The 2014-15 SHL season has made it through the holiday season and is heading down the final stretch, as roughly 75 percent of the games have been played to date. This is the time of the year when many clubs exchange a few parts, bring up juniors to fill in for injuries, and in some cases, watch as their young men represent Sweden at the WJC.
As the season has continued, though, it’s become clear that not only are a number of NHL properties getting decent to big-time roles with their respective clubs, but a few young vets who were either never drafted or drafted but never signed are having their best season’s ever and making a huge impact in the league.
Standings evening out
The cream usually floats to the top and that certainly is the case in the SHL to date.
Reigning champion Skelleftea AIK is simply killing it, having already gathered 89 points in 43 games. Currently in second place is the very young Frolunda Indians, who have 75 points, two ahead of HV71, three ahead of Vaxjo and Linkoping, and eight ahead of Orebro. Battles for home ice advantage in the playoffs are very tight.
Fighting for the last playoff spot currently are Lulea and Djurgarden, as just four points separate them. For those following, the Champions League final will be played on February 3rd and pits Frolunda against Lulea. In CHL play, Lulea has only been outscored overall by Frolunda, further proof for how strong the SHL is in comparison to the other leagues in Europe.
Ironically, only Leksand has scored fewer goals than Lulea in SHL play.
Of the league’s top five scorers, only Linkoping’s Jeff Taffe is scoring at more than a point-per-game pace, with 47 in 42 games. That number leads the league.
The top-scoring Swede is Johan Ryno of Leksands with 35 points in 42 games. Ryno was a draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2005. Former Vancouver Canucks prospect Anton Rodin, who is just 24 years old and in the midst of his best pro season, is just one point behind Ryno. After two mild years in the AHL, Rodin returned to Sweden last season and proceeded to gather 35 points in 47 games, which was his best season to date. He currently has 16 goals and 34 points in 43 games, which means he should easily top last season’s totals. There’s bound to be interest in him coming from the KHL, but for NHL teams looking for more mature help right away, Rodin may be ready for another shot.
Hurt teams – 2014 First rounders heading out
Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder William Nylander, taken seventh overall last summer, was MODO’s most exciting and productive player this season. He came in late and has now left early. After eight goals and 20 points in 21 games, and a +3 to boot, and a WJC performance that saw him chip in three goals and 10 points in seven games, a struggling Maple Leafs team felt it was time for him to test his mettle in the AHL.
Nashville Predators Swiss prospect Kevin Fiala, who had five goals and 14 points in 20 games for a strong HV71 side, has also been brought over to the AHL after a four-goal, five-point WJC performance. Fortunately for HV71, Fiala’s offense hasn’t been missed as much as Nylander’s has for MODO, seeing as how undrafted U21 youngsters Christoffer Torngren, Filip Sandberg, and Adam Bengtsson have all chipped in 12-13 points in lower line roles.
Still doing his thing
The Washington Capitals dangerous Czech winger, Jakub Vrana, taken 13th overall last summer, has continued to be a sensation for a top-flight Linkoping club, having put up 11 goals, 21 points and a +5 in 32 games. He had a decent WJC, but nothing spectacular, with three points and a +2 in five games. Of note is that Vrana continues to generate many offensive opportunities and takes fans out of their seats, which has made him a very popular player in Swedish fan circles.
Becoming a bright spot again
Last winter, Buffalo Sabres 2013 fifth rounder Gustav Possler started off the season with a bang, posting 13 points in 12 games. He then tore his ACL shortly before the WJC and hasn’t been the same since – until recently, that is. Despite MODO’s many woes, Possler has started to get back to the things that made him look so promising last season. The 20-year-old currently has nine goals, 19 points, and a +1 in 37 contests.
Winning with NHL Draftees continues
Still dominating the standings, Skelleftea continues to write a storybook tale and is doing so with several likely future NHL players being very much a part of the team’s success. Detroit Red Wings 2014 seventh rounder Axel Holmstrom has seven goals, 15 points and a +7 rating in 32 games and also chipped in seven points for Sweden at the WJC. Pittsburgh Penguins 2012 third rounder Oskar Sundqvist is playing an even bigger role with eight goals, 16 points, and a +14 in 34 games. Both are playing key roles in the league’s most balanced offensive machine.
The Frolunda Indians nonetheless boast an even larger contingent of NHL draftees who are making a big impact on the team. Toronto Maple Leafs 2013 seventh rounder Andreas Johnson, already the SHL Rookie of the Year last season with 15 goals and 24 points, currently has 17 goals, 26 points, and a +10 rating this season. In addition, he’s added 10 goals and 21 points in 12 CHL contests.
Johnson is currently tied in points with Detroit Red Wings 2013 third rounder, Mattias Janmark, who has 11 goals, 26 points, and a +6 rating in 42 games while centering the team’s second line.
Both may be in the AHL as soon as next season.
Montreal Canadians 2013 second rounder Artturi Lehkonen has been defensively sound with a nice +12 rating this year, but hasn’t collected a point in his last 14 games. Of course, he did have five points in six WJC contests. Topping him offensively for Frolunda is Nashville Predators’ 2012 sixth rounder Max Gortz, a 6’2”, roughly 200 pound winger who has 11 goals and 21 points to go with his +10 in 41 games. With another 14 points in 12 CHL contests, Gortz has become a cog in Frolunda’s engine and looks to be yet another late-round Nashville gem in the making.
Former draftees turning into promising late bloomers
Frolunda’s Erik Gustafsson was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, but wasn’t signed last summer. He now leads the team in defensive scoring and is fourth among all defensemen in SHL scoring with three goals and 25 points. Throw in his whopping six goals and 19 points in 12 CHL contests and it’s plain to see that the 22-year-old will surely be of interest to NHL teams, and perhaps even the Edmonton Oilers. He also has a +4 this season and has clearly been one of the league’s top defensemen.
Not being outdone, however, is Tim Heed, a 24 year old, right-shooting defenseman who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He currently leads all defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 28 points in 42 games, having collected a +10 rating as well. Not surprisingly, his breakout season is coming for Skelleftea, a team that entered the season with serious questions about who was going to take on the offensive blueline role. Questions answered!
Undrafted defenseman still chipping in big-time
Having just turned 22, Linus Hulstrom continues to be having the season of his life. Weighing in at an average 5’11” and 180 pounds, the undrafted defenseman moved from Linkoping to Leksand after the first five games of the season and hasn’t looked back. In fact, he’s gotten the gig of his life. In 36 games with Leksand, he’s taken on the number power play blueline role and has eight goals and 26 points. The team continues to have its struggles, still not on track for a playoff spot, but Hulstrom has gone about gaining international attention and may be someone you hear about down the line.
For the second year running, 5’11 and 172-pound defenseman Lukas Bengtsson is doing something few his age can do and that’s offensively dominate in a pro circuit. After 13 goals and 33 points all of last season – already outstanding numbers for a 19 year old – he’s currently got five goals and 28 points in 34 games for Mora. This makes him second to only teammate Kevin Mitchell in scoring from the blueline. He has never been drafted.
As impressive as Bengtsson has been, and many feel he may be signed by an NHL team at some point, Chicago Blackhawks‘ 2013 seventh round defenseman Robin Press – the last pick in the entire draft – has 12 goals and 29 points for Sodertalje. He was already solid with 15 points last season, but hardly a soul felt he’d be able to have this kind of impact this quickly. It should be no surprise to see the Blackhawks hand him an ELC this summer.
Slovakian 6’3”, 205-pound defenseman Christian Jaros has looked good internationally in recent years and really stuck out positively for the bronze medalists at the 2015 WJC. Soon to be 19, the physical defensive defenseman has managed to get into 17 SHL games with Lulea and another six with Allsvenkan team Asploven on loan. Chances are very high that he’ll be taken at some point in this summer’s draft.
Linkoping forward Henrik Tornqvist has played a good bit for Sweden internationally and is one of the older 18 year olds available for this summer’s draft. He’s in the midst of his first full SHL season and only has one goal and three points in 37 games, but he’s managed to stick and, at times, get some good ice time for a wildly successful Linkoping club. He’s an average 6’1” and 176 pounds, but he has speed, little fear and a wicked wrist shot. He’s got a way of sticking around and doing what’s told of him. He looks like a player who simply ‘gets it’. It should be no surprise if Tornqvist’s name is called in a later round of this summer’s draft and he starts to be heard of in a greater offensive capacity over the next few seasons.
2016 Draft hopefuls already presenting themselves in the SHL
As the season has progressed, a few 2016 draft hopefuls have come to show that they will have to be reckoned with in the future. The two most prominent are forwards, namely MODO’s Carl Grundstrom and Farjestad’s Rasmus Asplund. Grundström was called up late after collecting 15 points in 13 U20 league games. He now has two goals and five points in 20 games for MODO, extremely impressive totals for the 6-foot, 187-pound 17-year-old. Asplund’s story is similar. One of the last cuts from the WJC squad, he has two goals and three points in a minimal role after 23 SHL games. Before that, he had put up 21 points in 15 U20 contests. Neither Grundstrom nor Asplund look like they’ll be sent down anytime soon.
Fastest man in Europe
When Djurgarden rejoined the SHL this summer, there were a lot of questions about who would ultimately carry the reigns and keep this team afloat, especially with so much youth on the blueline. Former Ottawa Senators 2010 fourth rounder Marcus Sorensen has answered the call. In 40 games, the forward has collected 15 goals and 28 points. More impressive is simply his incredible speed and how he manages to gather and control the puck while at full speed. The 5’11”, 165-pound speedster is having a breakout season that has some wondering if he may not be the fastest player in Europe. It’s hard to imagine that his skating alone won’t earn him a shot at the NHL after the year he’s been having.
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