Draft Eligible Nils Höglander is making pro strides for SHL’s Rögle
December and January are interesting months when it comes to prospects tuning their craft in professional European leagues. With the World Juniors in mid-swing to start off the New Year, many teams lose their talented young players for those exciting few weeks. Upon completion of the tournament, one often finds that team dynamics have changed and there are new roles, new expectations, and at times, a reduced opportunity when the juniors return home.
For the upcoming 2019 NHL Entry Draft, this year’s Swedish crop lacks a major presence in both the SHL and the Allsvenskan. As highlighted in our January report, there is the bigger name defenseman, Philip Broberg (AIK, Allsvenskan) and Victor Soderstrom (Brynäs, SHL) playing fairly key roles for their clubs. Sure, we definitely see other notable draft-eligible players getting a few cups of coffee in the SHL (e.g. Tobias Bjornfot, Simon Holmstrom), however, there is a lack of punch in either league in terms of the upcoming draft. Albin Grewe and Nils Höglander are the only two first-year draft-eligible forwards playing (arguably) significant minutes. In the forward ranks, this is not a strong draft for the Swedes – in some ways, it is the proverbial lull before the storm of the 2020 Draft when the big three of Noel Gunler, Lucas Raymond, and Alexander Holtz hit the scene.
Emil Bemström, C/W, Djurgårdens IF (CBJ, 2017)
Drafted in the 4th round in 2017 by Columbus, Bemström has had a great start to his D+2 season. Always viewed as a bit of a project, Bemström was arguably Sweden’s most effective forward at the World Juniors posting four goals and six points in five games. Bemström’s game comes down to shiftiness, quick feet, and above-average hands combined with a goal-scorers mentality when it comes to bearing down in close to the net. Back with Djurgårdens IF, Bemström has been a key offensive cog, leading not only his team but the entire SHL in goals with 15 in only 28 games. Alongside the league points-leader Jakob Lilja (more to come on him next time!) and former New Jersey Devils forward Jacob Josefson, Bemström’s Djurgårdens club has been setting the pace in the SHL with the most goals for, and least goals against of any team.
Martin Fehérváry, D, HV71 (WSH, 2018)
While I cannot honestly say I tuned in to HV71 to get a glance of Fehérváry, he definitely stood out as deserving of a quick mention in this month’s report. Very involved in all three zones, Fehérváry has shown a willingness to jump into the rush and given his skating skills, fairly frequently can go coast-to-coast with. Unfortunately, once he gets into the zone and begins to attack the net, nothing ever really seems to manifest itself. Despite his limited offensive contributions (one goal, two assists, 27 games), the mainstay of the Slovakian WJC team has acquitted himself nicely for HV71 as a safe, two-way defender who is well-deserving of the average 15 or so minutes of ice he receives per game.
Noel Gunler, W, Luleå, (2020 Draft Eligible)
Although there have not been many big splashes for young draft eligible forwards in the SHL, Noel Gunler (2020 eligible) has already created a spark. Dominating the SuperElit with a league-leading 41 points in 28 games played – including a recent six-point game after being sent back down from the SHL’s top club, Luleå. The 17-year-old has had a commendable 10-game debut at the professional level. In those SHL games, Gunler has posted one goal and three assists in limited ice-time (9:10).
David Gustafsson, C/W, HV71 (WPG, 2018)
With a pro frame (6’2, 196lbs), Gustafsson catches the eye as a reliable two-way forward who is more of a Jack of All Trades in terms of his on-ice impact. His size and reach stand out in the 18 games of SHL competition he has faced thus far, however his lack of north-south speed prevents him from making the most of his skill set. He has decent hands and makes smart passes and decisions in the offensive zone, yet I would like to see him play with more pace. He appears to have the raw tools to at the very least, develop into a powerful offensive forward in the SHL. That said, due to the pace of play or what to some might appear as a lack of engagement, the jury is still out on his long-term projections for the Winnipeg Jets. Definitely still a project, he must begin to take advantage of his frame and forego the perimeter plays by taking the puck to the net and setting up in front of the goaltender. Known primarily as a two-way centre, Gustafsson more typically has played the wing for HV71.
Nils Höglander, W, Rögle (Draft Eligible 2019)
Vertically diminutive at 5’7 or 5’8 (on a good day), Höglander is a speedy and shifty skater who has been playing consistent minutes for SHL’s Rögle. With a stockier frame than most youngsters of such height, Höglander has, by all means, had a successful first year playing in Sweden’s top league. Höglander has shown well in 32 games, posting five goals and eight points while averaging 12:09 minutes per game. With a strong nose for the net considering his size, Höglander is an effective winger that can create offence off the rush by using his speed to push back defenders. He frequently makes crisp, heads-up passes on the rush to create scoring chances for what is a rather weak offensive unit in Rögle. With smaller players becoming more and more an accepted and sought after element in the professional ranks, Höglander stands out by the old cliché of ‘playing bigger than his size’. I’ve been impressed by his willingness to take contact and battle through traffic and how often he works to set up tight screens of the opposition netminder.
Isac Lundeström C, Luleå (ANA, 2018)
Since joining Luleå from his stint in North America with the Anaheim Ducks organization, Lundeström has hit the ground running. Making an immediate impact as a power play focal point, Lundeström adds excellent vision and playmaking acumen to an already well built first place team. His passing and patience with the puck were immediately noticeable for the Luleå offence. Additionally, he consistently demonstrated his skating and speed in driving the net from the wing off the rush. Granted it is only three games in, Lundeström has been averaging over 20:41 minute of ice time per game – almost two minutes more than Luleå’s other top forwards. Given the opportunity Lundeström has to become the primary offensive catalyst for Luleå, it is evident why Anaheim made the decision to loan him back.
Lucas Raymond, W, Frölunda (2020 Draft Eligible)
Another member of the Swedish big three in 2020, Raymond is likely the most gifted in terms of hockey sense and having the touch and awareness of an elite goal-scorer. Having a solid season in the SuperElite J20 circuit, Raymond has faced a bit stiffer competition compared to Gunler. Most noticeably, Raymond started off 2019 by scoring his first two goals in the SHL courtesy of his heavy, accurate release.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this month’s edition of the SHL Report! Have any questions or requests? Shoot me a follow and message on Twitter at @Kyle_SHL!
Kyle Stewart is the author of Dobber Prospects ‘SHL Report’. Relatively new to the sports writing world, Kyle has a Masters’ in Sport Psychology and works with athletes of all levels as a professional Mental Performance Consultant in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.