SHL Update: March Edition

by Brad Phillips on March 16, 2017

The 2016-17 SHL regular season wrapped up last week and saw the Vaxjo Lakers capture the regular season crown after the 52 games schedule, besting HV71 by one point in the overall standings led by such ex-NHLers as Dennis Everberg and Ville Leino. The honor of scoring leader went to Joakim Lindstrom who scored 18 goals and had 36 helpers in 51 games. Lindstrom is a veteran of 150 NHL games, last seeing action with the Toronto Maples Leafs in 2014-15. At 33 his NHL days are behind him, but a number of other players in the SHL with bright NHL futures made a noticeable impact on the scoresheet this year in Sweden’s highest league.

 

Oskar Lindblom – Philadelphia Flyers

Starting with the name at the top of the list, Oskar Lindblom was dominant from the time the puck dropped on the first game this year and had an historically great season in 2016-17. Anyone that has read these columns in the past knows that I am a huge Lindblom fan. He finished fourth in the league in scoring with 47 points, second in goals with 22 and tied for the fourth most points in a season by a player under 20 in the history of the league. He’ll be in the mix for the Guldhjälmen as league MVP voted by the players.

 

Lindblom capitalizes on a turnover

 

Getting to the front of the net to jam home a goal

 

 

Carl Grundstrom – Toronto Maple Leafs

Among the players in their draft plus-one season, Carl Grundstrom led the way with 20 points and 14 goals. The latter of which was the most by any U20 player. There are rumours that the Leafs will sign Grundstrom to an entry-level deal but as of yet, nothing has been made official. It’s extremely encouraging progress and great news for the Swede, but with the depth of the Leafs prospect pool, fantasy GM’s have to wonder when, and in what fashion, Grundstrom will suit up for Toronto.

 

 

Grundstrom with his 13th of the year

 

 

Rasmus Asplund – Buffalo Sabres

Not to be outdone by fellow 2016 second rounder Grundstrom, Rasmus Asplund put together an equally impressive 2016-17. The Buffalo Sabres prospect led all U20 players on a points-per-game basis with 19 in 39 games, six of those points being goals. In spite of being one of the youngest players on the team, Asplund saw top-six minutes averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game.

 

 

Victor Olofsson – Buffalo Sabres

Another Sabres prospect making waves is Victor Olofsson. A seventh round selection from 2014, Olofsson has been honing his craft in the SHL, this being his third full season. Having come up through the ranks in the Modo program, he made the switch to a powerhouse Frolunda squad this year after Modo was relegated to the Allsvenskan. In 51 games Olofsson scored at better than a point-per-game clip with nine goals and 18 assists in 51 games. Blessed with NHL caliber speed and and a pro level shot, he should be ready to make the jump to North America next season.

 

A couple of clips of Olofsson sniping

 

    Kevin Stenlund – Columbus Blue Jackets   One player that had a breakout year that people may not recognize is Kevin Stenlund. Projected to go in rounds four or five, Columbus rolled the dice a bit and selected him the second round in 2015. It’s starting to look like that gamble may have paid off, as Stenlund had a breakout season in 2016-17, his third in the SHL. After finding his name on the scoresheet just twice in 2015-16, Stenlund went off this year to the tune of 13 goals and seven helpers in 48 games. Coming in a 6’4” he’s got prototypical size for an NHL centreman but has some work to do on his footspeed. Billed as primarily a playmaker he looks to have added a goal scoring element to his game.   At 1:54 Stenlund pick up the rebound and puts it home   Highlights of Stenlund’s season best one goal two assist game   Joel Eriksson Ek – Minnesota Wild Eriksson Ek was exactly as advertised for Farjestad and was one of their best offensive players. Despite playing only half the season, EE finished with eight goals and eight assists. He tied for fifth on the team in goals and was fifth on the team in points-per-game with a 0.62 rate. Firing 74 shots on goal in just 26 games, his average of 2.8 shots-per-game was second highest on the team. He made his shots count with a shooting percentage of 10.8%.  Eriksson Ek finished strong down the stretch with nine of his 16 points coming in the team’s final 12 regular season games. He averaged nearly 18 minutes per game, the second highest mark among forwards. All in all, Eriksson Ek had a dynamite 2016-17 and should be full time in Minnesota next year. At 1:30 Eriksson Ek steps over the blueline and snaps one home:   Axel Holmstrom – Detroit Red Wings Axel Holmstrom had a rough go of it this year. The former seventh round pick in 2014 had been on a major upward trajectory since his draft year. In 2014-15 he recorded 20 points in the regular season then exploded in the playoffs with 18 points in 15 games, leading the league and breaking the record for points by a junior player held by both Daniel and Henrik Sedin. He followed this performance up the next year with an equally strong 23 points regular season performance. However, he came crashing back down to earth this season managing just two points in 16 games for Skelleftea.  This disappointing statistical season can largely be attributed to a knee injury sustained back in November that caused him to miss the bulk of the season. This was the same knee in which Holmstrom tore his ACL back in February 2016 so this might be a cause for concern. But for anyone looking for a buy-low candidate with high upside, Holmstrom is your guy. It’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll play in Grand Rapids next season.   At 1:07 Holmstrom scores his only goal of the year {youtub}acSVfNzN5ms

 

At 2:55 Holmstrom assists on the empty netter

 

2017 Draft Eligible

 

Lias Andersson – 2017 NHL Draft

Leading the way for all draft eligibles was Lias Andersson, competing for regular season runner-up HV71. Playing in his first full SHL campaign, Andersson put up some impressive numbers for an 18 year old.  In 42 games Lias scored nine times, had 10 assists and finished with a plus-minus of plus-21. The latter is largely a function of the team’s league-high goal differential but it’s respectable all the same. Coming into the year there were some questions about his ultimate offensive upside but his performance this year should help sway a few people.

 

At 1:20 Andersson get to the puck first then heads to the net for a goal

 

Andersson with a four point night

 

Kristian Vesalainen – 2017 NHL Draft

The big Finn has had an inconsistent season. Starting the year in Frolunda Vesalainen was loaned back the HPK in Liiga back in November before returning to the SHL after the WJHC. His ice time has been wildly sporadic all year, seeing double digit numbers early on, but the trend has been mid-single digits more recently. No doubt his play has largely dictated his usage with just one point over the course of his last 16 games. At the end of the campaign, Vesalainen finished with a goal and five helpers in 26 games for Frolunda.

 

Vesalainen scoring a couple goals against Brynas in the SuperElit league

 

Erik Brannstrom – 2017 NHL Draft

Brannstrom is someone that had been rising in draft rankings over the past couple of months. At 5’10” he’s not going to intimidate anyone with his size, but his offensive game is as good as any defenseman in the draft. Brannstrom tallied one goal and found the assist column five times in 35 games, finishing ahead of Timothy Liljegren by one point albeit Brannstrom played 16 more games. As many scouts have mentioned, think Kimmo Timonen.

 

Brannstrom with a stretch pass to spring Mattias Tedenby for a goal

 

Timothy Liljegren – 2017 NHL Draft

Liljegren was loaned to Timra in the Allsvenskan in early February and hasn’t played an SHL game since, finishing with a stat line of one goal and four assists. Similar to Vesalainen, he suffered from some inconsistent play this year and as a result, draft prognosticators have Liljegren ranked all over the place. Some still have him as a top-3 pick, other have him pegged as a mid-first rounder. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him endure the same fate as Cam Fowler and Jakob Chychrun.