In a draft class as pumped up and anticipated as this year’s is, it should come as no surprise that Sweden will likely be the producer of over 20 players taken by NHL teams over the course of the 2015 NHL Draft. For several years now, Sweden has established itself as the third-largest provider of NHL-drafted talent, coming in after Canada and the USA.
In 2011, Sweden saw an outstanding and record-setting 28 players taken, eight more than the year before. In 2012, another 22 were selected. In 2013, that number increased slightly, seeing another 25 Swedes taken. Then it 2014, it became 31, 28 of whom were Swedish-born.
Nonetheless, this year’s class is one that even Swedish pundits feel may be one of the lesser talented groups as far as high-end talent is concerned. Scouts are certain that the 1997-born players will surely provide enough NHL players, but at this juncture it’s anyone’s guess which of once prodigal defenseman Oliver Kylington, up-and-coming forward Joel Eriksson Ek or perhaps well-skating, two-way defenseman Jacob Larsson will be taken first and if they’ll even go in the top 20, much less the top 15. In light of the future superstardom people are expecting of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, as well as above-average super talents such as Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin, Mitch Marner and Zach Werenski, all from North America, and other exceptional international talents such as the Czech Republic’s Pavel Zacha, Finland’s Mikko Rantanen, and Russia’s Evgeny Svechnikov, this Swedish group is lacking in the type of impact players expected to come out of this draft.
What can’t be forgotten is that no less than Rasmus Andersson, Dmytro Timashov, Gustav Bouramman, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson not only spent this past season in North America, but also excelled. Each is thought to be a likely top-90 talent heading into the draft. It’s anyone’s guess if Leon Bristedt (University of Minnesota) or Gustav Franzen (Kitchener Rangers) will be drafted, but both were seen as big talents in Sweden and are draft-eligible.
With all that in mind, here’s a closer look at the top 10 Swedish prospects entering the 2015 NHL Draft according to NHL Central Scouting (CSS), as well as the order in which we at Hockey’s Future feel they’ll be taken (Draft rank position prediction).
1. Gabriel Carlsson – D – Shoots: Left – 6’4”, 183 lbs.
CSS European Rank #2
Jan. 2nd, 1997
Gabriel Carlsson is a very tall and slick defender who has concentrated on becoming more reliable in his own end than anywhere else on the ice. A stay at home defenseman by trade, he can make that good first pass and his shot is anything but lacking, although some would say he needs to unpack it more. He has a tremendous reach and is very hard to get around. This is accompanied by a good ability to read the ice and analyze what will happen properly in most all situations. This is just part of his very strong decision-making aptitude.
Solid in his own zone, the defensive-minded defenseman has been shy about unpacking whatever offensive ability he may have to this point. He did have five points and a +2 in seven games for Linkoping’s U18 team and also a very respectable three assists and +5 for the men’s team in 17 total games, including 10 playoff showings. However, the bulk of his goalless season was spent with the organization’s U20 team, where his defensive dominance was on display in earning a +25 rating. That was accompanied by nine assists in 42 games.
Carlsson’s season ended with a mediocre appearance at the U18 World Championship (U18 WC), where he played a yeoman’s role and couldn’t help prevent Sweden’s unremarkable performance. His only stats were the one two-minute penalty he gathered while other nations’ top players his age had him doing all he could to just shut them down in the course of his five games there. What impressions scouts took from his play there likely have them seeing him as more of a second round pick.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 38-55.
2. Joel Eriksson Ek – F – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 180 lbs.
CSS European Rank #4
Jan. 29th, 1997
A tall player who can be dominating on the puck and in offensive situations, Joel Eriksson Ek possesses a little bit of everything in that he can shoot very well, has a wonderful eye for his teammates, has no qualms in playing physical (particularly when protecting and shielding the puck), skates hard in both directions, and has a nose for the net. A big center with a fantastic shot, he seems to be in just the right place all the time in the offensive zone. Coming out of nowhere in many ways this season, Eriksson Ek etched out a job in the SHL and there‘s probably no looking back at this point. With a strong core and impressive lower body strength, he’s come a long way in skating against opponents and showing power forward tendencies, although it’s hard to tell just what his scoring potential will be as an NHL player.
What is clear is that a midseason call-up after 21 goals and 32 points with a +13 rating in 25 U20 games led to a regular gig for Farjestad in the SHL. There, he collected four goals and six points in 37 total games without getting a negative rating. He returned to play six playoff games for the U20 team, adding another five goals and 10 points. Like many others in this article, he then represented Sweden at the U18, but unlike many others, he was one of the few not to entirely disappoint, leading the team with five goals and tying for the team lead with six points. Due in part to a first-line role, this was accompanied by a -4 rating. However, he did show glimpses of what he will be doing around pro nets in the near future and it’s likely that a few scouts are quite enamored with his possibilities.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 13-27.
3. Jacob Larsson – D – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 191 lbs.
CSS European Rank #3
Apr. 29th, 1997
An all-around defenseman who has both strengths and weaknesses in all facets of the game, Jacob Larsson is seen as a guy who can play two ways and really picks up some speed in either direction. His overall offensive game is very attentive and he likes to hustle, giving good reason to believe he’ll be able to put up some impressive numbers along the way, maybe even being a more offensive defenseman when all is said and done. His excellent on-ice vision would attest to this as well. Already very mature and blessed with good size, with room for more meat on his bones, Larsson does take pride in playing at both ends of the rink and is equipped with many of the tools most sought after in modern defensemen.
This past season, Larsson saw play with the famed Frolunda team in three of its chapters, ultimately getting called up for a 20-game stint at the SHL level, where with one goal, three points and a +4 rating, he surely didn’t look out of place. A team that prides itself on success with young players, he’s scheduled to get a regular role there next season. He played less than a handful of games for the U18 team and spent most of the season lacing his skates for the U20 club, gathering eight goals and 23 points with 55 penalty minutes and a +15 rating in 38 U20 games. At the U18, he was a mainstay on the power play unit and managed three assists along with a -1 rating in five games.
Like Carlsson and other colleagues, it’s hard to tell what scouts will read into his performance in Switzerland to wrap up the season, but all indications are that he won’t make it past spot 45 this summer.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 29-44.