Fans in North America typically don't get many eyes on prospects playing overseas outside of events like the World Juniors, so to give you a feel for the best prospects not in the Western Hemisphere, we checked in with front-office talent evaluators and scouts to help rank the top 10 drafted prospects not currently playing in North America.
The notes used to form this list are based on my own observations of these players combined with the many conversations I've had with scouts and front-office executives in the industry, although the rankings are purely my own.
1.Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota Wild (HIFK-SM-Liiga)
Granlund would be tied or leading the SM-Liiga in scoring had he not gone overseas for the World Juniors. Such a feat would have been unprecedented for a Junior-aged player in that league. I'll admit having Granlund over Evgeny Kuznetsov is not an industry consensus, but I tend to favor players with great possession skill, and Granlund has that. He's an elite-level puck handler and thinker who is extremely imaginative and intuitive on the ice, has the ability to control games and can make special level plays regularly. He's more than ready to cross the pond for next season and take on a scoring role in the NHL.
2.Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals (Traktor-KHL)
Following his outstanding World Juniors, ESPN Insider's Grant Sonier called Kuznetsov the best 19-year-old in the world after a tournament in which he seemingly created a scoring chance every shift. When drafted, Kuznetsov was seen as a high-risk/reward player due to his inconsistency and defensive woes but scouts overseas proclaim both have improved, especially the former. He's a high-end skater, puck-handler, finisher and distributor who has the ability to be a star in the NHL.
3.Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues (SKA-KHL)
One of the KHL's leading scorers all season, Tarasenko is an extremely gifted puck handler, with an elite level shot, and a pretty good physical game considering an average-sized frame, and he works hard at both ends. NHL sources believe he can cross the pond and make an impact right away in 2012-13 should he choose to transfer, and I would bet if he does, he'll plant himself firmly into the Blues' top six.
This extremely versatile and well-rounded forward should fast track his way up the Sens' depth chart in a short amount of time. Zibanejad is a very skilled player with no notable weakness and has a ton of energy in his game. Defensively, he was ready for the NHL at 18 and should secure a full-time role with the team next season.
5.Calle Jarnkrok, C, Detroit Red Wings (Brynas-SEL)
When I asked an NHL exec which he would prefer -- either top Red Wings prospects Gustav Nyquist, who is tearing up the AHL, Tomas Jurco, one of the QMJHL's leading scorers, or Jarnkrok, the answer was Jarnkrok. One of the SEL's top players, he's a high-end puck handler and playmaker who really impresses with his puck possession play and ability to create offense. His body is very immature and will take a while before he's physically ready for the NHL, but the Wings usually take their time with their top youngsters.
One of the more under-the-radar names in the prospect world, Ekholm is a gifted defenseman who NHL sources call "a for-sure top-four defenseman in the NHL." For a 6-foot-4 defenseman, he's very mobile and has a ton of offensive ability between his skating, puck-moving instincts and shot. He's logging huge minutes in Sweden right now and should challenge for a full-time NHL role next year in what is becoming a very competitive Nashville blue line.
7.Jonas Brodin, D, Minnesota Wild (Farjestad-SEL)
Brodin is an extremely advanced defenseman who thinks the game so well that combined with his impressive skill set he could make the jump to the NHL as a 19-year-old defenseman. He's a very good skater and puck mover who projects to be a tough-minutes defender who can play on a second power-play unit. His main worry is his physical game and body, but as one NHL source puts it, "He's so smart and elusive that he never gets hit."
8.Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators (Brynas-SEL)
Silfverberg currently is one of the top scorers in the SEL and looks prepared to make the next step into the NHL. He's a well-rounded prospect who has a fine skill level, skates well and brings a high level of energy and hockey sense to the table. He has the skill level to create chances, but also is very responsible defensively. Silfverberg should make a case to be on Ottawa's top nine next year and I wouldn't be surprised if he at some point forced his way into a scoring role.
9.Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton Oilers (Farjestad-SEL)
While Klefbom started off the year getting little ice time in Sweden's top pro league, after a sterling World Juniors performance he has played very well in the second half of the season overseas and has gotten more responsibility. A high-end skater who is physically advanced for his age, he is the kind of defenseman who one NHL exec said: "He will play against other teams' top players and bring some offense." Klefbom will likely get one more season overseas, but look for him to make a push for Edmonton's roster in the not-too-distant future.
10. William Karlsson, C, Anaheim Ducks (Vateras-Allsvenskan)
In the same league with elite draft prospect Filip Forsberg, Karlsson has nearly 30 more points in about the same amount of games. I wouldn't say he's close to the same kind of prospect as Forsberg, but Karlsson is very good and should be on everyone's radar. He's a highly skilled centerman with high-end hockey sense. "He can start in the NHL being effective in a defensive role and work his way up to a scoring line," one scout says. He will need a few years of development though, as he's very physically immature despite being a year and a half older than top prospect Forsberg.
11. Johan Larsson, C, Minnesota Wild (Brynas-SEL)
In case you're not seeing the trend here, Brynas has been a team to watch this season. Larsson is a fun player to watch because he's a gifted playmaker with tremendous vision but also is a gritty centerman who drives the net and relishes in the physical aspect of the game. Scouts describe his game as advanced beyond his years, as Larsson is the highest scoring Under-20 player in the SEL by 20 points.
12.Maxim Chudinov, D, Boston Bruins (Severstal-KHL)
For the last spot it was a close call among Chudinov, the power winger Kirill Petrov and the very skilled Nikita Kucherov, but I gave the edge to Chudinov due to how well he's performed in Russia this year offensively. He's shown the ability to be trusted with significant defensive minutes, too. Chudinov is a very good skater with a bullet shot from the point who can move the puck at a solid level. While he does try to play physical and is well-built for a smaller player, his diminutive frame is a major flaw.
As always, if you want an elaboration on a player mentioned or you want to ask a question about a player not profiled, feel free to leave a comment.
Corey Pronman covers hockey for ESPN Insider. He has been a writer at Hockey Prospectus since 2009, with a focus on the NHL draft, scouting and NHL prospects. You can find his ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.