Photo courtesy: Repêchage.com
The season started approximately one month ago. A lot of things have happened since then and I am here to summarize some of the most fascinating and eye-catching performances by the best NHL prospects in the SHL.
However, to make it even more interesting, I decided to not only write down my thoughts about the best and the most popular prospects but also include players that I have not talked about much but deserve to be mentioned due to their recent progress. That means I could not include a new Kings prospect Lias Andersson in here because he was penalized for five games and missed the majority of the month. I think it is a nice mix of all these things, so I hope you will enjoy it. There is also an additional category at the end of the article where I wrote down my thoughts on two players who have had a bit of an underwhelming season, at least from what I have seen so far.
Jonatan Berggren, LW, Skellefteå AIK (Detroit Red Wings)
Imagine a missile flying full speed right through your defense. That is the perfect description of Jonatan Berggren’s game during this season. Right from the start, it seemed like he already forgot about a little underwhelming preseason and started producing on a whole new level. But do not get me wrong, I have been high on him since the beginning of September, but the production just did not come until the serious games started. Then he exploded just like the missile, hitting the back of the net twice and setting up teammates for 11 goals in nine games.
Photo courtesy of shl.se
Berggren plays all-around the ice. He is just everywhere. Focused, more mature, and in the best shape, I have seen him in a while. He is still very fast, very skilled, but now also more physical, confident, and just better overall. I, personally, have loved him since game one. If he can stay healthy, I am pretty sure that he is going to have a huge season.
Karl Henriksson, LW, Frölunda HC (New York Rangers)
Even though Henriksson has recorded only two assists in eight games, I have been very pleased with his performance, especially when it comes to his defensive game. He has looked very mature for his age and as a result, has spent a lot of time on the penalty kill. He is also great at retaining possession under pressure and entering the offensive zone. Henriksson is not afraid to go to the dirty areas and take some net-front battles, although he gets outwrestled by his opponents at times. He still has some work to do when it comes to physicality.
However, I have not found any big issues in his game. His skating is great, he has tremendous acceleration and good chemistry with his much more experienced linemates, Joel Lundqvist and Max Friberg. Good playmaking ability, quick hands, and fearless attitude. As a result, he has averaged almost 15 minutes of ice time per game.
Jesper Sellgren, LHD, Frölunda HC (Carolina Hurricanes)
A defenseman that does it all. Sellgren is a great example of a two-way defenseman who excels in almost every situation at this level. 22-year-old, who was drafted and signed by the Hurricanes, has been loaned to Frölunda before the NHL season officially begins. However, he has certainly looked like he could take the next step to North America right now. Sellgren plays a huge role in Frölunda’s power play and spends some time on the penalty kill, where he has been solid so far. He has also averaged 21:25 of ice time per game and leads the team with 28 shots on goal.
I especially love his fluid skating with quick pace changes. The strong physical presence that he brings to the table every single game is another positive sign. Not like he is hitting people in every shift, but he is active in net-front battles, outwrestles a majority of opponents in board battles, and shields the puck with ease to retain possession.
Lucas Raymond, LW, Frölunda HC (Detroit Red Wings)
Raymond’s game has been steadily progressing and evolving very well. It is not a secret that he is an excellent overall player with a tremendous skill set and a very accurate wrist shot. He has been using all these tools to its full potential while adding physicality, which is paying off perfectly. The fourth selection in the 2020 NHL Draft has already scored three goals and recorded 5 points in nine games. He has been averaging slightly over 15 minutes of ice time per game and collecting seven hits, which ties him for the sixth place on the team.
Albert Johansson, LHD, Färjestad BK (Detroit Red Wings)
There has not been much attention paid to Johansson, but I feel like now is the perfect time to change it. He undoubtedly deserves to be in the middle of our conversations way more often. He is an excellent puck-moving defenseman with fluid skating and a solid physical game. Throwing a hit or battling for pucks is nothing new for him as he does it with such a confidence that you would rarely expect from a 19-year-old. He looks very mature already. He hardly makes stupid mistakes or unnecessary plays. He thinks very quickly and makes sensible decisions.
Johansson has found an important spot at the top of the power play where he can fully unleash his playmaking skills. However, his time usually comes in overtime. There are lots of free spaces, so he likes to use the whole surface of the ice to either circle with the puck on his stick or carry the puck to the depth of the offensive zone and throw a pass right in front of the net, as he did in the gif below.
Oskar Bäck, C, Färjestad BK (Dallas Stars)
Bäck was drafted by the Stars in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft and has not signed an entry-level contract with the team yet. The main reason for that could be that his production has been a bit disappointing in the SHL. But on the other hand, he is not the type of player that would wow you with his skill or goal-scoring ability, although he has shown that he has a solid drive to the net.
The 20-year-old centerman has scored one goal and three points in nine games so far, but he caught my attention primarily because of his responsible defensive game, physical and selfless presence, and great puck-protection. He has also seen some time on the penalty kill, where he did quite well. I, personally, like that he can drive the play under pressure and stay calm in tense situations. However, I would describe his skating as a bit underwhelming for my liking. But I think he has the potential to be a bottom-six player in the NHL, but the lack of production could cause him some troubles moving forward.
William Eklund, LW, Djurgården IF (2021 Draft Eligible)
What a talented player he is! Although Djurgården is currently near the bottom of the table, and there have not been many players on the roster that would stand out by their performance, Eklund is a positive exception. The 18-year-old winger has recorded three goals and five points in eight games while playing like he has been in the league for years. He usually plays with great confidence, and even though he is not the biggest guy out there (154 lbs, 5-8), he is not afraid to go in front of the net or battle for the puck along the boards. Sometimes it looks like he has no respect for his much older opponents, but I mean it in a good way. He is fearless and quite strong for his small frame and age.
Eklund is also endowed with a tremendous skill set, excellent vision, and playmaking ability combined with quick reactions and clever decision-making. He can find passing lanes that only a handful of players in the league could. When you combine all these abilities with his excellent skating, you get an exceptional player who could easily become one of the top prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgården IF (New Jersey Devils)
Eklund’s regular linemate Alexander Holtz has also been one of the few exceptional players on Djurgården’s roster. The first line has been super fun to watch, thanks to these two guys. Extremely dangerous, very fast, and prolific as well. Holtz has recorded four goals and six points in just eight games while averaging 16:43 of ice time, which is not bad for a forward who is still developing his game in one of the best European leagues. The 18-year-old looks like a complete player already, using his body a lot more often lately than he did in the previous year. He is currently tied in fifth place on the team in hits (6) with the Kings prospect Tobias Björnfot. Albin Grewe (DET) leads Djurgården with 14 hits, even though he averages just slightly over nine minutes of ice time per game.
Helge Grans, RHD, Malmö Redhawks (Los Angeles Kings)
Just like Djurgårdens, Malmö currently sits at the bottom of the table. There have not been many players that would captivate fans across the league, but Grans is yet another proof that you can grab everybody’s attention, even when you play for an underperforming team. You can find him at the top of the Redhawks’ scoring list with two goals and six points in seven games. That is pretty good for an 18-year-old defenseman, who plays in a sheltered role logging only 13:02 of ice time per game. Grans also plays an exclusive role at the top of Malmö’s first power play unit, where he scored both of the goals.
I think I do not need to talk about his vision and really good skating because it has been mentioned quite a lot during the past few weeks. The thing that I have noticed in his game is that he uses his stick very well in the defensive zone to intercept passes. He reads plays with great composure and seems to be a few steps ahead of his opponents. Honestly, there is only one flaw in his game that I have noticed so far. Sometimes he gets too focused on offense or gets too deep in the offensive zone during the power play, so when he or his teammates make a mistake, a defending forward could potentially go all alone and score a short-handed goal quite easily.
Fredrik Karlström, LW, Växjö Lakers HC (Dallas Stars)
Another Stars prospect that caught my attention is 22-year-old Swedish winger Fredrik Karlström. Karlström was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft and later signed to an entry-level contract. Another loanee who could benefit from playing against strong competition before the next season overseas starts. Up to now, he has shown that he is here to produce on a higher level than he did in the previous year. He has already scored four goals and six points in eight games, even though he averages only 13:40 of ice time per game.
Karlström’s best attributes are execution and hard drive to the net. He finds the best spots to finish scoring chances and brings a solid net-front presence. I have also noticed that he is a very good shot-blocker. He has been using his big body (176 lbs, 6-2) very effectively as he has blocked third-most shots on the roster (7). However, I would like to see him engage physically more often. He has the frame to be a very solid power forward, but he has not been using it to the full yet.
Filip Berglund, RHD, Linköping HC (Edmonton Oilers)
Berglund is a player that has stood out mainly because of his huge offensive upside. The third-round selection by the Oilers in the 2016 NHL Draft is currently under contract with the organization and has looked pretty good so far. Even though his production could be a bit better, since he has scored only one goal and marked three points in eight games, he has been spending over 22 minutes on the ice per game. Probably the most interesting thing about Berglund is that sometimes he plays more like a forward. He likes to lead the rush and carry the puck to the offensive zone even before his teammates enter it. He could also be used as a dangerous weapon on the power play where he could utilize his good movement, hard and accurate passing, and a solid shot. The defense is a bit of a liability in his game. Sometimes he looks a bit slow and does not take the net-front battles as often as he should due to his big frame (209 lbs, 6-3).
Victor Berglund, RHD, Luleå HF (Boston Bruins)
The second Berglund mentioned in this article is two years younger than the Oilers prospect, and no, they are not relatives. Victor was born 245 kilometers away from Filip’s hometown, but they still have something in common. They are both signed to entry-level NHL contracts and still improving in one of the best European leagues. However, Victor has been the superior one when it comes to producing and making an impact on the team’s results. One goal, seven points in eight games, and second place in scoring on the team speak for itself.
Berglund’s game could be characterized mainly by his high level of maturity, calmness, and avoiding any ill-considered passes and other rash plays. 21-year-old has played an important role in Luleå’s power play. He likes to distribute hard and accurate passes at the offensive blue line and shoots the puck quite frequently. He might not be the biggest guy on the ice (181 lbs, 6-0), but hits and physical plays are certainly not unknown to him. What Berglund usually brings to the table is a well-rounded game, good self-awareness, and sensible decision-making skills. It is such a shame that he has averaged only 15:52 of ice time per game so far. I could see him on the ice even more often.
Filip Hållander, LW, Luleå HF (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Hållander has had a bit of a rough start to the season. He has not been producing on a level everyone, including him, would expect. One goal and two points in seven games are just not good for a forward who plays on the first line in one of the best teams in the league. However, I think he has been slightly improving as the year progresses. He moves a lot better and forechecks more often than he did at the beginning of the season.
He has looked more confident lately. He tries to find some interesting cross-ice passing lanes and risky plays, which is just great to see. He has been all around the offensive zone, not only creating but also forechecking and collecting loose pucks along the boards and behind the net. However, his biggest weapon remains the same. A tremendous net-front presence. He frequently uses his body to prevent goalies from seeing a flying puck and contributes to the scoresheet, even though he might not be credited with any points.
Linus Sandin, RW, HV71 (Philadelphia Flyers)
Does the name Sandin ring a bell? If it does, you are probably familiar with the Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin whose older brother Linus currently plays for HV71 in the SHL. Linus signed his first NHL contract with the Flyers after he scored 19 goals and 36 points in 51 games last season and now is waiting in Sweden for the start of the next year overseas. He has been quite solid so far, as he has managed to score two goals and six points in nine games while averaging almost 18 minutes of ice time per game.
Sandin’s game could be described in three words. Smart, skilled, and dynamic. The 24-year-old winger has extremely quick acceleration, high top speed, and when you combine these attributes with good hands and clever thinking, you get a player that is ready to take the next step in his career. I love that he is a great competitor who does not give up easily. He likes to battle for the puck and help his team in any way imaginable. However, even though he is a very skilled player, sometimes he tends to hold on to the puck for way too long and then eventually lose it to the opposition.
Mathias Bromé, LW, Örebro HK (Detroit Red Wings)
At the age of 26, Bromé is the oldest player mentioned here. He signed his first NHL contract with the Red Wings and just like Sandin, he was loaned to the SHL to play some extra games before the season overseas finally begins. Bromé has been one of the most dominant players in the league as he has recorded two goals and nine points in eight games and now is sitting at the tenth place in scoring. For those of you who do not know anything about him, Bromé is an exceptionally smart forward with a great drive to the net, dynamic skating, and responsible defensive game. He is also a very good competitor who forechecks well and quite often makes remarkable eye-catching plays, just like he did in the video below.
The Örby native has been averaging almost 19 minutes of ice time per game, getting lots of scope on the power play, and showing great chemistry with Borna Rendulič who has been just great so far. Six goals and 11 points in eight games speak for itself.
Robin Salo, LHD, Örebro HK (New York Islanders)
Salo is a player that you want to have on your team when you are trailing. He has a huge offensive upside combined with great playmaking skills and a hammer of a shot. He was able to mark one goal and four points in eight games so far, which is not bad at all for a young defenseman. However, the real issue in his game is defense. Sometimes he looks slow, lazy, and not engaging physically as much as he should, especially in net-front battles. I was hoping that he would take the next step in his all-around game this season, but I feel a bit underwhelmed by his performance so far.
Jacob Olofsson, LW, Skellefteå AIK (Montreal Canadiens)
Olofsson is another player that I have had high hopes for before the season took off. He had some serious injuries in his defense, but I think he has had enough time to acclimate. Just one goal and zero assists in nine games are not good at all for a guy who was expected to take the next step in his development. Sometimes he moves well and forechecks opposing defensemen, but more often he looks kind of lost and disengaged.
Thank you for reading this article! If you liked it, please follow me on Twitter @TZahorak for more updates throughout the season.