00 points-per-game was well ahead of the second-place Nikita Khoruzhev who was at 1.48 (min. 11 games played). For recent comparisons, Michkov was 1.82 in his final year, while Nikita Kucherov was 1.87. (Another common comparison, Kirill Kaprizov, is hard to compare to since he only played 59 MHL games over 3 seasons, since he ended up being needed in the KHL by teams that weren't quite as deep as SKA St. Petersburg is.) This past season, he won the season MVP and was named player of the month three times, while also being a key cog in his team winning the league championship. I don't want to just plagiarize Kyle Pereira's extensive article on him, so I'll add here that his stats show how good Demidov is at not just generating offence, but high-danger offensive chances.

Further reading: For video analysis, check out these videos from Elite Prospects and Caufee. The aforementioned Kyle Pereira article does a deep-dive into his numbers from a couple randomly selected games. Blogs of other teams drafting higher than Ottawa, namely, A Winning Habit and 1st Ohio Battery, also have some great overviews.

Konsta Helenius (C/RW, Jukura)

5'11", 181 lbs, shoots right

Helenius probably falls into the category of a slight reach if the Sens take him at #7, with EP's consolidated rankings having him at #10. Like much of this draft, there's a lot of variance, with Craig Button and Recruit Scouting having him as high as #3, while The Hockey News's Tony Ferrari has him at #19.

Background: Helenius was born in Ylöjärvi, Finland, a suburb of Tampere. He joined the academy program of Tampere-based Tappara, progressing through the U16 (20 goals, 37 assists in 22 games), U18 (14G 31A in 33 GP), and U20 (8G 20A in 19 GP) editions of the team. Convinced that he stood to gain more by playing at a higher level, but that Tappara also was the top team in the league and didn't have a spot for a rookie finding his way, they loaned him to Jukurit (who still finished 5th this past season in 15-team league). As a 16-year-old, he put up 3 goals and 8 assists in 33 games for Jukurit; that went up to 14 goals and 22 assists in 51 games this past season, followed by 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 playoff games. He only turned 18 in May, so all of this came as a 17-year-old playing against men. All signs point of him playing for the adult Tappara team this coming fall.

Scouting Report: Helenius is seen as one of the most pro-ready forwards in this draft, boosted in part by his ability to hold his own in a men's league. He is seen as well-rounded, a prospect who is solid in all aspects of the game rather than excellent at some. His hockey IQ is what comes up again and again; he just seems to have a knack for knowing how the play is going to develop, and making the appropriate play. This includes when he doesn't have the puck, in that he shows the ability to force turnovers and regain possession for his team, whether on defence or on the forecheck. He may be the most defensively responsible forward at the top of this draft class, and also shows prowess as a skilled playmaker. He's physical despite his smaller undeveloped frame, and has shown impressive strength against players nearly twice his age.

The biggest complaint I see on his game is that he isn't elite in anything. He's physical, but not huge. He's a solid playmaker, but he's not a walking highlight reel. He's a great skater, but he's not the fastest or most elusive. Often, players taken in the top 10 are supposed to be unicorns, players with the elite skills to build a team around. Teams look for game-breaking talent. Helenius likely has the highest floor of anyone projected to go early in the draft. The problem with "high floor" among prospects is that it's often accompanied with "low ceiling"; that isn't necessarily the case with Helenius, but he will have to keep improving his point totals in adult leagues to justify picking him higher than some of the flashier available options.

Stats: He's had the fourth-highest point total of any 17-year-old player in Liiga history, behind Aleksander Barkov, Mikael Granlund, and Kaapo Kakko (and yes, ahead of Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujärvi, and Teuvo Teräväinen, among other notables). Tappara was also the academy team of Barkov, and it's interesting to compare their performances. In terms of points per game, Helenius was better at the junior level, with much better U16 and U20 performances, though Barkov was slightly better at the U18 (U16: 2.59 vs. 1.89; U18: 1.36 vs. 1.38; U20: 1.47 vs. 0.73). Does this make Helenius the next Barkov? Probably not, but it's worth noting that their scouting profiles from their pre-draft years are similar with one notable exception: Barkov is 3 inches taller and, in their respective pre-draft seasons, was 25 lbs heavier. That height difference will likely be the big reason he's still on the board when the Sens pick, because you know that a well-rounded, defensively responsible, playmaking centre with experience in the adult league who was 6'3" would be a top-five pick.

Further Reading: The most comprehensive profile I found was by Dayton Reimer of The Hockey Writers. As always, NHL Draft Pros has a great video breakdown of his play. Davy Jones Locker Room does another synopsis of a bunch of the scouting reports out there.

Credit to Elite Prospects, TSN's Craig Button and Bob McKenzie, The Hockey News, A Winning Habit, FC Hockey's Kyle Pereira, 1st Ohio Battery, Sportsnet's Jason Bukala, NHL.com's Mike Morreale, The Hockey Writers, and Davy Jones Locker Room.

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