Greetings from Finland!
And welcome to my first SHL update. I took over the SHL coverage from Brad Phillips, so I have some big shoes to fill here but I hope you enjoy my version of this!
My name is Jokke Nevalainen, and I’m writing to you from Tampere, Finland. My previous work here has included covering the Florida Panthers (which I still do), and I’ve also written a couple of mid-season scoring analyses (CHL and NCAA) but from now on, I’ll allocate a big chunk of my hockey-watching time on the SHL.
One thing you may not know about Finland is that it’s a bilingual country where our second official language is Swedish, and although my Swedish is pretty bad, it still helps me when I’m navigating the SHL.se website which is good because they have a lot of interesting stats.
The SHL is currently on Olympic break until February 24th, and all teams have just seven games remaining on the season. There’s a total of 14 teams in the league but a few of them don’t have any interesting prospects, so I’ll be focusing on the teams that actually have fantasy-relevant prospects on the roster. Let’s start at the top and move our way down the standings.
Växjö is leading the league by a wide margin, and their leading scorer is 19-year-old forward Elias Pettersson (Canucks) who has 45 points in 37 games, and he’s also leading the league with his 1.22 points-per-game average. Pettersson has been especially dangerous on the power play where 21 of his 45 points have been scored. Pettersson was recently voted “Top Rising Prospect” and “Top Forward” in our Mid-Season Fantasy Hockey Awards.
Pettersson started the season playing right wing but was moved to his natural center position after the World Junior Championship. However, it appears Växjö wasn’t satisfied with his work at center because just before the break they acquired a center and moved Pettersson back to wing. Our very own prospect guru and Canucks expert Cam Robinson linked an interesting article from Daily Hive which detailed some of the struggles Pettersson had when he was playing center, and Cam’s comments on Twitter were: “The transition to the smaller ice will certainly be a difficult adjustment period. Patience will be needed”. When Cam says something like this, I take it seriously.
One interesting free agent on the Växjö team is 23-year-old defenseman Joel Persson (UFA) who has an impressive 30 points in 44 games but there are reasons to be concerned because 21 of those 30 points have come on the power play, and he has 13 secondary assists. Persson is a purely offensive defenseman who is playing a bit of a sheltered role – he’s playing just 16:42 per game which is fifth highest among defensemen on his team, with 2:46 of that on the power play, and he isn’t used on the penalty kill at all. Persson was playing third tier hockey in Sweden last season, so what he’s doing now is impressive but it’s unlikely he can make another jump to the NHL unless someone needs a power play specialist.
From the league leading Växjö, we jump to the third place Färjestad where center Rasmus Asplund (Sabres) is fifth among forwards on his team with 27 points in 43 games. Asplund is the second line center on his team and actually leads all forwards on his team in average ice time at even strength, and he also gets ice time on the power play and on the penalty kill as well. Five of his 27 points have come on the power play, and he’s won 51.1% of the faceoffs he’s taken. Asplund was only 19 years old when the season started, and he’s wearing an ‘A’ on his chest – that’s very rare in the SHL.
Winger Fabian Zetterlund (Devils) is playing a very limited role with only about eight minutes of average ice time but he looks quite comfortable playing the fourth line grinder role. I think there’s offensive upside with him but even if that doesn’t materialize, he could have a nice career in the NHL as a bottom-six forward. After the World Junior Championship tournament where he was pretty good, Zetterlund has scored four points in eight games – he scored just two points in the previous 26 games.
Next, we’ll jump to the fifth place Frölunda. Their leading goal-scorer is 22-year-old winger Victor Olofsson (Sabres) who leads the entire league with 24 goals. He also has 13 assists for a total of 37 points in 43 games. Among forwards on his team, Olofsson receives just fifth highest average ice time at even strength but his power play time is second highest on the team. He’s a bit of one-dimensional but looks very promising as a volume-shooter – his 135 shots on goal puts him fourth in the league. He’s scored 13 goals and 21 points on the power play where he’s doing most of his damage from the right-wall side as a left-handed shot. Olofsson had five points in his last nine games, so he might be slowing down a little bit.
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (2018) is going to be the first overall draft selection this summer, and whoever is lucky enough to land him gets a future Norris Trophy winner once he matures physically and cleans up some of the high-risk junior moves he tries to do. Dahlin is Frölunda’s number one defenseman at even strength but only plays on the second power play unit, and he isn’t used on the penalty kill. He has six goals and 17 points in 35 games, and only three of those points have come on the power play. Dahlin was hot before the Olympic break with six points in his last seven games, and he was recently voted “Top Overall Prospect” in our Mid-Season Fantasy Hockey Awards. Making the Swedish Olympic team as a 17-year-old is impressive but I think it was more of a PR move than an indication that he’s actually one of the eight best defensemen available for Sweden. Dahlin can definitely play at that level but Sweden had to leave some good players off the team.
Winger Carl Grundström (Maple Leafs) is playing a middle-six role with second unit power play time, so 16 points in 28 games is pretty good – especially when 11 of those points are goals. He was also hot before the break with seven points in his last seven games.
Right behind Frölunda in the sixth place is Skellefteå, and one interesting prospect on their team is winger Tim Söderlund (Blackhawks) who has eight goals and 11 points in 36 games this season. Söderlund usually plays a very limited role with only about 10 minutes of ice time per game but in the only Skellefteå game I managed to watch just before the break, he played over 15 minutes because their entire top line was already with the Olympic team. He really caught my eye in the third period where he had a couple of scoring chances and also created one for his linemate. He also had one big hit and drove the puck to the net hard on the power play, and those things are not common for 5-9 forwards.
Next, we jump to number eight in the standings and find HV71. Their leading scorer is 22-year-old defenseman Lawrence Pilut (UFA) who leads the entire league in defensemen scoring with 36 points in 45 games. Pilut plays big minutes in all situations, and he leads his team in average ice time by about two minutes – his average ice time of 21:48 is actually eighth highest in the entire league. Pilut has scored 11 of those 36 points on the power play.
This is Pilut’s fourth full season at the SHL level, and he’s having a true offensive breakout season now. Pilut had nine points in his last nine games before the break, and he was recently voted “Top Free Agent Prospect” in our Mid-Season Fantasy Hockey Awards. I completely agree with the selection, and there should be a lot of NHL interest once Pilut’s season is over.
Forward Victor Ejdsell (Predators) is second on the team with 29 points in 43 games but leads his team in goals with 17 which is eighth best in the league. Ejdsell was a hot free agent last year after destroying Allsvenskan with 57 points in 50 games, and his jump from Allsvenskan to SHL has been successful. Earlier in the season, Ejdsell’s ice time was around 14 minutes but since New Year, his ice time has been closer to 16 minutes and he’s scored 14 points in 13 games during that time. Ejdsell was playing wing in the games that I watched but has taken a surprisingly high amount of faceoffs and won 50.5% of them. He’s a classic late bloomer who could surprise some people when he moves to North America which could happen as soon as this summer.
Center Kevin Stenlund (Blue Jackets) leads all HV71 forwards in average ice time, and he’s also getting lots of power play time and some penalty kill time as well. His 19 points in 37 games puts him fifth on the team among forwards, and six of those 19 points have come on the power play. He’s won more faceoffs than anyone on his team with 55.8% success rate. Stenlund is a big power forward who could be a bottom-six player for the Blue Jackets as soon as next season. He had six points in nine games before the break.
Defenseman Erik Brännström (Golden Knights) is averaging about 17 minutes per game which includes time on the second power play unit and also some short-handed time as well. His defensive game has definitely improved from last season and he’s making less risky plays now but with his skill-set, it’s only a matter of time before he explodes offensively. Brännström has nine points in 37 games, and four of those nine points have come on the power play.
One interesting draft eligible player on HV71 roster is center David Gustafsson (2018) who has just eight points in 38 games this season but five of those points came in the final five games before the break. He’s playing the fourth line center role, so it’s difficult to score much from there but he’s playing well nevertheless and he’s won exactly 50% of the faceoffs he’s taken. Gustafsson was ranked 44th on Cam Robinson’s 2018 NHL Draft Ranking.
Goaltender Linus Söderström (Islanders) is also on HV71’s roster but hasn’t played since late November because of an injury, and apparently the Islanders have brought him to New York to make sure he gets the best possible treatment. Söderström could be done for the season because HV71 acquired goaltender Felix Sandström (Flyers) from Brynäs during the Olympic break. It’s an interesting acquisition because Söderström and Sandström faced off last season during the final round in the playoffs, and both players have struggled this season.
Right behind HV71 is Luleå at number nine, and their goaltender Filip Gustavsson (Penguins) is having a good season. His .917 SV% and 2.16 GAA in 18 games are good numbers for a 19-year-old goalie in the SHL but most importantly, he’s started eight of 11 games after the World Junior Championship, and his averages during that time are .951 SV% and 1.23 GAA. He still needs to improve tracking the puck and playing the puck with his stick but other than that, he looks very solid already at such a young age. Gustavsson was arguably the second best goaltender at the World Junior Championship tournament and returned home with silver medal.
Another interesting Luleå player is center Isac Lundeström (2018) who is ranked 19th on Peter Harling’s 2018 NHL Draft Ranking. His 15 points in 35 games don’t jump off the page but it’s actually pretty good production for an 18-year-old in the SHL. He’s playing the second line center role with some time on the power play where four of his 15 points have been scored. Lundeström is a well-rounded two-way center but he definitely needs to work on his faceoff skills because he’s won just 39% of the faceoffs he’s taken. Lundeström had four points in his last three games before the break.
One draft eligible player who really caught my eye and became a personal favourite of mine was defenseman Nils Lundkvist (2018). He’s an average-sized puck-moving defenseman who manages to play a regular shift on Luleå’s blue line as a 17-year-old, and he looked like a natural quarterbacking their power play. His skating and puck-handling are so good that he’s the primary defenseman option for his team in 3-on-3 overtime. His average ice time is just 15:30 but since New Year, he’s averaging almost 18 minutes per game. He’s definitely someone who intrigues me as a potential sleeper for fantasy hockey purposes, and he isn’t really ranked in any of the lists I managed to find. Lundkvist had two points in the last two games before the break. I posted a few video clips of him on Twitter if you want to watch him in action.
Brynäs is 10th in the league and in the final playoff spot. Forward Jesper Boqvist (Devils) has faced some injuries yet again this season but has managed to score nine points in 16 games nevertheless, and that includes just one power play point. Boqvist p