2015 NHL Draft Preview: Carlsson, Eriksson Ek tops among prospect group from Sweden

By Chapin Landvogt

Sebastian Aho - Team Sweden - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: Skelleftea defenseman and 2015 prospect Sebastian Aho was passed over in the 2014 NHL Draft but may not be overlooked at this year’s draft (courtesy of John Crouch/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

4. Oliver Kylington – D – Shoots: Left – 6’0”, 185 lbs.
CSS European Rank #6
May 19th, 1997

Likely the most talented all-around Swede in the 2015 draft, at least as far as his physical attributes are concerned, Kylington has all the skating skills and more you’d like to see in an up-and-coming defenseman. He has a nimble first step and gets into high gear quickly, loving to grab and then lug the puck up the ice. When on the blueline, he can dance around a good bit, showing impeccable puck control and fake shots and passes while laterally swaying in any direction that is favorable. While in control of the puck, Kykington is very good at avoiding checks or drawing penalties as he can move away from attackers at the last second very quickly. What he’ll do defensively still remains to be seen over the long term, and many question his decision-making ability with the puck, often hoping to use his speed to bulldoze his way through or around opposing defenses.

One of the more questionable talents of this draft, he came into this season looking like he’d contend for a top 5 draft slot and certainly was considered by everyone to be a likely top 10 pick. And why not, after he spent almost a full season playing with Farjestad in the SHL as a 17-year-old, having made his debut and scoring a goal as a 16-year-old. The heady, average-sized defenseman was also being counted on to be an impact player for a traditionally strong SHL program. Instead, like the whole disappointing team, Kylington’s two goals and five points in the first 18 games just weren’t enough to allow the team to continue playing with him as they sought out more veteran assistance. He was then loaned to the storied AIK Stockholm program and saw things go pretty much the same, but at a lower level. On a team that disappointed, he scored four goals and seven points in 17 games. He had a -2 rating at both pro stations.

Kylington did play some playoff hockey for Farjestad’s junior team, gathering four goals and 12 points with a +2 rating in 16 total games. Injured shortly before the 2015 World Junior Championship (WJC), and thus absent from that tournament, he played internationally at the U18 tournament where he had a number of flashy moments. There, it was clear that he has some incredible wheels as well as a bit of moxie in the offensive zone, but for all his talents, his two assists and -7 rating in five games seemed to be very glaring in light of Sweden’s uncharacteristic dive at the tournament.

At this juncture, it really is hard to tell whether scouts see Kylington falling off the first round map, but there’s plenty of reason to feel his few real tools may forever go without a toolbox. Then again, if he does put it together at some point, and there’s plenty of time, Kylington may be the best overall defenseman coming from this draft.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 22-45.

5. Felix Sandstrom – G – Catches: Left – 6’2”, 191 lbs.
CSS European Goalie Rank #3
Jan. 12th, 1997

It was a bit of an up-and-down year for a tall goalie who often relies heavily on the butterfly technique to not only make initial saves, but to also cover the lower portion of the net entirely while relying on his glove and stick hand to ward off higher shots. Strong anticipation, especially when he’s seeing lots of shots, Felix Sandstrom can often lose his edge when he’s not seeing enough shots. In general, there’s reason to believe that he’s one of those goalies who needs the big challenge to really show his true colors. While still a work in progress, he does have the size and agility to one day be an impact goaltender, perhaps even at the NHL level. With a mental aspect that has been breakable at times, especially in this past U18 WC, scouts know Sandstrom will likely have it tested next season as his SHL club, Brynas, is hoping to have him as their number 2 goaltender heading into the season.

This season, Sandstrom played eight U18 league games, putting up a 2.22 goals-against average and only an .897 save percentage. At the U20 level, he played 15 games with a 2.60 goals-against average and another questionable .899 save percentage. Once getting a shot at pro play, he was outstanding in two games with a 1.09 goals-against and .963 save percentage, showing what he can do behind a solid defense. His three goals against in one playoff game were understandable. This all led to a starting gig at the U18 tournament where he was able to help a lackluster team that only managed one regulation victory, namely against Germany. There, Sandstrom made some amazing saves, but also spent time looking very pedestrian. His 3.31 goals-against average and .909 save percentage were very indicative of his performance.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 80-115.

6. Jens Looke – F – Shoots: Right – 6’0”, 180 lbs.
CSS European Rank #10
Apr. 11th, 1997

It was a big year for Jens Looke, coming out of nowhere to take a regular shift in the SHL. The mid-sized forward put a sound, hard-working attitude to use and added in-game intelligence to complete the simplified duties asked of him by his coaches. A heady skater, he prefers to be a perimeter player, where he can make better use of his strong vision and seek out holes in the defense for nifty passes or quick pucks to the net. Giving the impression of being alert at most times, he plays aware on the ice, but hasn’t seen a lot in the line of production since a great SHL league start.

A sound, safe player who compliments a number of different types of linemates, Looke looked very strong and very useful at the WJC, where he chipped in with three very important and attractive goals. This play was not reflected at the U18, where he couldn’t get on the scoreboard or show the type of jump and pizzazz he had at the WJC before getting hurt early in the fourth game of the tournament. The U18 WC came on the heels of a full SHL season that saw Looke score two goals and six points in 50 total games to go with a -5 rating. Alarming is that those six points came in the first 12 games of the season – nothing was scored after that.

For Brynas’ junior program, Looke had five points and a +3 in one U18 game before chipping in six points in four games for that team in the playoffs. He came in at a point-per-game pace for the U20 outfit, collecting 11 goals and 20 points in 20 games along with a +19 rating. Appreciated for hustle, the readiness to play physical, and a propensity to carry the puck and find teammates in a nifty manner, a team will be very happy to add Looke to its stock around the end of the second round.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 40-65.

7. Robin Kovacs – F – Shoots: Left – 6’0”, 160 lbs.
CSS European Rank #8
Nov. 16th, 1996

Robin Kovacs was the top scorer of his AIK Stockholm pro team, popping in a total of 19 goals and 35 points in 62 games while posting a -4 for a team that almost found itself being relegated. A tenacious player of adequate height whose 67 penalty minutes also attest to his feistiness, Kovacs will need to fill out considerably in the years to come if he’s to survive in the NHL at some point. His skating can be considered above-average and he gets off to very good starts while not being afraid to test opposing defenders and push them back, creating space for not only himself but other oncoming attackers, as well. Although his passing seems just fine at this point, it’s his nose for the net that is so impressive now as he has little inhibition finding places to be for strong scoring opportunities, both with and without the puck. Kovacs still will need to gain strength in all areas, not only to ward off opponents and protect pucks along the boards, but also to keep his stride going over long distances.

With a game that reminds some of the style of play seen from Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana, the forward with the common Hungarian name played at one international tournament for the U19 squad (six points in four games), but didn’t make it to either the World Championship or World Junior Championship for Sweden. Due to being in the second league and having lacked international experience, added to the fact that Kovac is still light as a feather, you have to think that he’s quite the homerun-style pick at this juncture. There is good reason to think the often electrifying forward may have big things in store for him once he grows into his frame and adds muscle.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 75-115.

8. Sebastian Aho – D – Shoots: Left – 5’9”, 165 lbs.
CSS European Rank #13
Feb. 17th, 1996

Seldom does such a smooth-skating, intelligent defenseman who has already succeeded at Sweden’s highest pro level go undrafted by an NHL team, but Sebastian Aho’s small and slender frame has some believing he may never be able to withstand the rigors of NHL play. After all, going undrafted last summer, despite contributing considerably to an SHL championship at age 18, would make anyone wonder how such a player could go through an entire draft without some team seeing the Torey Krug/Tobias Enstrom-style possibilities.

It’s a different story in Sweden, where the clever defenseman has a knack for blocking passes and getting his stick in shot and passing pathways, then moving the puck soundly to his teammates. With a very agile manner of skating, his skills are very noticeable in moving at good speeds in all directions. Aho hustles, but is very methodical in making decisions and finds a way to be a continually effective player in his zone, where he’s spent most of the past two seasons trying to become more complete.

Few players in the 2015 draft can display the pro experience that Aho already has. Considered amongst the top 3 or 4 overall talents for his age group by Swedish ice hockey experts, he spent the entire season playing for SHL runner-up Skelleftea, collecting two goals and 13 points along with a +13 rating in 54 total games. He also appeared for Sweden at the WJC, collecting a goal and four points in seven games.

Having proven himself in the pro ranks for two years running, there’s just no getting around Aho in this summer’s draft, especially considering the number of similarly sized defensemen ranked ahead of him who haven’t come close to doing what he has at a very high pro level.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 61-120.

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