After several seasons mired in Sweden’s Allsvenskan, the country’s second-highest pro league, the famed Djurgarden program of Stockholm, Sweden was back in SHL action and managed to finish ninth in the league in the 2014-15 season. This was not only a huge success in avoiding any chance of winding up in the relegation, but also of special note due to the fact that the team relied on many young, drafted players to achieve their success.
As part of the Champions Hockey League Lottery and in the midst of the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic, Hockey’s Future had a chance to discuss prospect-related topics with Djurgarden’s Strategic General Manager, Joakim Eriksson.
Hockey’s Future: Djurgarden just completed its first season in the SHL after several years in the Allsvenskan. You did this with a number of young players, particularly on defense, where young men like Boston Bruins draft pick Linus Arnesson and Ottawa Senators draft pick Andreas Englund saw good chunks of playing time. What are your thoughts on the development of these young players?
Joakim Eriksson: Well, we’re losing Arnesson to Boston this summer. He developed fantastically and is already overseas and will stay there for next season. We’ve still got Englund, as you mentioned, and we have Chicago Blackhawks prospect Robin Norell. In addition, we’ve just recruited Robin Press who is also a member of the Chicago organization. We have another young, talented defenseman who hasn’t seen as much SHL time as most of our others in Adam Ollas Mattsson, who is a big, 6’4” kid. The Calgary Flames took him in the draft last summer.
So as you say, we’ve got a lot of good, young defensemen who have caught the attention of the NHL. We really appreciate this situation and it is part of our strategy, too. We want to establish time and room for them to play and develop. They are good enough and just keep getting better. We want to create the right roles for them. At the same time, we save on costs and it allows us to invest more in other parts of the line-up.
HF: The Djurgarden organization has a forward prospect named Jonathan Davidsson who just represented Team Sweden at the U18 World Championship. He was a top scorer for your junior team although he didn’t receive any time with the SHL club. He is expected to get drafted at some point this summer. Can you tell me about him?
JE: Yes, we see a very promising future for Jonathan. Since he has one more year of high school, our strategy with him is to have him remain in the junior organization while competing for a spot on the senior SHL team. We want him to hang around with us at the games and practice with the SHL club as often as possible. Much will be up to him. We need to gauge where he’s at to start the next season and how close he is to playing elite league hockey.
At this point, I see him playing a bit at the senior level next season and playing a big role for our junior club.
HF: Are there other young men in your program who you feel deserve to be drafted this summer?
JE: I do and I don’t. That’s up to the scouts and their opinions and the way they compare them to other players and other organizations. Our club did just win the U20 league championship in Sweden, so obviously we have a big group of good, solid players. Naturally, not all of them can be expected to be drafted, but several are close to the level necessary to be considered.
Being such young players, it’s hard to predict if the drafted kid is going to end up being the big star or if one of the guys ranked behind him or not at all will surpass him at some point down the line. Maybe kids like that will become the stars. Much ultimately depends on their character and how they compete. You have to see how professional they are already at this age. That’s all a big part of the journey.
HF: Speaking of stars, Djurgarden featured 23-year-old forward Marcus Sorensen this season, who just enjoyed what was clearly his best pro season, displaying incredible speed and determination in collecting 18 goals and 33 points. He was an Ottawa Senators fourth round draft pick in 2010, but is now a free agent in an international sense. He was also the last cut from Sweden’s World Championship team in Prague. In light of not only the NHL, but also the KHL and Switzerland, much less other SHL competition, how difficult will it be to keep him in Djurgarden?
JE: To begin, you have to have good communication with him. You want to be part of his mental development. Help him see what’s good for him and give him good advice. Be open about what’s the best path for him and his continued development. Both Marcus and we here at Djurgarden feel that we have a very good situation together on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And we do have a three-year contract with him that both sides are very happy with.
This said, I would be very surprised to see him remain in Sweden for the next three years. I can easily see him signing with an NHL team one or two years from now should his play continue to be at this level, which we definitely feel it will be.
This is what we’ll help him with and we are all working for his continued success. We naturally hope we can enjoy counting on his skill set for as long as possible, but at the same time, we want to support him heading into the future.
HF: We’ve seen a few Swedes in the past go to North America to play in the CHL leagues, or even the USHL, before being drafted. This winter, no less than draft-eligible Swedes Rasmus Andersson, Dymitro Timashov, and Gustav Bourammann had very productive years for CHL clubs. The same can be said for Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who had 53 USHL points and is scheduled to attend Boston University next fall. As the GM of a Swedish club, what is your opinion about young Swedish talents going overseas even before being drafted?
JE: Everybody has their individual roads to take. In my opinion, some kids rush it too much.
Often when they go over there, it’s because they’re not happy with their ice time or situation over here and they kind of just flee from the situation without facing the competition. They do this instead of dealing with the situation and making the best of it here, then taking on any and all challenges overseas.
For a lot of young kids, they haven’t learned to embrace a challenge. They’re going to have to face it at some level sooner or later. Instead, they’ll often see going to North America as a clear, given path that they can take without having to face the hurdles they may have had at home.
And this is coming, in many cases, too early in their careers.
When this is the case, my GM opinion is that this is a problem.
Naturally, there will always be exceptions.
HF: Wrapping things up and getting back to planning, because you had earlier mentioned the acquisition of Robin Press, who is a right-shooting defenseman who had 13 goals and 30 points in the Allsvenskan and is currently on a PTO with the Rockford IceHogs, are there any other young players you’d like to mention who you feel will be cracking Djurgarden’s line-up?
JE: There are the boys you mentioned earlier. They’ll be looked at to take on even bigger roles. We also have a lot of juniors and potential U20 WJC members, who’ll we’ll want playing a lot, particularly in the Allsvenskan. We want to have them get a lot of experience and get into a lot of games.
HF: So you can just loan them out to an Allsvenskan team, as if it were a farm team?
JE: That’s exactly right. That’s what we’ll be doing. We own their rights, but look for a good situation for them at the Allsvenskan level and let them taste life in senior level hockey as much as possible. This will apply to top-flight forwards such as Lukas Vejdemo and Daniel Bernhardt, as well as New York Islanders prospect Linus Soderstrom, who already was Sweden’s goaltender at this past WJC and has taken huge strides, also having gotten several Allsvenskan games under his belt. These guys will be given every opportunity to take the next step and recommend themselves for the WJC in the process.
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