2015-16 SHL Preview, Pt. 2: Linkoping the best of the middle of the pack

By Chapin Landvogt

Marcus Hogberg - Linkoping HC - Champions Hockey League

Photo: Ottawa Senators prospect Marcus Hogberg will look to build on a solid 2014-15 season for Linkoping, where he will be the starting goaltender in 2015-16 (courtesy of IFK Helsinki/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

 

8. HV71

For one of the SHL’s traditionally successful teams, this summer has been a bit of a roller coaster ride that featured a big decision by management, namely to replace the coach. Not uncommon, this time it was due not to a lack of success or capability, but rather because a new version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” was taking place.

Now the team has a coach in Johan Lindbom who had no part in designing the team and has to get them competitive in a short period of time. His one assistant is Tim Brithen, father of team captain Ted, and recently chastised for the U18 squad’s underwhelming performance in Switzerland. The team features a decent but underwhelming goaltending duo and a very young (albeit promising) blueline after a decent top four.

What’s good

There is lots of proven talent in the lineup, despite featuring many young, healthy legs. Jere Karalahti, Chris Campoli, and Ryan O’Byrne bring a lot of NHL experience to a young crew that features what may be several future NHL players. Up front, each of Mattias Tedenby, Teemu Laine, Martin Thornberg, Ted Brithen, and Erik Christensen could and should chip in 30+ points. There’s promise a plenty in Jonkoping this winter – if the guys like the coach.

What isn’t

Far too many of the teams key players played under their abilities for big parts of last season. One who didn’t is Erik Christensen, who has established himself as one of the best players in Sweden and is a true crowd-pleaser. He will start the season on the injured reserve list. Also, new coach Johan Lindbom has had relatively little time with the team and has few assistants. Just how well the players will understand and implement what he wants is a big question mark.

Biggest impact player

Erik Christensen. The Canadian has been a highlight reel machine for several years now and is deadly just about every shift. He has had many fans wondering why he didn’t make a career of it in the NHL given his 81 points in 98 career SHL games.

Names you’ll recognize

G Erik Ersberg, D Jere Karalahti, D Chris Campoli, D Ryan O’Byrne, F Mattias Tedenby, F Erik Christensen, F Chris Abbott, F Bjorn Melin

Current NHL draft picks

D Emil Johansson (BOS) played 35 games in the SHL last season and will be looked at to fill a 6/7 defenseman role this season, as well.

D Niklas Hansson (DAL), after a strong WJC, had a smashingly good season with Rogle in helping the team gain promotion by chipping in 25 points and a +10 in 57 games. He then jumped ship to HV71 in order to compete now. A Rookie of the Year candidate.

F Filip Ahl (OTT), a 6’3”, 203-pound brick, has much to prove this season as there were plenty of ups and downs last season. At the moment, he appears to have a fourth-line role all set up for himself in 2015-16.

F Kevin Stenlund (CBJ), also 6’3” and 205 pounds, got into 17 games last season and has that tall, graceful, controlled look to his game. He suffered through knee injuries last season, but the belief is that he could be the kid who best arrives on the scene this season. This is a good possibility in light of his hockey sense and that size.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Hands down Martin Thornberg, a 32-year-old winger from hometown Jonkoping, who is returning after a sojourn in the KHL. Seen as the prodigal son, he had until last season managed to put up seven straight 20+ goal seasons, and that is exactly what is expected of him again this season.

Best player who was never drafted

F Ted Brithen is now the captain of the team and has become one of the most solid young Swedish players in the SHL. He has been good for 30 points per season, and it is felt he should be in the 40-point range this season.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Forward Simon Onerud, 27, is compact and solid in all three zones. He continues to score more goals than not and will be looked at for another boost this year after having scored 14 and then 15 goals the past two seasons for MODO.

Adam Almqvist, 24, is a former Detroit Red Wings pick who spent last season, which was cut short due to injury, in Russia after two very promising AHL seasons with Grand Rapids, including a 49-assist outing in the 2013-14 season. He is now here to be the #1 stalwart, if he is recovered from his knee injury as believed.

Frederik Pettersson Wentzel, 24, may just be getting the starter’s job this fall after having only been average for a disappointing Farjestad last season.

Simon Karlsson, 22, was once drafted by the Nashville Predators and headed to the OHL. After a successful season in the Allsvenskan, Karlsson missed most of last season and will start this season on the IR as well.

Anton Bengtsson, 22, is entering his fourth SHL season and had 13 goals this past season. He is six feet tall and needs to continue building up physically, but he has improved every season and has plenty of time to head overseas.

Filip Sandberg, 21, is a tiny tot of sorts (although 183 pounds) and has represented Sweden internationally since he was 16. Never drafted, he is already one of the league’s top two-way centers and hustles like few others. Sandberg had six goals and 18 points last season.

Christoffer Torngren, 21, is an average 5’10” and was never drafted, but he is coming off of a 41-game season in which he chipped in five goals and 13 points. There is lots of room to improve, but plenty of time to do so.

Axel Eidstedt, 20, is 6’2“ and 225 pounds and has played parts of the past two seasons in the SHL. His ice time should increase once again this season, and he has plenty of time to get himself on the NHL radar.

Scouts are watching closely

Lawrence Pilut, 19, is a smaller player who plays a bit more than a yeoman’s game. With 80 games of SHL play already under his belt, you would think he would be drafted already, but even an 11-point, +12 season in his second go at the draft wasn’t good enough to garner the drafting interest of the NHL. Set to take on a top-5 role this fall, he recently was injured and there is no telling when he will be back. A shame too, because a big season this winter would surely go a long way in next summer’s draft.

Prognosis

Once the injured players have returned, and if the goalies are ready to make things happen, HV71 has all the makings of a top-four club. Experience, talent, offensive potential and some pretty shiny pieces on the blueline make one think that HV71 could be quite dangerous once the pieces fall together, and we are betting they do in time for the pre-playoffs.

7. MODO

MODO has seen Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund running things in recent years and with that kind of name power in the front office, it’s been considered only a matter of time until that organization would see glorious times of success again. That hasn’t come yet, but this might be the season things finally take their course.

As the league’s employer of the most foreigners in the SHL, there are many saying that this team should play a big role in the championship if everything comes together on time. Amazingly, the team has put together a collection of big names without leaving out the youth, thus featuring a number of youngsters or great interest to NHL teams. This includes Carl Grundstrom, who appears to be a 2016 first rounder in the making. The rest of the team features enough veteran power to make a huge impact in the standings.

What’s good

There is a good deal of proven talent in the lineup. A number of players with good NHL experience are here as are a few potential future NHL players. With another good handful of players featuring a high level of SHL capability, this team could land anywhere from 1st to 10th in the standings. MODO will serve as the SHL’s biggest potpourri of possibilities.

What isn’t

There is little routine and the team has to find itself fairly quickly. New Canadian coach Larry Hurras, who is coming from Ingolstadt, Germany, has his work cut out for him, even if this is just the challenge he wanted at this juncture in his career. Chemistry and team building is going to be this team’s biggest challenge.

Biggest impact player

Bobby Butler. He is new to the league and to Europe, but Butler probably has just the pedigree to do some major damage at this level, and that is exactly what he has been acquired to do. There is good reason to believe that he will be amongst the league’s top scorers, at least in the second half of the season.

Names you’ll recognize

D Noah Welch, D Ryan Whitney, D Dennis Persson, D Shaun Heshka, F Bill Thomas, F Bobby Butler, F Kyle Wilson, F Maxim Laperriere, F Byron Ritchie

Current NHL draft picks

F Victor Olofsson (BUF) was at times extremely strong last season. He needs to find consistency, but is already an SHL player who will be expected to continue his growth this season.

F Gustav Possler (BUF) had a decent 2014-15 season, but didn’t reach the pace he was on before injuring his ACL in 2013. This is a big year for this youngster.

D Jesper Lindgren (TOR) is a slightly built defenseman who should see some time in the SHL, but is more likely scheduled for junior or Allsvenskan play.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Defenseman Oscar Hedman won’t put up a lot of points, but he is solid as can be and has suited up for Sweden many times internationally.

Best player who was never drafted

Forward Per-Ake Skroder, a Norwegian, has had a big international career and has often been a rock at the SHL level, finding a way to make an offensive impact in more ways than not at this level. He is getting up there in years, though, and his production has been dropping as a result.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

30-year-old Maxim Lapierre and 28-year-old Bobby Butler.

Emil Djuse, 21, has spent parts of two seasons in the SHL and put up four goals and 11 points in 42 games last season. A former WJC team member, it was surprising that he was never drafted, but he has got plenty of time to develop and turn himself into a desirable UFA one day.

Ludvig Nilsson, 21, is a 6’1”, 185-pound winger who was ranked for the draft every year he was eligible, but was never taken. After 11 goals and 32 points for Timra of the Allsvenskan last season, it is felt that he is ready to move on to SHL hockey and continue developing into an impact player.

Scouts are watching closely

Draft-eligible 17-year-old forward Carl Grundstrom is one of the SHL players who is most in the focus of the scouting community this season. Already having forced his way into the lineup last season, Grundstrom is a guy with a nose for the net and just moves in that direction at all times. A very determined player, he is currently felt to be a potential first rounder next summer.

Axel Ottosson is 18 years old and saw 11 games of SHL action last season after putting up 49 points in 42 U20 games. After going undrafted, he has a chance at cracking the lineup this year, and if he manages to contribute, he could very well be the next overage Swede to hear his name called in the NHL Draft.

Nineteen-year-old defenseman Albin Runesson is only 5’10” and 176 pounds, but didn’t look all that out of place in 25 SHL contests last season, in which he registered four assists and +/- rating of 0 on a very poor MODO club. It is hard to tell if he will get more opportunity on such a refitted blueline, though.

Tim Wahlgren, 17, will only see SHL time if injuries get serious, but he dominated U18 play last season and will be looked at to lead the way for the U20 team this season.

Prognosis

No team in the league has this many foreign players with such good credentials. Maxim Lapierre’s acquisition was considered a real coup, because the center was fully expected to have an NHL job this season. Still, the team has several good young Swedes who NHL fans will be hearing about in the future, and it will be management’s job to get everybody on the same page. This is nothing new in MODO, as things have looked like this before and weren’t very successful (like last season for example). In 2015-16, however, we think the team will be a playoff contestant and finally get back on track as a competitive member of the SHL.

6. Linkoping

Already one of the better clubs in the SHL last season, this club has added a new coach and a number of new players after losing three of its four top scorers last season. Featuring a whole bunch of youth on the blueline and a goaltending duo that could really stick out this season, there is hardly any doubt that this team should safely get into the playoffs and could then make some real noise once there. Coach Dan Tangnes will have fun establishing new lines, but there are many reasons to believe things have looked very good in the preseason, so there is little disturbance around the team. With all cylinders on go, finding consistency will be the key.

What’s good

There is a strong goaltending duo featuring young starter Marcus Hogberg, who many feel may top the list amongst Swedish goalies this year. In Daniel Rahimi and Jonas Junland, he has one of the league’s steadiest defensive pairings in front of him keeping opponents honest. There is lots to like up front, as well.

What isn’t

With many new faces comes adjustment and the need to grow together. Linkoping had the best line in the league last season, and a pretty darn good second wave of scoring, as well. Only Broc Little and Nichlas Hardt are returning from that group. The team will be hard-pressed to find that type of chemistry again, even if the new names are shiny. Also, the defensive unit is full of youngsters with NHL potential, but hardly a blueline in the SHL will be this young.

Biggest impact player

Broc Little. With 33 goals and 61 points in 66 games last season, Little was one of the league’s top four scorers. With his partners Jeff Taffe and Jacob McFlikier elsewhere, his continued production will be more crucial than last year – and far more difficult to generate.

Names you’ll recognize

D Chad Billins, D Jonas Junland, F Garrett Roe, F Andrew Gordon, F Nick Sorensen, F Broc Little, F Rhett Rakhshani

Current NHL draft picks

G Marcus Hogberg (OTT) is expected to be the starter. Hogberg was excellent last season until the playoffs rolled around. Many feel he is ready to dominate this season as a 20-year-old.

D Gustav Forsling (CHI) was originally drafted by Vancouver, but Chicago traded for the youngster and may be a long-term beneficiary. Boasting a great eye and a cannon of a one-timer from the point, Forsling is considered one of Sweden’s most promising youngsters. A regular last season with six points in 38 games, Forsling topped off his season with a monster WJC with three goals and eight points.

D Gabriel Carlsson (CBJ), a Columbus Blue Jackets first rounder, is already being looked at as a top-six defenseman this season, and many feel he is so good that he will be off to North America next season. After Forsling, almost a shoe-in for the WJC team.

D Petter Hansson (NYI) appears to have made the top six after posting 15 goals, 34 points, and a +15 in 39 U20 league games last season. He will contend for a WJC spot and grow into a role of responsibility.

D Carl Dahlstrom (CHI), who is already 6’4” and 212 pounds, has a whole SHL season with six points under his belt and got into two AHL games last spring. He is ready for more responsibility now.

F Nick Sorensen (ANA) is coming off a year lost in Sweden after a solid but injury-filled QMJHL career. Sorensen was expected to contribute nicely to a championship run in Skelleftea, but now he is moving into another role for a team who needs him healthy and showing what he can truly do.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Niklas Persson is 36 and has been a consumate pro in Sweden and Russia in recent years. A long-time scorer and national team member, he is here to lead and provide offense. Despite year’s of success and lineage (cousin to Robert and Anders Nilsson), he has never played in North America or as part of an NHL organization.

Best player who was never drafted

F Niklas Persson

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Daniel Rahimi, 28, was said to be close to an NHL contract this past summer. He is an old-school bruiser with two years of AHL experience under his belt. Don’t be surprised to see him head over next summer.

Rhett Rakhshani, 27, curiously left the New York Islanders after two solid AHL seasons at a time where he looked to be right on the cusp of an NHL job. At times outstanding since arriving in Sweden, he is coming off his worst season as a pro, even if he did chip in 12 points during Vaxjo’s championship run.

Broc Little, 27, had a big career at Yale and then exploded on the scene in Sweden right out of college. After a short shot in the AHL, he jetted to Finland, and then back to Sweden where he once again became a top scorer. Another year like that and NHL teams are going to have to revisit this dynamic tot.

Nichlas Hardt, 27, is a smaller Dane who has become a good scorer at the Liiga and SHL levels in recent years. Also a long time member of the Danish National team.

Former St. Louis Blues draft pick Jonas Junland, 27, has seen time in the NHL and was very strong in two AHL seasons. He is now a ‘general’ in the SHL and entertained several offers last summer. Another season with the 40 points he put up last season and a team should be ready to give the husky defenseman some decent money to come over.

American Garrett Roe, 27, was scheduled to play in Switzerland after two seasons in Europe where he has scored exactly a point-per-game for both teams (Salzburg and Munich). If he produces at that clip in Sweden, too, the former Los Angeles Kings pick may be back with an NHL organization as soon as next season.

Chad Billins, 26, had two very strong AHL seasons as an offensive defenseman coming out of Ferris State University. After a decent debut in Europe last season (Moscow and Lulea), he is here to be a power play quarterback and go the Brian Rafalski route to the NHL.

Jacob Lilja, 22, is a six foot, 194-pound forward who put up 24 goals for Rogle last season along with a +16, helping in that team’s promotion. This will be his second go at SHL hockey, and he is a name to watch out for as he has already developed into a mature player with offensive potential.

Scouts are watching closely

He’s 19 and comes from Hungary, but Vilmos Gallo has been in Sweden for several years and had a strong U20 season last year. With a total of 25 points in 15 U20 and U18 games, the six footer is starting to stand out and is felt to be ready to see time at the senior level this season.

19-year-old Henrik Tornqvist is a fast and lanky forward who suited up for Linkoping 59 times last winter. Still undrafted, the team hopes he will contribute a good bit more than four points this winter. Tornqvist is a long-time international for Swedish junior clubs.

Prognosis

Linkoping has the proven players up front to form three good scoring lines. The defense presents three very good veterans and four NHL draftees who are all ready to play in some capacity. With one of the country’s brightest goaltending prospects in goal and a solid veteran backing him up, we see this team safely making the playoffs, then haunting all challengers once there.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin

 

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