It has become a yearly tradition to take a mid-season look at the prospect pool for the NHL Draft and realize that Sweden will likely be contributing another 20+ draftees at this event. This winter is no exception and, as is the case with the 2015 draft class on the whole, this group is looking strong enough to contribute as many as 10 picks to the first two rounds.
Heading into the season, it was felt this season would be the “Oliver Kylington Show” on the Swedish prospect front. The young man playing his second full season of pro hockey at the tender age of 17 has done little to dissuade any faith in his having an NHL future, but much like Sweden’s top prospect last winter, William Nylander, Kylington just hasn’t been having the type of year that is raising his stock. Currently 6’0” and 180 pounds, the youngster has the skating and hockey sense to overcome any adversity down the road, but two factors have played a big role in possibly putting a dent in his draft position.
Considered a player with keen offensive instincts and the potential to be a power play quarterback over the majority of his career, Kylington’s team, Farjestad, came out of the gates very slowly and is currently mired in seventh place with only 13 regulation victories over the first 37 games. With a pedestrian two goals and five points accompanied by a -2 rating in 17 games, Farjestad decided to take another direction in order to fight for the final playoff spot and Kylington was loaned out to second league club AIK Stockholm, for whom he has three goals, six points and a +3. Probably best for his development, this is seen as a bit of step backwards for a kid scouts were hoping would push through with a top-4 SHL role.
The second factor is naturally that he was injured right before the 2015 World Junior Championship and was not able to use this all-important tournament as a platform to display his skills against the best U20 players out there. It would have meant a lot in the eyes of NHL scouts. All he can focus on now is recovering from the injury and bringing his best to the table after that. Despite all this, he’s still ranked first among Swedish prospects by a country mile.
After Kylington, a number of youngsters have jumped to the forefront as the new year began, many of whom have not only gotten a cup of coffee in the SHL, but are already taking a regular shift.
First and foremost has been Jens Looke, who managed to contribute two goals and six points in his first dozen SHL games for Brynas, making the team pretty much right from the get-go. He’s slowed down offensively, but is still getting into action thanks to his rough-and-tumble style and willingness to do whatever the coach asks of him. At this age, it can be expected that a young man like Looke, who is 6-foot and 187 pounds, will need plenty of time to round things out, but does have clear power-forward potential. His inclusion on Sweden’s WJC squad and initial success have him ranked second in the Swedish rankings at this point, but unless he picks things up he’ll likely see several others jump over him in the rankings by the time June rolls around.
After Looke, the player who is busy raising the most eyebrows at the moment is Joel Eriksson Ek. Ek is a Farjestad product who is already 6’2” and 183 pounds. He’s considered to be an all-around, two-way center who has a nose for the net and gets very involved in creating offense in any way possible. In light of the team’s SHL woes, and Ek’s 29 points and +14 in 23 U20 contests, he was brought up a dozen games ago and hasn’t looked back. Being brought along slowly, he’s got a goal and an assist to date and has increasingly gained the trust of the coaching staff. He’ll turn 18 at the end of January and his success has been one of the bright spots in the SHL this season.
Based solely on potential and tools, there’s no getting past young forward Filip Ahl, who comes in at fifth in our midseason rankings. He’s already 6’4” and 215 pounds, and has been a beast in Swedish juniors. Unlike his aforementioned colleagues, he simply hasn’t been needed for more than one game at the SHL level, but that may change. Rarely do kids come along at this size who can skate with his level of agility, brutalize opponents on the forecheck, and protect the puck with this much acumen. Ahl has 12 goals, 30 points, 37 penalty minutes and a +3 rating in 23 U20 games for HV71 and some feel he’s the top player in the circuit. Chances are, a number of other programs would already have him playing SHL or Allsvenskan hockey, but HV71’s depth allows them to keep Ahl learning in juniors.
Another Swedish prospect opening some eyes this season is defenseman Jesper Lindgren of MODO. Lindgren is a right-handed shot who has been compared favorably to Erik Karlsson, as in the Norris Trophy winner. His offensive qualities are a joy to watch and his abilities at the junior level, where he put up 24 points and a +14 rating in 23 games, have led to him being called up to the big show. There, he has an assist in four contests. One question mark, however, is his 160-pound frame.
The following is a list of the players who wrap up our midseason ranking of the 2015 Swedish draft prospects.
6. Jacob Larsson, D, Frolunda (SHL)
Yet another young defenseman benefiting from Frolunda’s major emphasis on young, high-end talent, Larsson is purely an all-around defenseman whose game shows strengths in all three zones. Intelligent and agile, the 6’2”, 181-pound defenseman has 11 points and 41 penalty minutes in 22 junior games and has had a cup of SHL hockey, collecting an assist in six contests. Many in the Swedish scene feel he’s a sure-fire NHL defender down the road.
7. Felix Sandstrom, G, Brynas (SHL)
At 6‘2“ and 192 pounds, Felix is felt to be this crops best goaltender. Despite less than eye-popping junior numbers, Brynas believes in him so much that they’ve not hesitated to put him on the ice for two games. He hasn’t disappointed, having put up an outstanding 1.09 goals-against average and .963 save percentage. He can move and anticipates the play well.
8. Robin Kovacs, F, AIK (Allsvenskan)
A very strong skater, a nose for the net and all-around technically sound, Kovacs weighs in at just 6’0” and 170 pounds. Still, he’s spent the whole season with AIK in the Allsvenskan where he’s been one of their absolute top scorers, having collected 14 goals and 21 points in 39 games. Feisty and proud, Kovacs has also spent 30 minutes in the sin bin. For several years now, he’s been known around Sweden as one of the country’s most talented forwards heading into this year’s draft. In comparison, Filip Forsberg had 17 points in 43 games in the same league the year he was drafted.
9. Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping Juniors
He’s big (6‘4“, 183 lbs.), he can hurt opponents, and he’s smart and aware in his own zone (+36 last season, +9 this season). The left-shooting Carlsson isn’t exactly racking up points in junior play (four assists) and hasn’t yet seen SHL ice, but the stay-at-home rearguard is already highly coveted and many feel he’s got the tools to be a long-term NHL defenseman. He’s got a frame that indicates he’ll have plenty of space to add muscle and his on-ice intelligence and presence is the type that instills confidence in his teammates and the coaching staff.
10. Fredrik Forsberg, F, Leksand Juniors
When your older brother is a stud young NHL player like Filip Forsberg and you make your 12-game SHL debut at the raw age of 17, then you’re going to find yourself in the notebooks of most NHL scouts. Having started the season on Leksand’s SHL roster, Forsberg couldn’t maintain a spot as the team started off poorly and acquired some new players to get back into the playoff race. He didn’t score in seven games before being sent to the U20 club where he’s put up 21 points in 19 games. Unfortunately, the right-shooting right wing has been battling injuries and this may have slowed him down a bit in auditioning himself as a highly rated prospect for this summer’s draft. Still, Hockey’s Future is confident that his bloodlines, six foot build, and achievements to date still make him a kid likely to be drafted by an NHL team along the way.
Others whose names you can expect to see at this summer’s draft are Skelleftea’s regular overager Sebastian Aho (WJC defenseman with four points and +3 in 25 SHL contests); Djurgarden’s junior sensation Jonathan Davidsson (23 points in 22 U20 junior games); Frolunda’s up-and-coming winger John Dahlstrom (12 points in 11 U20 junior games); and Brynas‘ 17-year-old defenseman Lucas Carlsson, who has one assist in 15 SHL contests to date.
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