The studs of the 2007 European prospect class have arrived at the annual NHL scouting combine looking to silence the critics.
Russian winger Alexei Cherepanov and Swedish centre Mikael Backlund, the top-ranked European skaters on Central Scouting's list, began meeting with various teams yesterday in Toronto during the opening day of the prospects combine.
Both players hope to change the impression of many scouts and personnel men who feel the cache of European players eligible for the 2007 entry draft in Columbus is not as deep as it has been in previous years.
"I don't (agree) if that is what people are saying. I think the (crop) of Europeans available in the draft this year is good," Backlund said last night from his Toronto-area hotel.
"(Sweden) finished second in the world juniors. Russia won the under-18 tournament. That's why I think there will be a lot of good European players taken."
The interview process will continue during the next several days, with prospects scheduled to work out for teams Friday and Saturday.
For a player such as Backlund, it will be a busy week. He is scheduled to sit down with 29 of the 30 NHL teams, the only exception being the Dallas Stars.
"It's fun," Backlund said. "The questions have been pretty simple so far."
By the time the five-day combine comes to an end, Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire expects approximately 100 prospects will have attended the event.
With less than a month to go before the June 22-23 draft, it is a prime opportunity for NHL teams to gather their final nuggets of information on players before they go on the clock at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
A number of mock drafts suggest Backlund will land with the Maple Leafs with the No. 13 overall pick, but there is no guarantee Toronto will stay in that slot.
General manager John Ferguson said the Leafs would contemplate trading down during a seven-round draft in which they own eight picks.
London Knights whiz kids Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner are among the top six-ranked North American skaters who will meet the media in Anaheim prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final tonight. All six will fly to Toronto tomorrow and will begin meeting with teams later in the day.