The number of players moving over to Europe continues for this fragmented 2020-21 season, with Montreal's Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Winnipeg's Kristian Vesalainen two of the latest to jump back to the other side of the pond. We're also getting to see the first game action for 2023 draft phenom Connor Bedard, who made his debut with HV71's under-20 squad in Sweden (spoiler alert: the Regina Pats center is already going viral).
So who's hot right now? We've got a lot of candidates since a number of leagues are well into their regular seasons, even though some - Germany and the Czech Republic for example - have either been delayed or put on hiatus due to the pandemic.
Juuso Valimaki, D, Ilves (Fin.): Valimaki's development has been held back by injuries, but the 2017 Calgary Flames first-rounder is healthy and hot in his native Finland, racking up eight points in seven games for Ilves. That makes him the top-scoring D-man in the whole league, while Valimaki is also playing a robust 22:46 per game.
Jonatan Berggren, C, Skelleftea (SHL): Speed, smarts and great hands are Berggren's trademarks and the Detroit Red Wings prospect has really been putting all three together with 13 points in nine games for Skelleftea, making him the third-highest scorer in the league right now. The 2017 second-rounder has already eclipsed the 12 points in 24 games he had in the SHL last season.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov, C, Sibirskie Snaipery (Rus.): Ovchinnikov, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2020 draft by Toronto, has logged some major minutes for his Russian junior squad so far, going as high as 33:20 in a shootout loss earlier in the month. The two-way pivot has five points in his past three games and 12 points in nine games overall with Sibierskie. Ovchinnikov has also played three games in the KHL with Novosibirsk.
J.J. Peterka, LW, Red Bull Salzburg (Aus.): Peterka, who was taken in the second round of the 2020 draft by the Buffalo Sabres, is on loan to Salzburg in Austria since the DEL season in Germany has yet to begin. Peterka is making the most of his time with Red Bull, notching a point per game through six contests in the Ice League, which draws teams from several European nations.
Helge Grans, D, Malmo (SHL): I had Grans as a first-rounder for 2020 and even though the big, talented blueliner fell to Los Angeles in the second round, it's pretty clear the kid has some massive upside. Grans has six points in seven games for Malmo's top squad, doubling his SHL point total from all of last season when he got into 21 contests.
Daniil Chechelev, G, Russkie Vityazi (Rus.): It's hard to get off to a better start than Chechelev, who is rocking a 10-0 record and .943 save percentage in the Russian junior league. The big netminder was taken by Calgary in the fourth round of the 2020 draft and has only surrendered more than two goals in a game once this season.
Kasper Bjorkqvist, LW, KooKoo (Fin.): Like Valimaki, Bjorkqvist has gone through some injury trouble, so it's nice to see the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect off to a great start back in Finland. The Providence College alum has six points in five games for KooKoo and he's getting some nice minutes, averaging 18:04 per game.
Alex Holtz, RW, Djurgarden (SHL): The top-scoring junior-aged player in Sweden's top circuit, Holtz is hot with four goals and six points in his first eight games this year with Djurgarden. The first of three New Jersey Devils first-rounders in 2020, Holtz is a powerful sniper who is on pace to smash the 16 points he recorded in 35 SHL games last season.
Bogdan Trineyev, RW, Dynamo Krasnogorsk (Rus.): After kicking off the junior season with 10 points in 10 games for the red-hot Dynamo Moscow junior team, Trineyev earned promotion to Krasnogorsk in Russia's version of the AHL. A big kid who brings a physical dimension to the game, Trineyev is a Washington Capitals fourth-rounder from the 2020 draft.
Aleksi Saarela, C, Lukko Rauma (Fin.): With six goals in six games, Saarela leads Finland's Liiga when it comes to sniping. A Florida Panthers prospect acquired from Chicago and originally drafted by the Rangers, Saarela has played a bit in the NHL already, but also got some crucial North American experience when he helped the Charlotte Checkers win the AHL Calder Cup in 2019.