The SHL is almost here! Only few more weeks and we will finally get to see one of the best European leagues back with tons and tons of talented young players. Official start is scheduled for September 19th (Saturday) while the end of the regular season is planned on March 11th (Thursday).
In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the best NHL prospects playing in this league. I separated them into two groups and one bonus group: players that are signed to their SHL clubs and are expected to stay there for the whole season and players who are just loaned and could return to their respective NHL organizations in the middle of the year. Since the 2020 NHL Draft is also just around the corner (tentatively scheduled for October 9th), I also highlighted some of the most interesting players that are about to be selected somewhere in the first two rounds.
Lucas Raymond, LW/RW, Frölunda HC
As one of the most talented players eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Lucas Raymond is aiming for the stars in his second campaign in the SHL. The skilled winger is likely going to be picked among top-five players despite having a bit of an underwhelming 2019-20 season. He managed to put up only four goals and 10 points in 33 outings. But the main reason for these relatively low numbers is definitely a lack of ice time, as he did not even average 10 minutes per game. However, that should not be the case this time around. He is older, more mature and definitely better prepared for much more experienced competition.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgårdens IF
Holtz and Raymond have a lot in common. They are both expected to be very high draft picks looking for stronger offensive numbers in this season. Stockholm’s very own representing his birthplace, Holtz scored nine goals and collected 16 points in the 2019-20 campaign with roughly three minutes of ice time per game more than his good friend and frequent teammate from national youth teams. It is not a lot but it could explain the point difference between them. It also shows that their abilities are on very similar levels. Just like Raymond, Holtz should be ready for a bigger role that would ultimately result in more goals and points.
Noel Gunler, LW/RW, Luleå HF
The SHL has a lot to offer when it comes to highly skilled and talented young forwards. Raymond and Holtz are obviously the two standouts but I think we should not sleep on offensive abilities of another high-end goal scorer and great playmaker in Noel Gunler. The right-handed winger also has a bigger frame (6-1, 176 lbs) than both of his more famous fellow countrymen. Gunler was also in the same point range (four goals and 13 points) and got almost the same ice time per game (9:49) as they did in the previous season. Luleå HF is the reigning champion though and I assume it is not going to be easy for him to get some more time on ice. Gunler definitely has a top-six potential so it will be interesting to see
Zion Nybeck, LW/RW, HV71
The youngest and the smallest (5-8, 176 lbs) member of this group has not got a lot of chances to play for the HV71 in the previous season. He spent most of the time in the highest junior league in Sweden (SuperElit) where he dominated as an underager. The speedy winger finished year with 27 goals and 66 points in 42 games as he became the most prolific player in the league. Nybeck’s biggest strength is his skating and great hands. His quick feet allow him to be all over the ice and as a result of that he frequently fore checks and back checks. He is not afraid to go to the dirty areas even though he is not one of the biggest players on the ice.
Helge Grans, RHD, Malmö Redhawks
The offensive defenseman is a great skater with very good puck skills and a fairly big frame (6-3, 192 lbs). The 2019-2020 season started a bit slower from his perspective, as he put up only one assist in five games during Hlinka Gretzky Cup, but as the year progressed, he started to show his true offensive potential. The fluent skater played 27 games for the Redhawks junior team in SuperElit where he scored four goals and collected 27 points. Grans also appeared in 21 SHL games and his presence was more and more noticeable as the games went along, although he collected only three points in total. Now that he is a year older, his impact is expected to be even more significant for the Redhawks squad.
Drafted Prospects (Signed)
Nils Lundkvist, RHD, Luleå HF (New York Rangers)
One of, if not the best defenseman in the Rangers prospect pool is predicted to be the dominant force in a stacked Luleå roster once again before he leaves to pursue an NHL career. His performance in the 2019-2020 can not be unnoticed. During 45 games he recorded 11 goals and 31 points, which was the 7th highest number out of all defensemen in the league. However, that was not the most memorable achievement that he would eventually accomplish. The skilled puck moving defenseman played a key role in the Swedish bronze medal success as he helped them reach this goal with solid performance supported by team-high seven assists and eight points in total. Talk about a game changer, here is one of them.
Jonatan Berggren, LW/RW, Skellefteå AIK (Detroit Red Wings)
Strong on the puck, dynamic skater and a great competitor. Those are three attributes that would describe the 20-year-old winger the best. Berggren is going to start this season just where he finished the previous one, in Skellefteå. Detroit’s second round pick from the 2018 NHL Draft looked pretty solid in the 2019-20 campaign as he collected two goals and 12 points in 24 SHL games. He also played for Team Sweden at the World Juniors where he contributed to a bronze medal with one goal and five points in seven games. This is going to be his third full year in the SHL and since the Red Wings still hesitate to sign him to an entry level contract due to injuries, he is expected to make even bigger impact than he did last time around.
Jacob Olofsson, C, Skellefteå AIK (Montreal Canadiens)
Just like his teammate from above, Olofsson is going to perform in the SHL for the third time in his career. But his previous year was not as good as the Berggren’s one. The biggest difference between their respective performances is that the young two-way centerman got injured halfway through the year and managed to play only 24 games and mark two goals and only nine points. This shoulder injury not only cost him the remainder of the SHL season, but also the World Juniors where he was supposed to play a major role for the Tre Kronor team. However, he should be fully healthy by now and we can expect him to be a steady part of Skellefteå’s roster in 2020-2021 season. Although he is not a flashy offensive juggernaut, he is definitely going to be an important part of their squad.
Jack Drury, C, Växjö Lakers HC (Carolina Hurricanes)
It was surprising that Jack Drury decided to drop College hockey and join a professional hockey team in a country where he had never played before. That is the reality and if nothing else, it shows his commitment and love for the great game of hockey. The 20-year-old centerman spent last two years at Harvard University where he appeared in 60 games. He tallied 29 goals and marked 63 points in total. Personally, I am very excited to see how he is going to adapt to professional hockey and larger European rinks. He is a very responsible, intelligent and complete forward, so it should not be big problem for him to get used to these significant changes.
Hugo Alnefelt, G, HV71 (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The 2020-2021 season is perceived to be very challenging for this 19-year-old Bolts prospect. The main reason for that is that Alnefelt is expected to fight for number one spot between the HV71 pipes with his more experienced teammate Jonas Gunnarsson. The younger, but certainly more talented, goalie tried to compete with Gunnarsson in the previous year as well but was not very successful. He finished it with a .905 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average in just 18 appearances. Quite a turnaround occurred at the World Juniors where Alnefelt outshined all of his opponents. With a great .924 save percentage and only 2.12 goals against average in six games he played a huge role in the Swedish bronze medal accomplishment. If he manages to translate his success from national team to the SHL, he should definitely get a lot more starts than he did last year.
Drafted Prospects (On loan)
Lias Andersson, C/LW, HV71 (New York Rangers)
Although being just loaned, there is a big chance that Andersson is going to spend the entirety of 2020-2021 campaign in the SHL. This is only tip of the iceberg, the story began much earlier. It all started at the end of 2019 when he requested to be traded from the Rangers organization that drafted him from the seventh place back at the 2017 NHL Draft. Since then, he tried to crack the roster several times but mostly ended up playing on a fourth line. The versatile forward appeared in 17 NHL games last year and averaged just 9:33 of ice time. After this disastrous stint in New York, he later joined the HV71 team in the middle of a running season. Without any problems he managed to jump right into the action and scored five goals and 12 points in 15 games. This year though, he is expected to be the big offensive leader for the HV71 squad, so there is going to be a lot of eyes on him right from the start. Not only from their fans but also from quite a few NHL executives.
Philip Broberg, LHD, Skellefteå AIK (Edmonton Oilers)
There is a fairly big chance that Broberg is here to stay, just like Lias Andersson. The 19-year-old puck moving defenseman played almost entire 2019-2020 season in Skellefteå where he was loaned after signing an entry level contract with the Oilers. He did quite well, considering he turned 18 just few months before the season started. The fluent skater performed in 45 SHL games where he tallied one goal and put up eight points. Although these numbers do not seem like anything world-shaking, it is actually not that bad for a defenseman of his age in this league. Now that he is a year older, we can reasonably expect more points and thus even more impact from him this time around.
Nils Höglander, LW, Rögle BK (Vancouver Canucks)
When the Canucks signed Höglander, their second round steal from last year’s draft to an entry level deal, they probably expected him to spend the entire 2020-2021 campaign either in Utica or in the NHL line-up. Since the start of both NHL and AHL seasons is scheduled for early December, Höglander did not have a team to play for in the next couple of months. Hence the Canucks front office decided to loan him to a place that he knows the best. Currently he has been wearing a Rögle jersey once again after a solid year when he scored nine goals and 16 points in 41 games. The small (5-10, 188 lbs) but speedy winger is now looking to get his legs moving before he is ready to join his new organization in Vancouver.
Filip Hållander, C/W, Luleå HF (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Hållander is definitely the biggest story of recent days (at least when it comes to NHL prospects). This 20-year-old, two-way forward has been traded from Pittsburgh to Toronto as a part of a package deal that sent Kasperi Kapanen back to his former team the Penguins. What should hockey fans and especially the Leafs ones know about this former Penguins prospect? Hållander is a very talented all-around winger with a top-six upside who can also play at center. In September of 2019 he fractured his leg and missed a good chunk of games until the end of December. After he came back, he scored five goals and collected 14 points in 27 SHL games. There were certainly bigger expectations when it comes to point producing but if he can stay healthy for an entire upcoming season, we will definitely see much better numbers from him than he managed to collect previous year.
Tobias Björnfot, LHD, Djurgårdens IF (Los Angeles Kings)
Björnfot is another talented kid that was loaned to play in the SHL just to get some extra games before he joins his NHL organization. In all likelihood, he will be back in the US by the start of the Kings training camp and fight for a spot on their young rebuilding roster. He managed to get three starts in the NHL at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season but did not create any stir by his brief performance. After that, he was sent down to Ontario to develop his game. The two-way defenseman tallied six goals and 19 points in 44 games. He is not exactly an offensive weapon, so we probably should not expect him to be included in the SHL scoring race. On the other hand, he is very reliable and responsible in his own end so he can definitely help Djurgårdens win some tough games.
Karl Henriksson, C/LW, Frölunda HC (New York Rangers)
Small (5-9, 174 lbs) but very skilled and competitive centerman is aiming to play as much SHL games as possible after an excellent previous season in SuperElit. He managed to score six goals and put up 41 points in just 27 outings. The Rangers second round pick in 2019 NHL draft is now expected to play for Frölunda on a regular basis where he could certainly improve their depth scoring.
Elmer Söderblom, RW/C, Frölunda HC (Detroit Red Wings)
Söderblom is one of the most interesting players on this list. He is a giant (6-7, 227 lbs) but very skilled forward who can not only play a physical game but also score some goals. The Red Wings prospect showed his true potential in the SuperElit where he marked 29 goals and 55 points in just 36 games during the 2019-20 campaign. By now, he should be ready to take a next step to the SHL. However, the biggest issue with his game is his skating and if he manages to improve in this area, he can become a dangerous weapon for an undoubtedly strong Frölunda squad.
Samuel Ersson, G, Brynäs IF (Philadelphia Flyers)
Ersson is an intriguing prospect whose performance was fairly mediocre during the previous year. This talented goalie was named the most valuable player of the Allsvenskan for the 2018-2019 season with an incredible .933 save percentage and just 1.95 goals against average in 36 games. However, the next year, his first in the SHL, was rather disappointing as he finished it with a .895 save percentage and 2.90 goals against average in 35 outings. If he can find his old poise, I am pretty sure that he will be even better as the year progresses.
Thank you for reading this article! If you liked it, please follow me on Twitter @TZahorak for more updates throughout the season.