For the better part of the last 25 years, Sweden has continued to provide the world with some of the best and most exciting forward talent anywhere. That trend has continued in recent years and is testified to in the fact that no European nation has seen as many players drafted in recent years than has Sweden.
The 2013-14 season featured a number of drafted NHL prospects dotting various SHL, Allsvenskan, and Swedish junior rank rosters, where just about all of them played a key role in the fortunes of their respective team. In fact, the top 10 prospects were all active this season in the SHL.
Of these players, probably no one arrived on the scene in a more unexpected and impactful manner than SHL Rookie of the Year Andreas Johnson of the Frolunda Indians. Still, he was only one of many who made an impact for his respective club this season.
Here’s a list of the top 10 forward prospects that spent this past season in Sweden, with the rankings based on the type of season they had in 2013-14.
1. Alexander Wennberg, C, Frolunda
Wennberg continued to take huge steps this past winter, becoming an everyday player at the SHL level. Following a move from Djurgarden to Frolunda, he flourished at various junctures of the season and ultimately scored 16 goals and five assists in 50 games while playing a fairly prominent role with the Indians. He added another goal in seven playoff contests. The numbers were a bit surprising as he has been thought of as more of a playmaker to date, even if his all-around style allows him to play the game anyway it comes. At the WJC in Malmo, Wennberg played a star role and put up three goals and seven points in helping Sweden to a silver medal.
Wennberg’s great on-ice vision and playmaking ability make him a prospect to watch for the next couple of years. He has a contract in Sweden which runs through the 2014-15 season, but some feel we may be seeing the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect in North America before the 2015-16 season begins.
2. Mattias Janmark-Nylen, C, AIK
The smaller center really burst on the scene this past winter, coming out hot from the gates and scoring at about a point-per-game pace over the first 18 games of the season. Much like the team itself, Janmark-Nylen's play eventually tailed off, but the season was ultimately excellent for the 6’1”, 190-pound 2013 third rounder of the Detroit Red Wings, who continue to find exciting talent throughout the draft. Clever and agile, Janmark-Nylen lives from his in-game instincts and understanding of the game. All in all, he played 55 games for AIK, collecting 19 goals, 34 points and a whopping 80 penalty minutes. To conclude the season, he was brought over by Detroit and played one game for Grand Rapids. It is felt that Janmark-Nylen may very well spend all of the 2014-15 season with the Griffins.
3. William Karlsson, C, HV71
A very well-rounded center with abilities in all three zones, Karlsson’s team struggled mightily at times this past season. This didn’t stop Karlsson from continuing his development and leading the team in scoring with a total of 18 goals and 44 points in 63 games. Very creative and possessing the ability to simply know when to give gas or stand and twist around a bit, Karlsson’s abilities have led to the belief that he’ll be able to thrive on smaller ice surfaces. Upon conclusion of his season, Anaheim brought him over to Norfolk of the AHL and he proceeded to score two goals and eight points in eight AHL contests. Expect to see Karlsson in North America next season.
4. Pontus Aberg, W, Farjestad
After having scored 40 points in the Allsvenskan in the 2012-23 season, the 5’11”, 190-pound forward made the jump to Farjestad of the SHL and generally had a good offensive season, finishing second on the team in scoring. A 2012 second round pick of the Nashville Predators, Aberg has come under the fire of critics since having been drafted as it was felt that he wasn’t making the type of progress that was once expected of him. But Aberg changed a few minds this season, putting up 15 goals, 31 points and a +2 rating in 55 regular season games before adding another two goals and four points to Farjestad’s 13-game playoff run. A right-shooting right winger, Aberg has tremendous offensive instincts and can really gain some speed when he chugs down the wing. His shot has improved along the way, as well, and he has come a long way in restoring belief that he’s a viable NHL prospect. He has a contract with Farjestad, but it’s safe to assume that a generally offense-starved Nashville program will look to bring him to North America sooner rather than later.
5. Andreas Johnson, W, Frolunda Indians
Measuring in at only 5’10” and 176 pounds, the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs' seventh round selection came out of nowhere to have quite an impact for his team, which managed to finish a surprising second overall this past season. Known for his speed down the left wing side, Andreas showed an adept amount of vision and puckhandling abilities, even when the going got rough. A strong shot helped quite a bit in allowing Johnson to total 15 goals and 24 points in 44 games. He had met his limits, though, once the playoffs rolled around and more responsibility landed in the hands of veteran players, only adding one goal in seven games. He was also an integral part of silver medalist Team Sweden at the WJC in Malmo where he collected three goals and six points. At the moment, it is felt that he’ll return to Frolunda for next season, where he’ll be expected to shoulder even more responsibility.
6. Gustav Possler, W, MODO
Other than Janmark, no other young player in Sweden came out of the starting gate the way Possler did this season. The shifty, offensively intelligent forward had 12 points in his first 13 games and ultimately finished with eight goals, 15 points, and a +8 rating in 22 games, before a season-ending injury threw him out of the loop. At that point, he was a hot candidate for the WJC team and many felt MODO’s fortunes could have been different if he had made it through the season free of injury. The 6’, 180-pound winger was a 2013 fifth round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres and will likely spend next season in Sweden again, where he’ll be given every chance to prove that last fall wasn’t a fluke. The Sabres would love to see him pick up where he left off and become a 40-point player in the SHL.
7. Oskar Sundqvist, W, Skelleftea
A 2012 third round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the tall and lanky forward had quite a winter of success for himself. Taking a regular shift on one of the lower lines for the SHL’s powerhouse franchise Skelleftea, Sundqvist was nominated to play for the WJC team in Malmo, where he proceeded to contribute two goals and a +1 to the silver medal achievement. For his SHL club, which won the SHL championship, Sundqvist chipped in six goals, 16 points and a +6 rating before adding four goals and six points in 13 playoff contests. At 6’3” and 195 pounds, Sundqvist has a frame that could still add some weight and he’s been playing several years at a high level. Still, his movement isn’t quite fluent and there can be some awkwardness at times, especially when shifting gears. This doesn’t get in the way of him playing a very responsible game in all three zones and using his considerable size to his advantage in taking more defensively-oriented roles on his respective teams. The chances of him remaining in Sweden for another year seem relatively high, though.
8. Jacob de la Rose, W, Leksand
After being drafted in the second round by the Montreal Canadians last summer, there was some belief that de la Rose would make the jump across the pond to play for a CHL club. Instead, he ended up staying with Leksand, the team whose promotion into the SHL he had a healthy hand in assisting. Now in the big league, de la Rose went about continuing his third-line contribution to the club with seven goals and 13 points. The 6’2”, 190-pound winger is a rough-and-tumble customer who has had little problem playing an all-around game with established pros. A mainstay for years in the national program, Jacob participated in the WJC, where he had three goals, six points and a +3 rating. Although there’s some concern about what his offensive upside ultimately will look like, his development is progressing pretty much as planned and his season in the SHL proved that he can play at the next level. He'll continue his development in North America next season as de la Rose recently signed an entry-level deal with the Canadiens.
9. Sebastian Collberg, W, Frolunda
The 5’11”, 180-pound winger with incredible hands has been a mainstay in the blue-and-gold since his days with the U16 team. This winter he played another key role at the WJC in Malmo, where he was able to contribute one goal and six points. Collberg spent the majority of the season playing for Frolunda’s SHL club, but once again had a hard time transferring his junior scoring talents to the pro level. Neither the fastest nor biggest player on the ice, his hands and vision usually allow him to be quite exceptional, but adjusting to the speed and physical play involved in the SHL has continued to be an almost daunting task. When all was said and done, Collberg had three goals, nine points and a -2 rating for the Indians. He was then part of the deal that saw Thomas Vanek go to the Montreal Canadians and has since become property of the New York Islanders. Collberg suffered a serious shoulder injury in the playoffs and was brought to North America by the Islanders for surgery, which took place five weeks ago.
10. Max Gortz – W – Farjestad/Frolunda
Gortz is a bruising winger measuring in at 6’2” and 196 pounds. A 2012 sixth round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, Gortz has spent two straight seasons honing his skills in the SHL. This past winter, after putting up two goals and two assists in 22 games, he moved to Frolunda where his fortunes seemed to change with what was ultimately the youngest team in the SHL. With the Indians, Gortz had six goals and a +2 rating in 18 games. More importantly, his role and ice time increased in the playoffs and he went on to contribute three goals and five points over a seven-game course. Many felt it was questionable that Gortz was left off of the WJC team, but he seemed to use that as a form of motivation to get his prospect status back on track. It will be interesting to see if Nashville might feel that Gortz is ready for a stint in the AHL.
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