The 2014-15 SHL regular season has concluded and, as is usually the case, the cream floated to the top once the final siren rang.
Leksand and Modo were the teams at the bottom of the totem pole, so both will face-off with no less than four teams from the Allsvenskan to try to stick in the SHL. It is widely felt that Leksand, a team that came on strong at the end of the season, thanks in good part to the strong contributions of 22-year-old undrafted defenseman Linus Hultstrom (10-23-33 in 48 games), will have little problem dominating this relegation round. But Modo’s squad will have its work cut out for it, despite having added Donald Brashear and then Marcel Hossa after losing William Nylander to Toronto Marlies.
Landing safely in the top six playoff spots were reigning champion Skelleftea (111 points), Frolunda (97 points), Vaxjo (96 points), Linkoping (93 points), HV71 (92 points), and the season’s surprise, Orebro (90 points), who many felt might finish last overall when the season began. Orebro’s top scorer was smallish American Derek Ryan, who joined the league from Austria just before the season. With his 15 goals and 60 points, he led the league in scoring, just ahead of Jeff Taffe’s 59 points in 54 games. Taffe’s linemates Broc Little and Jacob Micflikier each put up 47 points to tie for third in league scoring.
The first round of the playoffs will see Skelleftea vs. Brynas, Frolunda vs. Lulea, Vaxjo vs. Orebro, and HV71 vs. Linkoping. Returning champion Skelleftea is very much expected to have an easy go of things with Brynas, while Frolunda will have to get past a Lulea club that has not only been on the upswing to conclude the season, but also beat Frolunda to win the Champions Hockey League title. Coming into the season, many felt Vaxjo would finish first overall while others saw Orebro likely to be seeing action in the relegation round. Now the two are facing off and it’s anyone’s call which team will move on. For HV71 and Linkoping, the almost neighboring cities will likely duke it out in front of sold out crowds, having finished only one point apart in the standings.
Pre-Playoffs proved very exciting
The season came to a quick 2-and-out conclusion for Djurgarden, a promoted team that entered the season with a lot of question marks. Still, just having made the pre-playoffs proved a huge success for a team that, in Robin Norrell (CHI), Andreas Englund (OTT), Linus Arnesson (BOS), and Adam Ollas Mattsson (CGY), all of whom are defenseman, features four current NHL Draft picks who all played 34 or more games this season. Still, the team’s key player by far was the speedy Marcus Sorensen, a former Ottawa Senators fourth rounder in 2009, who put up 17 goals and 32 points in 50 regular season games. This season, his raw skill and incredible skating ability were put on display on numerous occasions. Given Sorensen’s strong season, it will be very difficult for Djurgarden to retain his services.
Convincingly knocking Djurgarden out of the pre-playoffs was Lulea, this season’s Champions Hockey League champs, who only allowed one goal against in the two victories. Perhaps most impressive for this team has been the incredible improvement in 21-year-old Swiss defender Dean Kukan. A long-time member of Swiss national teams at just about every level, the 6’2”, 200-pound rearguard put up three goals and 13 points in the regular season, but logged over 18 minutes of ice time in the pre-playoffs, finding himself all over the ice in the process. Undrafted, it’s difficult to think there won’t be teams looking to ink him to an ELC.
Also having seen their season come to a conclusion was Farjestad, who will be missing the final round of eight for the first time since 1994. On paper, there was little reason to feel the team wouldn’t be a top six contender, but a terrible start to the season even saw the club battling for a pre-playoff spot. Thanks in heavy part to mid-season acquisitions Toni Rajala (14-13-27 in 31 games), a former Edmonton Oilers draft pick, and former Ottawa first rounder Jakub Klepis (6-5-11 in 21 games), the team was able to turn things around and even garner seventh place. As the season concluded for Farjestad, Dallas Stars 2012 second rounder Ludwig Bystrom, who had five points and a +4 in 38 games, headed to North America to join the Texas Stars of the AHL.
Knocking Farjestad out was Brynas, a team that slipped into the pre-playoffs (albeit safely ahead of Leksand) in 10th place. A surprising victory of sorts, they knocked off seventh place Farjestad 2 games to 1, taking the third game in overtime. Playing an incredibly important role in the pre-playoffs was Washington Capitals draft pick Christian Djoos, whose regular season saw him rack up five goals, 17 points, and a -10 rating. In this stage, however, he put in a whopping 25:37 minutes of ice time a night, serving as a vital member of the team’s power play unit. With no less than the series against Skelleftea ahead, Djoos is expected to be in North America next season.
From an NHL standpoint, Farjestad’s season ends the pro year for one of the fastest rising prospects for this season’s draft. The 6’2”, 183-pound Joel Eriksson Ek, who turned 18 in January, played his way into the line-up and ended up putting up six points in 37 games. Most importantly, he didn’t look out of place physically and saw his playing time increase as the season went on. Unafraid to shoot when he gets the opportunity, Eriksson Ek is currently widely expected to be a top 25 draft pick this summer.
Another bright light this season was 17-year-old Rasmus Asplund, who started the season off as a 16-year-old. He’s eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft and put up two goals and three points in 38 total games, but his introduction into the league was a generally successful one with many in Sweden feeling that he’ll be able to take on a much larger role next season. With 21 points in 15 U18 league games to boot, he’ll likely be an integral member of Sweden’s upcoming U18 World Championship squad.
Former Farjestad prospect dropping in draft standings
After almost a complete season on the Farjestad blueline as a 16 year old, Oliver Kylington entered this season being looked at not only as a mainstay for the team’s defensive corps, but also as Sweden’s top prospect in this summer’s draft. Part of the team’s horrendous start, he was loaned out to AIK Stockholm of the Allsvenskan after five points and a -2 rating in 18 games. Still scheduled for the WJC squad in Canada, he suffered an injury shortly before Christmas, thus missing out on what should have been his prime opportunity to show just how good he can be against like-aged peers. Once healthy and back in AIK’s line-up, Kylington managed four goals, seven points, and a -2 in 17 games.
All in all, these events have slowly but surely led to a drop in his draft ranking. Originally thought to be a top 10 talent, some wonder if he’ll crack the top 20 at the 2015 NHL Draft. What cannot be denied is the considerable tool set that he possesses and the assumption that perhaps expectations and his injury just weighed on him a bit too much. Of course, a good showing at the U18 in Switzerland next month could change all that.
Older Swedes of UFA interest
The aforementioned Ryan’s linemate, Martin Johansson, had 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games, making him the highest scoring Swede in the SHL. He also added a +18 rating. It was a career season for the 17-year-old, who was never drafted by an NHL club. Leksand’s Johan Ryno had a career-high 24 assists and 38 points; the tall, lanky forward is thought to be in the eyes of a few NHL clubs, especially after he salvaged a season that saw him fail to score in the first dozen games. Of course, his -20 rating is bound to raise some flags.
Also experiencing a career season was Brynas’ Anton Rodin, a former Vancouver Canucks second rounder (2009). He collected 19 goals and 40 points in 54 games and is currently trying to get his Brynas team past Farjestad for the final playoff spot in the pre-playoff series. An all-around player with a shot that continues to become harder and more precise, there is continued talk that he’s a hot candidate to represent his country at the World Championship in May. Only 24 years of age, he’s just now coming into his own.
Allsvenskan draftees and non-draftees with strong seasons
As a reminder, there are many who feel that the Swedish Allsvenskan is the strongest second-level professional league in Europe, chock full of teams that would likely be heavy competitors in the first leagues in countries like Germany and Austria, and probably dominant in the top leagues of Denmark, France, Italy and Norway.
It may have been a season to forget for the once storied AIK Stockholm franchise, but six foot and 170-pound draft-eligible Robin Kovacs put up 17 goals and 28 points in 52 games. He’s a skater and thinker, but seems to have gotten little press outside of Stockholm as he hasn’t shown himself ready or willing to apply himself in a terribly physical manner. Still, he can protect and shoot the puck in a manner very impressive for his age and size, and there is no lack of hard work in his game. Hard to think he won’t be a mid-round pick this summer.
Dallas prospect Niklas Hansson had 21 points in 47 games while Colorado Avalanche prospect Wilhelm Westlund chalked up 11 points in 40 games, but two other players had seasons that can only have their NHL organizations smiling proudly. Chicago defensive prospect Robin Press played for an underachieving Sodertalje club, but put up 13 goals and 30 points in the process. This was accompanied by a -8 rating, however, but few would argue that he’s ready to take a step up next season. Most impressive was the season put in by Nashville Predators forward prospect Emil Pettersson, who went from 14 points in 2013-14 to 12 goals and 35 points in 52 games this season for Timra IK. The Predators organization has been a big fan of Swedish forwards of late, and much points to this offensively creative player being offered a contract this summer. Nonetheless, only Hansson (Rogle) will be enjoying playoff hockey.
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