Victor Söderstrom, Bringing his Smooth Game to Brynäs
Things That Were
Henrik Tjornqvist, RW/Timrå (Undrafted)
A quick thought on winger Henrik Tjornqvist. At 22 and having never been drafted I would assume many (like myself before getting a few viewings in) had never heard of the 6’2, 187-pound winger. It is always a pleasant surprise when you go to watch a game, prepare and highlight the key players, and then end up finding yourself looking up a given number because of how their play caught your attention. In watching the likes of Hållander (see below), a player who really caught my eye was his opposite winger, Tjornqvist. Centred by fellow youngster Jacob Olofsson (MTL), this youthful line was often in the offensive zone and creating continued pressure off the rush and at the net. Despite not showing as much raw talent as his linemates, Tjornqvist stood out for combined his speed down the wing and his ability to make controlled zone entries before dishing the puck off or taking a safe shot on goal. While not a dominant force offensively, Tjornqvist expresses some potential as a winger with speed and size. Currently in his fourth season in the SHL, Tjornqvist has taken on a much bigger offensive role with Timrå and is contributing almost double the rate he has in previous seasons. He’s posted 10 points in 24 games thus far. Still a long-shot, and likely losing years to even be considered a project anymore, if his offensive success continues this year I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a calculated look across the pond.
Things That Are
Filip Hållander, LW/Timrå (PIT):
Hållander is an intriguing prospect in that he possesses a very noticeable skillset with the “eye test”. However, he has yet to put up significant offensive totals in the last few seasons. That said, he is a rookie who manages to be a key driver on a Timrå squad that is severely lacking offensive punch. Since being promoted from the Allsvenskan to the SHL, Timrå is without their top four scorers from last season. This has forced Hållander into a prominent role in the power play ‘bumper’ spot and is further utilized when Coach Fredrik Andersson needs a goal in the last minutes of a game. Watching him over the course of a few games, it is apparent he possesses a quick first step and catches opponents off guard with his ability to dart around the offensive zone using his edges. Where he really stands out, however, is using his body to get inside positioning in and around the opponent’s net. With a fairly lanky frame at around 6’ and 180lbs, he definitely has room to bulk up and develop a further degree of strength. This, despite already spending much of his game driving the net and creating Grade A chances near the crease. He possesses strong hockey IQ in this facet of his game and is often flying by the net for a tip or moving screen as shots come through from the point. After a five-game pointless streak, Hållander appears to be finding a more “mature” game in the SHL with seven points in his last nine games. If he can continue to stay off the perimeter and make a living in front of, and around the net, long-term Hållander projects as a serviceable top-six winger in the NHL who plays an intelligent game and contributes offensively by creating quick plays below the hash marks. With how his game has been rolling lately, he could be in line for a real coming out party in time for Team Sweden at the World Juniors.
And Some Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass
Victor Söderstrom, D/Brynäs (Draft Eligible 2019)
If you’re looking to get the 411 on Söderstrom you only need to know one word – smooth. Arguably his team’s best defenseman in terms of decision making and hockey sense already, Söderstrom plays a quiet, yet incredibly effective brand of hockey. Over the last several weeks, I admit, I have become a HUGE fan of his style. Simply put, he is any coach’s dream –smart, safe, and responsible. Since playing much of the start of the season in the SuperElit, Söderstrom has not only proven he belongs in the SHL but has excelled as a two-way puck mover who seemingly never makes a mistake with the puck. Although he hasn’t posted much in terms of points (2 in 16 games), Söderstrom is pure pleasure to watch. His game is built on his high hockey IQ and elite awareness over the positioning of himself in relation to opposing forwards. While he isn’t a classic offensive defenceman who carries the puck swiftly into the offensive zone, Söderstrom is already a master in making clean breakouts. Likely best termed a two-way, puck-moving defenceman, Söderstrom has been consistently making heads-up plays in the SHL to make clean outlets and control the pace of Brynäs’ second PP unit. In watching him you are drawn to his tape-to-tape passes and how he simply seems to smoothly glide around the ice never breaking a sweat because he is almost always in the right position. Defensively, despite being somewhat undersized for your typical NHL rearguard, he engages physically to acquire leverage and advantageous positioning and does a great job at taking opposing forwards sticks out of the play. If it isn’t clear already, I am very impressed with the poise and composure of this draft-eligible defenceman – someone is going to get very lucky in the middle of the first round if he doesn’t get snatched up sooner. Even though singing Söderstrom’s praise is warranted given his seamless adjustment from SuperElit to the SHL, at times you might desire he play with greater pace. At this level, it is more difficult to get a read on how dynamic his puck skills and skating are – he’s played a very quiet game so far in the SHL, despite a very effective one. As with most young defenceman, he will need to improve on his gap control and in preventing easy zone entries; Söderstrom currently tends to be somewhat timid and allows the opposition to back him up a little too easily. Looking ahead, I am excited to see what kind of damage he will be able to do for Team Sweden at the World Juniors… unfortunately, that damage looks like it will have to wait until 2020 given yet another strong Swedish blue-line.
Philip Broberg, D/AIK (Draft Eligible 2019)
Another draft-eligible Swedish D, the left-handed Broberg combines a unique blend of size (6’3, 198) and excellent skating ability. His puck skills are still hot and cold and fairly raw, however, the package seems to be there for Broberg to have a very bright future. His play thus far with AIK (7 assists in 27 games, +6) most recently earned him an invite to the Swedish WJC camp roster given Timothy Liljegren’s questionable status, however realistically he is still a long-shot to make the team out of the gates. Through the Allsvenskan season thus far, Broberg has been handling his own – his skating and offensive acumen have yet to separate itself from the pack, however, it is beginning to come around as he gets more and more comfortable pinching down the boards and joining the rush. With his skating skills, he possesses the ability to jump in for a quick hit rush and still manage to be one of the first men back. On a more negative note, what leaves me wanting in Broberg is his defensive coverage. For his size, he deploys a rather weak net front coverage and engaging physically to take sticks and remove bodies from his goalie’s line of sight doesn’t appear natural quite yet. While I typically avoid comparing the two as they are very different athletes stylistically, Broberg’s weaknesses are generally strengths for the aforementioned Söderstrom. The two defencemen represent great offensive potential and raw skill (Broberg) and a mature, composed, and error-free puck possession game (Söderstrom). Of course, every young player has their vices – you would have one heck of a player if you took these two young Swedes and turned them into one. As a coach at heart, I’d have Söderstrom on my team any day – including this year’s edition of Team Sweden.
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