The 2020-2021 SHL season has started. From now on, we finally get to see some of the most talented NHL prospects going toe to toe against men competition in one of the best European leagues. However, the first preseason games began in late August so there has been plenty of time to watch how these players have progressed after the sudden COVID-19 break and that is exactly what we are going to do in this article. We are going to take a closer look at how some of the best NHL prospects in Europe have performed from the start of the SHL preseason until this moment in time.
It was not easy to leave out some really good players like Albert Johansson (DET) or Helge Grans (Draft Eligible) but I wanted to pick only prospects that I enjoyed watching the most so I eventually came up with this list of 11 skaters that I loved the most. At the end of the article, there is a bonus category where I put three guys that have not been as prolific nor dominant as the players mentioned above them but I truly liked what they have brought to the table so far. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy this SHL report for September.
Emil Andrae, LHD, HV71 (Draft-Eligible)
To be honest, I did not expect this type of performance from Emil Andrae so early in the season. But at the same time, I love being surprised so although his game caught me off guard a little bit, I have loved every second of it so far. Almost every time he has stepped on the ice, he has been noticeable even though his stature (5-9, 183 lbs) is not the biggest one in the HV71’s lineup. However, he brought something else to the table. He has been very smooth on his skates, played a fast but not hurried game with great passing and generally good transitions. In his own end, Andrae has held his own by playing a very smart and responsible game as he fully used his good movement and great puck-moving skills. These skills have also helped him at the top of HV71’s second power-play unit where he has been used throughout the preseason. He just loves having the puck on his stick so being in a position of a playmaker has not been a big deal for him at all.
Thanks to his hard work and excellent games during the preseason he has earned a spot in HV71’s opening game lineup. It was his debut against men in the SHL and although he did not play as flashy as he did in the preseason, he did not look out of place at all. It is probably going to take some time until he fully gets used to this level but it is not a sprint. Player development is more like a marathon so he has plenty of time to figure things out.
I have already said it on my Twitter but I will say it again. Lias Andersson is going to have a huge season. Swedish centerman played the entire preseason in the middle of the first line between likes of Linus Sandin (PHI) and Anton Wedin (a former Blackhawk). They played very fast hockey with quick passes and movement all around the offensive zone which worked for them very well. HV71 was unstoppable throughout the preseason mainly because of these guys and Andersson in particular. He led the team with 12 points (5+7) over the course of 8 games and looked very dominant, especially on the power play where he was able to score four of his five goals. I personally liked his drive to the net and the confidence that he played with. Overall, it was an excellent performance and even though the first game of the campaign did not go well for an entire HV71 squad as they lost 3-0 to Frölunda, I am excited to watch this team even closer throughout the year.
Lucas Raymond, RW, Frölunda HC (Draft-Eligible)
A guy that destroyed a bunch of draft rankings in quite a short period of time. Lucas Raymond showed all of his talents in a truly big way during the preseason and forced many people to redo their lists and put him in the top three. Oh, and well deservedly. He played most of the games on the second line with Jan Muršak and Simon Hjalmarsson. They clicked together very well so coaches decided to put them all on a power play where Raymond could really use his biggest offensive weapons, one of them being a deadly accurate and vigorous wrist shot from the right circle.
Another thing that I have noticed in his recent performances is that he is stronger on the puck and just more physical overall. Apparently, he had a few workout sessions during the quarantine period. But as he told me in late April, at that time he was working on every part of his game. If you have watched any Frölunda game after the break, you can tell that he really meant what he said. He is a better overall player than he was in the previous season. Going into the draft in just several days, he is definitely going to have a very strong position on some team’s rankings after this month of excellent preseason hockey.
Mattias Norlinder, LHD, Frölunda HC (Montreal Canadiens)
Fearless. That is the best word to describe Canadiens prospect Mattias Norlinder. He was true to this characteristic throughout the preseason while also showing his killer instinct which is not very common among defensemen. However, Norlinder certainly does not lack an offensive upside and it was evident particularly during the game against Malmö Redhawks. Frölunda won this duel 8-3 and Norlinder scored a hattrick. Although he did not notch any of these goals during a power play, he has had a pretty big role in the first unit so far in this season. Norlinder usually plays with Lucas Raymond on his left side and they have already shown really good chemistry between each other.
But what exactly makes Norlinder fearless? It is the poise that he plays with. He is not afraid to try risky plays but he does it with such confidence that it pays out almost every single time. It is very enjoyable to watch and also effective in all three zones. When you combine these aspects with his intelligence and excellent movement, you get a defenseman that is not only good defensively but extremely dangerous offensively.
Tobias Björnfot, LHD, Djurgårdens IF (Los Angeles Kings)
There has been nothing extremely flashy about Björnfot’s performance but nevertheless, he has been an impactful player for Djurgårdens so far. Swedish defenseman played with a lot of confidence throughout the preseason which obviously translated into an increase of his ice time. He had an important role on Djurgårdens power play where he grabbed my attention mainly because of his patience and composure. A lot of times he would just hold on to the puck on the blueline and wait for the right moment to either pass the puck or unload a quick and accurate wrist shot. I have really liked what I have seen from him so far. Even though he appeared in just seven SHL games during his career, I do believe that he is going to be a very beneficial player for Djurgårdens, at least until he joins the Kings organization as it is planned.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgårdens IF (Draft-Eligible)
As we are heading closer to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Alexander Holtz is getting more and more responsibilities and ice time. It has shown particularly on the power play where he is now the key part of the first unit. Although we really cannot be shocked about this fact, it is definitely nice to see and it indicates that he is going to play a big role for Djurgårdens during this season. What is also great to see is his physicality which is now on a visibly higher level than it was in the previous year. He has looked a lot stronger on the puck, especially around the boards and behind the net where he would frequently use his body to protect it and retain possession. Holtz has also looked more confident as a player who can drive the play and not just shoot the puck as he is mainly known for. Overall, he has shown great progress in all areas and is going to have a huge impact throughout the season.
Victor Berglund, RHD, Luleå HF (Boston Bruins)
Berglund is an interesting guy who I did not include in my preseason article just because I did not think he would be this good right away in his debut SHL season. But I already know that I was wrong and I need to watch him a lot more closely. I was pleasantly surprised by his game just like I was with Emil Andrae’s performance, who I also did not cover in the article. But they both deserve to be mentioned at least here for sure. Berglund has shown some good offensive abilities as he scored two goals in four preseason games. Although his big moment happened just a few days ago in his debut SHL game as he scored his very first goal at this level.
However, maybe this should not have been a surprise because he had a quite good previous year for MODO in Allsvenskan (Swedish second-tier league). He finished first among his team’s defensemen in goals (10), shots (99), and second in points (22). After this performance, he earned his first-ever NHL entry-level contract that he signed with the Bruins in June. I am really looking forward to what is this 21-year-old going to bring to the table in the next couple of games. If he can keep scoring at the current rate, I am pretty sure he will get even more ice time than he got in the first game (14:30).
Nils Lundkvist, RHD, Luleå HF (New York Rangers)
One of the most offensively gifted defensemen in the SHL continued to impress after his previous breakout season. Lundkvist played the majority of the preseason on the second pairing and obviously at the top of the first power-play unit as well. He was extremely noticeable there as he was just hammering one one-timer after another. Unfortunately, none of them ended up in the back of the net. However, he was still able to create some great scoring chances and I think it is only a matter of time until he finally bangs one in.
Lundkvist has been a beast on the power play but I just can not fail to mention his excellent transition game. He has a great set of hands and amazing skating at his disposal that he has not been shy to use. The thing that I particularly loved about his game is his ability to enter the offensive zone. He does it so frequently and effectively that it really stands out. Especially at times when he is being attacked but still manages to enter the zone and keep possession. It is so entertaining to watch.
Philip Broberg, LHD, Skellefteå AIK (Edmonton Oilers)
Broberg is another prospect that took off in a big way to show that his teammates and coaches can really count on him during the season. He has shown some improvements, especially in the defensive zone, which apparently did not go unnoticed as he was frequently used on the penalty kill in the preseason. He did a very good job defending the best forwards of opposing teams so I was very satisfied with his performance, to say the least. Showed great defensive awareness, played smart, and not risky at all. He was just responsible and thus very effective as well.
Other than his defense, which impressed me the most, he obviously displayed some tremendous offensive skills, was not afraid to join the rush when circumstances allowed it, and even tried to quicken the game by going to the net to convert some cross-ice passes. It was not that often but it was certainly great to see. His drive to the net and great hands were perfectly shown on this Bobby Orr-like goal against Bjorkloven from Allsvenskan.
Jack Drury, C, Växjö Lakers HC (Carolina Hurricanes)
Jack Drury is a player that is definitely going to be worth following throughout the year. In the previous article, I wrote about Drury’s new chapter in life which begins in Växjö where he plays his first season against men competition. New country, new teammates, new opportunities. However, it seems like he got used to wider rinks rather quickly. Drury began the preseason on the second line where he has remained until this moment. Coaches put former Bruins forward Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson on his left-wing and they have played quite well together. As the games progressed, Drury started to play with more confidence and physicality around the boards while he stayed true to his skilled game, quick passes, and drive to the net. He has also shown that he has a great poise near the crease as he scored a couple of goals from this spot already.
Nils Höglander, LW, Rögle BK (Vancouver Canucks)
Starting on the fourth line after putting up two goals in the last preseason game was not something Nils Höglander would deserve. However, it did not stop him from collecting two assists in the first game of the season against Linköping. But this is only the tip of the iceberg after a month of really good hockey performed by this skilled young winger. He managed to tally nine points in seven preseason games while marking a few of them during the power play. He has been very effective in the left circle where he can fully use his forehand and great vision to distribute pucks all over the offensive zone. Another thing that I noticed was his amazing reading of the game while also being physical along the boards and behind the net. Just like Alexander Holtz, Höglander has done a good job protecting the puck with his body and keeping possession in tight areas. I am very happy about Höglander’s performance so far and I think that all Canucks fans should be hyped as well.
Zion Nybeck, RW, HV71 (Draft Eligible)
There is not a lot of people that would have Zion Nybeck in the first round of their draft rankings and I get it. Well, kind of. He is definitely not the biggest nor the most skilled guy out there but if I am being honest, I truly believe that he has first-round potential. As I wrote in my previous article, Nybeck lead SuperElit (Swedish junior league) in points in the 2019-2020 campaign, and even though he does not get the top-six minutes in the senior HV71 team as he did in the junior category, he can be very useful as an effective and skilled forechecker with an amazing drive to the net and physicality required for puck battles along the boards or behind the net. At least, that is what I have seen from him so far from the start of the preseason until now.
Jonatan Berggren, LW, Skellefteå AIK (Detroit Red Wings)
Berggren has some similar traits to Nybeck. Both are speedy and skilled wingers who can use their body to protect the puck and I have to say that I really like forwards who play this way. However, Berggren has had an edge on the younger forward. Unlike Nybeck, he has been quite frequently used on the power play, and even though he was not able to capitalize in the preseason, he compensated it right at the start of Skellefteå’s first game of the season. Just after four minutes and seven seconds of play, he became the author of the first goal of the 2020-2021 SHL campaign.
Albin Grewe, RW, Djurgårdens IF (Detroit Red Wings)
Grewe is an interesting figure who somewhat stands out from this list. It is mainly because he has a different job than any other player mentioned here. He plays more of a grinding role in the Djurgårdens lineup and I have to say that he has done a very good job so far. He was one of the few players that I actually saw throw a hard hit along the boards during a preseason game. However, it was not just hits that got my attention. He was not afraid to block shots or go to the dirty areas in front of the net. Grewe has shown that this might be his trademark throughout the season. A bold mix of fast skating, drive to the net, hard bodychecking, and shot-blocking as the icing on the cake.
Thank you for reading this article! If you liked it, please follow me on Twitter @TZahorak for more updates throughout the season.