When composite sticks first flooded the market, one of the comments you’d hear from holdouts was you couldn’t feel the puck quite like you could with a wood twig. It’s a slight stretch, but there’s probably some comparison to be made with scouting in person versus the screen-staring so many bird-hawks are doing now.

“A player misses a chance and the video cuts [away],” says a scout. “When I’m at a game, I want to see how that player handles it; the body language, what happens when he goes back to the bench. That’s the stuff you miss right now.”

While the composites got better and better and eventually won everybody over, it’s safe to say the scouting community is full of people who yearn to slam the laptops shut and get back into frigid barns. Until then, those of us on this side of the Atlantic have to make do with streams from a variety of European leagues that fired up this fall.

Recently, my colleague Mike Shulman highlighted several 2021 draft-eligible prospects skating in Europe, as well some recent draftees playing overseas. The goal here, with the help of a pro scout, is to examine the performance of some early-20s players toiling in Europe who will return to North America once NHL camps open to either compete for or cement big-league jobs. We’ll also glance at some guys who, though they may be in Europe for at least the next 10 or 11 months, are starting to give their NHL squads something to really think about.

Juuso Välimäki, D, Calgary Flames

That sound you hear emanating from Southern Alberta is gathering giddiness over Välimäki’s early-season performance — and it comes on the heels of justifiable concern. Välimäki — who split 2018-19 between the Flames and their AHL affiliate — missed the entire 2019-20 campaign thanks to a knee injury sustained during off-season training in the summer of ’19. So while many players have endured an extended hiatus, this ultra-competitive kid’s patience has really been put to the test.

Any questions about how the long layoff would affect the 22-year-old have been answered by his play for Ives in Finland’s Liiga. The six-foot-two blue-liner has 17 points in 16 contests while averaging more than 23 minutes per night for his club, prompting one close observer from the Finnish media to tell me Välimäki — a smart player who makes a good first pass — is the best player at his position in the league. The 16th overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft has a spot waiting for him in Calgary and, the way he’s going, could climb his way up the depth chart.

“For him it’s just been getting to play every day, consistently,” the scout said. “I think he’s going to eat minutes for a long, long time and play in the top four. I don’t know that he’s going to run the power play, but he’s going to play on the power play.”

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When composite sticks first flooded the market, one of the comments you’d hear from holdouts was you couldn’t feel the puck quite like you could with a wood twig. It’s a slight stretch, but there’s probably some comparison to be made with scouting in person versus the screen-staring so many bird-hawks are doing now.

“A player misses a chance and the video cuts [away],” says a scout. “When I’m at a game, I want to see how that player handles it; the body language, what happens when he goes back to the bench. That’s the stuff you miss right now.”

While the composites got better and better and eventually won everybody over, it’s safe to say the scouting community is full of people who yearn to slam the laptops shut and get back into frigid barns. Until then, those of us on this side of the Atlantic have to make do with streams from a variety of European leagues that fired up this fall.

Recently, my colleague Mike Shulman highlighted several 2021 draft-eligible prospects skating in Europe, as well some recent draftees playing overseas. The goal here, with the help of a pro scout, is to examine the performance of some early-20s players toiling in Europe who will return to North America once NHL camps open to either compete for or cement big-league jobs. We’ll also glance at some guys who, though they may be in Europe for at least the next 10 or 11 months, are starting to give their NHL squads something to really think about.

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Juuso Välimäki, D, Calgary Flames

That sound you hear emanating from Southern Alberta is gathering giddiness over Välimäki’s early-season performance — and it comes on the heels of justifiable concern. Välimäki — who split 2018-19 between the Flames and their AHL affiliate — missed the entire 2019-20 campaign thanks to a knee injury sustained during off-season training in the summer of ’19. So while many players have endured an extended hiatus, this ultra-competitive kid’s patience has really been put to the test.

Any questions about how the long layoff would affect the 22-year-old have been answered by his play for Ives in Finland’s Liiga. The six-foot-two blue-liner has 17 points in 16 contests while averaging more than 23 minutes per night for his club, prompting one close observer from the Finnish media to tell me Välimäki — a smart player who makes a good first pass — is the best player at his position in the league. The 16th overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft has a spot waiting for him in Calgary and, the way he’s going, could climb his way up the depth chart.

“For him it’s just been getting to play every day, consistently,” the scout said. “I think he’s going to eat minutes for a long, long time and play in the top four. I don’t know that he’s going to run the power play, but he’s going to play on the power play.”

Emil Bemström, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bemström established himself with the Jackets last season, netting 10 goals in 56 games — he missed 12 contests with a rib injury — during his debut North American showing. The 2017 fourth-rounder is building on that promise by being one of the most productive players in Finland so far. Bemström, a 21-year-old Swede, has posted 8-9-17 totals in 15 outings while skating for HIFK, placing him fourth overall in league scoring.

By the time Blue Jackets camp rolls around, Bemström will be on his toes, ready to push for a prime-time role on a team that is perpetually in search of scoring.