2015-16 SHL Preview, Pt. 1: Talented youngsters should help Brynas be the best among lower teams

By Chapin Landvogt
Christopher Liljewall - Rogle BK

Photo: Rogle BK forward Christopher Liljewall will captain his team in the 2015-16 SHL season after turning in his best offensive season in 2014-15 (courtesy of City-Press via Getty Images)

 

 

As in years past, this fall will see pro hockey in Sweden at the SHL and Allsvenskan level kick off with a virtual army of NHL-drafted players. Many of these young men will be taking their first steps at the pro level and, as has been proven time and time again, the world of professional hockey in Sweden has often served as the ideal step towards a long-term NHL career.

In the following paragraphs, Hockey’s Future will take you through its league predictions while previewing the teams in a way relevant for NHL fans curious about what SHL names – whether young or old, drafted or non-drafted – they may be seeing in the not so distant future. As always, Sweden’s professional and junior hockey scenes feature a large number of players who will be wowing fans at the international level in the near future.

Part one of this 2015-16 SHL preview begins with the expectations for the teams Hockey’s Future is picking to finish 11-14 in the standings.

14. Karlskrona

The Karlskrona team is completely new to the SHL and will be battling just to survive. Everyone in the league knows this and one look at the lineup goes a long way in indicating that there’s nothing else to expect of them. The club is saying it is going to sport the fittest team in the league, but that will only go so far if the players don’t score and prevent goals while on the ice. Truth is, many of the players coming up are very unproven or were little more than lower-line players when they were in the SHL at some point. The team has also added some interesting import players who either haven’t been particularly good at the SHL level or have only proven themselves at the minor league level.

As such, the team is entering the season with two goalies who haven’t enjoyed much success at the SHL level (albeit Linus Fernstrom was very solid for Frolunda the past two seasons), a relatively unproven defensive corps with no clear-cut top pairing, and a forward group that looks interesting, but presents nothing resembling a sure-fire first line. Fitness and enthusiasm can only go so far, but Coach Per Hanberg and the management group are ready to ride that as far as it can go. In recent years, it’s often proven fairly effective for a first year in the SHL.

What’s good

It appears as though the team will be well-conditioned and obviously has nothing to lose. In these initial seasons, entire towns and communities tend to be very excited and very forgiving. The good folks of Karlskrona will need to be just that this winter.

What isn’t

There’s not one position on this team that, on paper, meets the requirements necessary to win in the SHL. Survival can be the only goal at this point. Particularly amongst the skaters, there are a many on this team who were little more than lower liners at the Allsvenskan level. Unless management knows something that no one else does, things could get real ugly at times.

Biggest impact player

Julien Brouillette. He is 28 and this is his first-ever station outside of North America, but the defenseman who worked his way through the ECHL to NHL games for Washington and Winnipeg now has to come in and be the team’s best overall player in a year full of firsts for most of his teammates.

Names you’ll recognize

D Julien Brouillette, F Slava Trukhno, F Riley Holzapfel, F John Henrion

Current NHL draft picks

D David Westlund (ARZ) is expected to be a top-four defender taking a regular shift.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Defenseman Robin Gartner has been a very solid Allsvenskan player for many years now. At 25, he became a solid SHL defenseman and is now in a spot where he can bear as much responsibility as possible – which is just what he wants.

Best player who was never drafted

Goalie Julius Hudacek

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Filip Cruseman, 24, was a scorer early in his career in the third Swedish league before jumping into the Allsvenskan. He chipped in 20 goals and 32 points last season. He is said to be a bit nasty and a pain in the neck to play against. Now he can show that at the SHL level.

Jesper Olofsson, 23, is the older brother of Buffalo draft pick Victor Olofsson, who plays for MODO. He’s coming off his best pro season with 24 goals and 38 points in the Allsvenskan and is here to take on a top-nine role.

Defenseman Victor Aronsson, 22, is a mid-sized 5’11” and 176 pounds but had an extremely solid Allsvenskan season for Almtuna last season and is being given the chance to continue growing at the SHL level.

Center Joel Kellman, 21, is only 5’10” and 170 pounds, but he impressed heavily last season with 21 goals and 43 points in 53 Allsvenskan games, becoming a cog in the team’s promotion. He will rightfully be watched closely in this and the seasons to come.

Scouts are watching closely

No one who is draft-eligible is in the lineup at this point in time.

Synopsis

Anything is possible for Karlskrona, but we see this team being on the negative side of a lot of 3-0 of 5-2 scores. Anything but a last place finish would be a surprise. It will be very interesting to see who is a viable SHL talent and who was better off in the Allsvenskan, but the team does have the makings of maintaining the class when push comes to shove.

13. Rogle

Rogle has spent a lot of time moving up and down the past few decades, but almost surprisingly made its way up last season. Here in the SHL show again, the team seems armed to stick around this time after having spent the past two seasons in the Allsvenskan.

Often surrounded by various interrupting stories such as those of the Andre Deveaux attack or the father-son duo of Michael and William Nylander (the next son, Alexander, a highly touted prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, has now signed with Rogle as well) seem to be a thing of the past. The team is now ready to be a steady, difficult-to-play outsider with a strong junior program and a number of players they can call in from the Allsvenskan. What the club will have to focus on is slowly but surely building itself for a long-term future in the SHL. Rogle will win a few games, but Coach Anders Eldebrink will have to hold the morale of the team together in what will often be difficult times.

What’s good

Helsingborg is excited and has a fine thing going when it comes to hockey development. Long considered a hockey hotspot, the team has an exciting young goaltending duo and a defense that has a good bit of experience in other top professional leagues.

What isn’t

It’s a very valid question to ask where the heck the goals are going to come from. This team looks like it will be involved in a number of tight, low-scoring games this season, but when the going gets rough, it’s currently counting on a bunch of top Allsvenskan scorers to get things done. It is hard to see the team producing too much, especially in comparison to some of the league’s more established teams.

Biggest impact player

Jordan Smotherman. The American from Oregon was once an Atlanta Thrashers draft pick and has spent the past few seasons tearing things apart in the Allsvenskan. After 16 goals in just 22 games for Rogle last season, the 6’2”, 225-pound behemoth will have to lead the way for the young Rogle team.

Names you’ll recognize

G Oscar Dansk, G Lars Volden, D Rasmus Bengtsson, D Ivan Baranka, D Kevin Marshall, F Patrick Cehlin, F Jack Connolly, F Taylor Matson, F Sebastian Wannstrom, F Alex Aleardi, F Ludvig Rensfeldt, F Kelsey Tessier

Current NHL draft picks

F Oscar Dansk (CBJ), loaned out to Rogle, is still an up-and-comer who will get a world of experience this season. Definitely a winner’s move by putting him in this position.

F Robin Kovacs (NYR) led Allsvenskan club AIK Stockholm in scoring last season and is scheduled to play there this year despite a CHL junior opportunity. Kovacs has signed with Rogle and could be called up if, and when, the team feels he is ready.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Defenseman Jens Hellgren was indeed drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, but never made it over to North America. Instead, he has built a career of being a solid Allsvenskan defenseman who will finally show what he can do at the SHL level as a 26 year old.

Best player who was never drafted

Forward Christopher Liljewall, the team’s captain, who is imposing at 6’3” and 205 pounds and appears to finally be putting it all together at age 25. His 23 goals and 45 points for Rogle last season were career highs.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Jesper Jensen, 28, is a half-Swede who plays on the Danish national team. He has needed a lot of time to find an extra gear and start exploiting his talents, but he has spent the past two seasons being a top scorer in the Allsvenskan and many feel he is ready to be that in the SHL, as well.

Canadian Kevin Marshall, 26, is a purely defensive defenseman and former Philadelphia Flyers draft pick. After years of AHL play, he is now looking to give his career a boost in Sweden to potentially work his way back into the NHL picture.

American Taylor Matson, 26, was a Vancouver Canucks draft pick who didn’t quite have the NCAA career once expected of him. After just 50 games of AHL play and just 11 points, plus a strong ECHL showing, Matson was a cog in Rogle’s promotion last season and appears ready to take the SHL by storm. He would have to do quite a bit the next few seasons to get another look from North America.

Team captain Christopher Liljewall.

Forward Patrick Cehlin, 24, is heading back to Sweden after several years in the AHL. A draft pick of the Nashville Predators, he just hasn’t taken the steps his talent would indicate of him. This could change over the next few seasons.

Sebastian Wannstrom, 24, is a story similar to Cehlin. Both are looking to get their careers on track with the Rogle organization for the next few seasons. Potential certainly is there.

American Alex Aleardi, 23, is just 5’9” and looking to earn his way to the NHL via the European path several players of his ilk have been successful with. Too good for the ECHL and just average in the AHL after a strong OHL career, a few years on the bigger ice surface could do wonders for this talented player.

Lars Volden, 23, is a Norwegian national team goalie who already has a good bit of experience in Finland and Sweden. He was once drafted by the Boston Bruins and will surely get his share of starts this year. Maturing slowly but surely.

Ludvig Rensfeldt, 23, was a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick who had one decent season for the Sarnia Sting before looking strong in the Allsvenskan. Surprisingly, he dipped two years ago and resurrected himself this past season with 19 goals and 36 points. He does look like a player who could be making quite an impact later in his career.

Rasmus Bengtsson, 22, was a Florida Panthers draft pick and spent two seasons in the USHL. He is slowly maturing into a good pro player in Sweden and will now face his biggest challenge after two average Allsvenskan seasons.

Daniel Sylwander, 22, hasn’t shown much in the line of scoring, but he is young, has several years of pro play under his belt and is already 6’3” and 215 pounds. Maturity and scoring look like they are still quite possible.

Scouts are watching closely

Little forward Filip Karlsson, 19, played a lot more than expected for Rogle last season after a real good showing at the U20 level. They will see what he can do in a lower-line role this season.

Bigger 19-year-old Ludvig Claesson had a big year at the U20 level for Rogle last season, and the team hasn’t been shy about affording him opportunities at the SHL level this season. Whether here or in the Allsvenskan, this overager is looking a lot like recently successful young Swedish defensemen and bears close watching this winter.

Ludvig Elvenes, 18, comes from a family of well-known Swedish hockey players and is still filling in his 6-foot, 172-pound frame. After a dominating showing at the U20 level last season, many feel he will get a prolonged look at the SHL level. If he gets off to a good start, he will be contending for a WJC spot as well.

Synopsis

HF feels that Rogle will sniff spot #11 for much of the season, but once the dust settles and the games really start to mean something in February, there will just be too much competition. Rogle will remain in the league and will possibly even avoid a relegation round spot, but this team just does not have the depth or experience to seriously challenge for a playoff spot.

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