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

By Chapin Landvogt

Oskar Lindblom - Team Sweden

Photo: Brynas forward and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Oskar Lindblom should provide offense for his club in 2015-16 after picking up 15 points in 37 SHL games last season in his first extended action in Sweden’s top league (courtesy of Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

 

12. Orebro

Coming off what is widely considered having been an outstanding season in its second SHL year, Orebro sat a bit back and decided to keep what it has in the fold while only making minimal adjustments.

Unfortunately for the team, their leading scorer Derek Ryan will try his luck in the NHL. Having led the league in scoring when all was said and done last season, there is little indication that he has been adequately replaced. If anyone can do so, new forward and former New York Rangers ninth rounder Jakub Petrazalek will have to fill his shoes and will likely line up next to Ryan’s former linemates, Martin Johansson and Daniel Viksten, who experienced more or less career years. Petrazalek is just about as small as Ryan was, too, and is a proven scorer everywhere from the AHL to the KHL and many spots in between.

Continuity and the addition of youngsters will be what Orebro banks on this season and there is plenty of reason to believe that this will be a big plus for a team that grew together last season like almost any other. Fan favorite Julius Hudacek will be manning the nets and entertaining the crowds, and may even have a shot in the arm with the addition of his brother Libor, who is coming from Slovan Bratislava of the KHL. Plenty of solid, but unspectacular depth is something Coach Kent Johansson seems to place value on, and he has got it.

What’s good

With many players on a deep team remaining and coming off what has to be considered a very solid and positive season, Coach Johansson doesn’t have to really change anything and can continue with what has been working well. The new players, though small, were quality additions who should give the team a more even attack. In addition, goalie Hudacek is one of the league’s most recognizable players and a pretty darn good goaltender to boot – namely the top goaltender in the SHL.

What isn’t

Plenty of teams with such a short history in a league and just a tad bit of success have gone from one season to the next feeling there’s not much to change, only to be left behind by the competition. This could easily happen here, too. The team is very dependent on its few stars and, should the new players not produce as expected, things could get very bleak offensively. In addition, the SHL can be brutal on goalies who have one very good season for teams that are not in the upper echelon of the league. Can Hudacek buck that trend?

Biggest impact player

Julius Hudacek. The goalie just seems to love playing in Sweden and he lets the fans know it with every opportunity. No team in the league needs a goalie to lead the way more than Orebro, and they’ve got it. With a 1.91 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 44 regular season games last season, he topped the charts in the SHL. The team desperately needs a repeat from the 27 year old.

Names you’ll recognize

D Peter Andersson, D Johan Motin, D Viktor Ekbom, F Mikko Lehtonen, F Jakub Petrazalek, F Greg Squires

Current NHL draft picks

None

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Forward Henrik Lowdahl, 34, who has produced for many years in the Allsvenskan and remains the team’s captain and heart-and-soul player. At 6’3” and 196 pounds, size was never a problem. Similar passages could be written by his longtime colleagues Marcus Weinstock and Johan Wiklander.

Best player who was never drafted

Goalie Julius Hudacek

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Julius Hudacek, 27, has not been terribly consistent in his career, but when he is on his game, he presents a top-flight international level of play.

Martin Johansson, 27, is 5’11” and 198 pounds and has officially arrived. With a total of 49 points and a +14 in 60 games, he had far and away his career season and did it in a very steady manner. A repeat of that performance will likely follow with a bid from North America.

Viktor Ekbom, 26, was once selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins and is now a 6’3”, 216-pound defensive defenseman who is coming off his most solid pro season. A first-line pairing defender.

Johan Motin, 26, is pairing up with Ekbom and has become a player who makes fewer and fewer errors. Once drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, the 6’2”, 220-pound rearguard is just now starting to bloom.

Daniel Viksten, 26, was often felt to be a bit too good for the Allsvenskan. Last season, he became a first liner putting up 29 points and was very close to becoming a member of the national team. He is only now beginning to bloom.

Defenseman Peter Andersson, 24, was a Vancouver Canucks draft pick and will join the SHL again this season after three seasons of gradual improvement at the AHL level. He had eight points and a +6 rating in 17 AHL playoff games last season.

Finn Joel Mustonen, 22, has been a long-time national team member at the junior levels. 5’11” and 172 pounds, he is being seen as the team’s second-line center at the moment and hasn’t looked out of place in this role in the preseason.

Scouts are watching closely

Czech Lukas Vopelka, 19, was highly rated a couple summers ago, but went undrafted last June despite a strong U20 year for Orebro’s junior program. He will likely play most of this season for Vita Hasten of the Allsvenskan, but strong play there will see him in the SHL sooner than later.

Undersized 20-year-old Kalle Jellvert is only 154 pounds and still draft-eligible. He was a top player at the U20 level last season with 52 points in 43 games and has been spending the preseason showing that he may belong in the SHL.

Synopsis

Whether Orebro will be finishing top-six or bottom-four is very hard to tell at this juncture. We feel the loss of Ryan and any injury to or slump on behalf of Julius Hudacek will leave this team outside of the top 10.

11. Brynas

A champion four seasons ago with young Jakob Silfverberg leading the way, Brynas has become a bit of an outsider for several seasons now. Last season had a lot of low points, but fortunately for the passionate club just north of Stockholm, they came to together once the playoffs swung around, showing a very strong performance in the pre-playoffs. This season, the team looks like it will once again need the whole year just to slip into the pre-playoffs, which are played out by the teams ranked 7th-10th.

Brynas allowed many players to walk, but the few players it acquired are very promising. Fresh champion forward Nick Johnson is coming from Vaxjo and had a wonderful first season in Sweden. He should get a big role next to former Toronto Marlie Greg Scott. All in all, Coach Thomas Berglund will be giving big minutes to his youngsters in the hope that everything will click again when it is most important.

What’s good

The team is very much intact with a good amount of depth and some interesting youngsters coming up. In Austrian goalie Bernhard Starkbaum and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Felix Sandstrom, the team looks promising in goal. The number of forwards ready to take the next step is significant, so if most of them do, this team could make some real noise.

What isn’t

A youthful team can be promising and exciting, but there is no guarantee it will be successful. There are ingredients for a real good first line, but it’s hard to tell who exactly the horses will be on the blueline and whether any of them can quarterback the power play.

Biggest impact player

Nick Johnson. The former Boston Bruin had a strong 47 points in his first SHL season and is ready to be the go-to guy for this team. He won’t have nearly the same support as last season, so he will have to pick up things considerably to achieve those 47 points again.

Names you’ll recognize

D Anssi Salmela, D Marc Zanetti, F Petr Vrana, F Sondre Olden, F Anton Rodin, F Nick Johnson, F Greg Scott

Current NHL draft picks

G Felix Sandstrom (PHI) is expected to be the back-up, but could become more.

F Jens Looke (ARZ) took a regular shift at times last season, but should be full-time regular now.

F Oskar Lindblom (PHI) grew exponentially last season and is currently expected to be a top-six winger this season.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Forward Jesper Ollas, 31, who has been a solid leader for a number of years now.

Best player who was never drafted

Goalie Bernhard Starkbaum, who has been a rock for two seasons running and the starter for Team Austria.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Mathias Porseland, 29, is here to be the defensive stalwart and catalyst after several seasons of KHL play. A big year from him could give him one last shot overseas.

Anton Rodin, 24, was drafted by Vancouver and spent two seasons in the AHL, but it is only now that he has exploded on the scene, becoming one of the best overall forwards in Sweden.

Defenseman Simon Bertilsson, 24, is a former Philadelphia Flyers pick and now one of the key defenders for the team. Injuries have often derailed him, but he’s considered a rock at the SHL level when healthy.

Vesterholm twins Ponthus and Pathrik, 23, are not unknown to scouts but just completed their first full SHL seasons, putting up modest numbers, but showing there’s much more in the tank. Patience is key here.

Sondre Olden, 23, was once a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, but bad habits took him off course. Last season, he finally got back to a productive career playing a lower-line role for Brynas. Gifted offensively and very big and rangy, the feeling is that he could still explode any day now. NHL teams will take note if he ever does.

Defenseman Jonathan Pudas, 22, is getting his first real shot at the SHL level after a big year in the Allsvenskan with 28 points in 56 games. He is not big, but his skill set is above average.

Forward Adam Brodecki, 20, had 18 points last year and has represented Sweden internationally, most recently at the WJC where he had two points. A few more years of constant improvement could see him become an NHL topic.

Defenseman Mathias Norstebo, 20, of Norway has three years of partial SHL experience and had a very fine World Championship for the Norwegian men’s team last spring. Skipped in the draft the past three seasons, the smaller defender is on the map for many scouts.

Scouts are watching closely

Defender Philip Alftberg, 18, already has one really good season under his belt at the U20 level and is scheduled to have a key role there this season, too, but as is commonly the case in Brynas, he’ll be given a look at the SHL level at some point.

Linus Olund, 18, went undrafted this past summer despite a good U20 season and five assists at the U18 tournament. Like Jens Looke before him, he is hoped to edge his way into the lineup at some point this season – or dominate at the U20 level.

Defenseman Lucas Carlsson, 18, also went undrafted despite 17 SHL contests and a U18 World Championship performance last spring. Brynas sees this as a gain, because putting a possible NHL Draft selection off a year gives them more time to enjoy his skill set and quick rise to a regular shift in the SHL.

Synopsis

Brynas will likely have many of ups and downs in the regular season only to play for a pre-playoff spot at the end like it did last season. As we all know, anything can happen at playoff time, but it is the many players who may still have NHL potential of some sort that makes the team so interesting.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin

 

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