In addition to the four prospects below who spent the entire 2008-09 season in Europe, Nikolai Lemtyugov spent half the season in the KHL, posting 11 points in 21 games. The first 27 games of the season were spent in AHL Peoria.
Lars Eller, LW — Frölunda HC (SEL)
Drafted: 13th Overall, 2007
During the 2007-08 season, Eller moved up and down the ranks, never spending over 20 games in either the under-20 league, the Allsvenskan (SWE-2), or the Elitserien. All of that movement did not seem to hurt Eller as he joined Frölunda’s SEL team full time in 2008-09. In the Elitserien, players were bigger, tougher, faster, but even so he managed to put up very good numbers as a 19-year-old with 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 48 games. He would add three more goals and an assist in the Elitserien playoffs, but Frölunda would lose in the semifinals to HV71.
In the 2009 World Junior Championships with Denmark, Eller tied his six-point total from 2008 with another three-goal and three-assist effort.
With his contract up in Frolunda, he is planning to bring his size, skating, effort, and two-way ability to North America. He has decent size already at 6’1, 198 lbs, but could stand to fill out a bit. His effort and technical skills are everything a team could possibly want in a top prospect though his defensive ability will have to adapt to the North American style. All of the tools and effort are there.
While he could start off with the Peoria Rivermen (AHL) for a stint out of camp, it won’t be long before Eller is with the team in St. Louis. He is already signed to an entry-level contract.
Kristoffer Berglund, D — Luleå HF (SEL)
Drafted: 125th Overall, 2008
Berglund spent the 2007-08 season with IF Björklöven (SWE-2) where he managed 25 points in 42 games and a +10 rating. This year he earned himself a spot on Luleå HF of the Elitserien. His did very well to the Elite League where he once again posted 25 points, this time in 52 games. It’s a good sign that his offense transfered right away.
Unfortunately his playoff journey in the highest level of Swedish hockey was cut short in the first round when Eller’s Frölunda HC made quick work of Berglund’s club in 4-1 fashion. Berglund did manage to score three assists while trying to help his club advance.
Though he is relatively small for an NHL defenseman at 5’10, 180 lbs., at only 20 Berglund still has some growing to do. He will likely never turn into a hard hitter on the blueline, but his vision and skating make up for what he lacks.
If he plans to come overseas, he will not only need to work on his physicality, but also his strengths of puck movement and playmaking. Right now though all signs are positive for Berglund while his knowledge of positioning and where to move the puck continue to show just what he could become.
Simon Hjalmarsson, LW — Borås HC (SWE-2)
Drafted: 39th Overall, 2007
In 2007-08, Hjalmarsson stayed with Frölunda HC’s under-20 team while he watched his teammate Eller move on. Without the same team around him, Hjalmarsson’s numbers fell. His season was a disappointment, but it wouldn’t stop Hjalmarsson from taking a leap to the next level of competition in 2008-09. While Eller made the jump to the Elitserien, Hjalmarsson also moved up for virtually an entire season with Borås HC (SWE-2). There he scored 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 40 games.
In the 2009 WJCs, Hjalmarson scored two goals and four assists in six games while helping Sweden capture the silver.
There is very little doubt that Hjalmarsson will get an opportunity in the SEL sometime in the next season. Like Eller, Hjalmarsson is a hard worker though he does not get much credit for his potential because of his draft position and his fall-off year without Eller in the under-20 league. He’s a solid goal scorer who can score given the right playmaker, and will always bring intensity despite his thin 5’11, 161 lbs. frame.
Jori Lehtera, C — Tappara Tampere (SM-Liiga)
Drafted: 65th Overall, 2008
Last season withTampere Tappara of the SM-Liiga, Lehtera finally found his game at a higher level. By the time he came to play in 2008-09, he had already proved to be an impressive playmaker, and even though he scored four fewer goals than the previous season, in 2008-09 he earned himself 38 assists, putting him at 47 points in 58 games.
While he has continued to be impressive offensively, it’s his defensive game that could get him into trouble in North America. While it is not bad for the SM-Liiga, it is not good enough yet for Lehtera to move on. He is a wizard around the net though, but with a 6’2, 191 lbs. frame he could stand to be a little more physical.
He signed an amateur tryout contract with the Peoria Rivermen on March 16, but has not been a factor at the AHL level and in fact has been a scratch. His contract with Tappara runs through 2010, and it is very likely that he will be working on his defense in the SM-Liiga before it expires.