2015-16 SHL Preview, Pt. 3: Frolunda, Skelleftea should battle for league supremacy

By Chapin Landvogt
Joel Eriksson Ek - Farjestad Karlstad; Toni Rajala - Lulea Hockey - Champions Hockey League

Photo: Teammates during the 2014-15 season, Farjestad forward and Minnesota Wild prospect Joel Eriksson Ek (L) and Lulea forward Toni Rajala (R) now are on opposing teams in 2015-16, with Farjestad and Lulea both being among the top clubs in the SHL (courtesy of Farjestad Karlstad/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

 

 

Parts one and two covered the teams ranked sixth through 14th in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the 2015-16 season. Now, part three of this Hockey’s Future season preview looks at the top five teams in the SHL, as ranked by HF. The top five includes 2014-15 league champion, the Vaxjo Lakers, as well as perennial contender Skelleftea. Vaxjo defeated Skelleftea in the finals last season to take the SHL championship.

5. Farjestad

It was a year to forget for one of Sweden’s most successful franchises. A good bit removed from more successful ventures, last year’s Farjestad team looked promising going in but flopped across the board. Everyone from top prospect Oliver Kylington to star acquisition Shawn Lalonde slumped from the get-go, and by the season’s 20th game it seemed too late to right the ship. Additions were made and new players like Toni Rajala made things happen, but it was too little, too late as Farjestad saw their late season surge end in an unceremonious pre-playoff bow-out. Now the team feels it has righted its ship with a whole bundle of off-season acquisitions and will take another run at the championship, something it has done many times in its long and storied history.

What’s good

After a terrible season by this franchise’s standards, the club has made a lot of additions, moves that are looking very good on paper. Getting captain Magnus Nygren back means a world of difference for a completely remodeled blueline. Point-collector Milan Gudas did quite well last season all things considered, but now he’s got several solid centers, perhaps even Robbie Earl, to work and harmonize with. That could mean that his 40 points turn into 60. The team is set at every position to start the season.

What’s not

Continuity is simply not there. For example, the team added five new defensemen who still have to learn to gel. Farjestad has to find itself and develop chemistry. New heroes need to be found and get the job done throughout the entire season. And the club surely feels the need to win back their fans again.

Biggest impact player

Milan Gudas. Since arriving in Farjestad, the Czech winger has been the team’s go-to guy offensively. Other than in a less successful stint in the KHL, Gudas has been a scorer everywhere he has played. Good reason to believe this will be his best season yet. By the way, he is only 5’9”.

Names you’ll recognize

G Justin Pogge, D Jonas Holos, D Magnus Nygren, F Sebastian Erixon, F Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, F Robbie Earl, F Marius Holtet, F Johan Ryno, F John Persson, F Rickard Wallin, F Mikael Johansson

Current NHL draft picks

F Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN), a first round selection last summer, is already armed with a contract which raises expectations for the 6‘2“ forward. A nice all-around player who already plays with a maturity far beyond his age, there is much to look forward to from this up-and-comer. He may be in North America as soon as next season.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Forward Linus Persson, 29, is a skilled winger of decent size who never really has posted the type of numbers his style of play would make you think he is capable of. Lacking the typical astute defensive game expected of Swedish players, he is an important depth player that every contender loves to have in its lineup.

Best player who was never drafted

Norwegian Martin Roymark is a 28-year-old forward who has been a solid SHL player for six seasons and a mainstay for the Norwegian national team. A two-way player who is best known for his defensive acumen, he continues to be an important third-liner for whatever team he plays for.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Johan Ryno, 29, is a hulking 6’5” and 216 pounds and has been one of the top Swedish wingers in the SHL the past two seasons. Never one for season-long consistency, it’s almost shocking that he hasn’t given the NHL another shot. It has not been due to a lack of inquiries, however.

Lars Haugen, 28 is Norway’s go-to guy in goal and is starting his SHL career after four seasons for Dynamo Minsk of the KHL.

Sebastian Erixon, 26, is a highly skilled and dependable defenseman coming off a championship with Vaxjo. More of a defensive defenseman, he certainly has the skill level to get his name on the score sheet more often.

Magnus Nygren, 25, had some pretty decent AHL numbers for the Montreal Canadiens, but the slapshot king has never been more successful than when he is playing for this Farjestad club, for whom he is an idol. Many feel the 6-foot, 194-pound defenseman could still have an NHL career at some point.

John Persson, 23, is returning to Sweden after three AHL seasons for the New York Islanders organization and three seasons of WHL play, where he was once a linemate of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. His first AHL season was his best and now he is ready to get his career back on track for a potential return to the NHL one day. Featuring 223 pounds on a 6’2” body, Persson is built like a tank.

Daniel Gunnarsson, 23, is 6’4” and 201 pounds and was drafted by the Minnesota Wild. This will be his fifth SHL season, but his development the past two seasons seems to have stagnated. He does have time to get his career back on track, though.

Joakim Nygard, 22, is a mid-sized winger who has had three good initial years in the SHL and appears ready to take on a bigger role.

Johan Olofsson, 21, is a little tyke who was a scorer in juniors and was worked into the lineup in a lower line role last season. His skill set indicates that he’ll be a scorer at some point.

Victor Ejdsell, 20, is looking to play his first full SHL season after 12 games last season and a high-scoring U20 junior league season. At 6’5” and 214 pounds, any ability to translate that junior production to the men’s level will have Ejdsell outside of Sweden before he is 25.

Scouts are watching closely

Draft-eligible Rasmus Asplund is one of the top two Swedish prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft. With a season of SHL play under his belt as well as a captaincy for Sweden at the U18, Asplund is currently seen as a likely first round talent. For a team that has 16 forwards in its lineup, it is hard to tell whether Asplund will see the whole season with the big club, but that is where he will start it. A likely member of this winter’s WJC squad.

Goalie Adam Werner is 6’4” and will be expected to man the pipes for the club’s U20 team. He may be just one injury away from a backup job in the SHL. A likely U18 team member next April.

Prognosis

Farjestad has everything it takes to contend. If and once Coach Tommy Samuelsson gets everybody on the same page, we feel this club will not see its season end until the semifinals of the playoffs.

4. Vaxjo

The Vaxjo Lakers are coming off a huge season in which they took their first SHL gold in only their fourth year in the league. It wasn’t easy and in many ways was first made possible with some late season additions, namely those of Jeff Tambellini, Josh Hennessy, and Jani Lajunen, and a rejuvenated Rhett Rakhshani, who made a big playoff impact after having disappeared during the regular season. Of that group, only Hennessy remains. Losing Noah Welch, Sebastian Erixon, Nick Johnson and Toni Kallio would seem a heavy blow as well.

Nonetheless, the club has retained a good bit of its core and has added a number of players who many feel will continue to make a considerable difference in defending their new title. Coach Sam Hallam is considered one of the true up-and-comers in the league and the fans will be expecting nothing less than a return to the finals.

What’s good

Continuity is ensured and now there is a winning tradition. In Cory Murphy, the team has the league’s top defenseman while returnee Richard Gynge could be just the local kick-start the team needs to keep the motor running full speed.

What isn’t

The team did lose a few important players who have not – on paper – been replaced with equivalent pieces. Goalie Cristopher Nilstorp was good enough in the playoffs, but put in a yeoman’s effort before that.

Biggest impact player

Cory Murphy. The league’s top defenseman has been a point-producing machine for two years now, and no other team has found a way to completely make him ineffective.

Names you’ll recognize

G Cristopher Nilstorp, D Teemu Laakso, D Cory Murphy, F Ilkka Heikkinen, F Josh Hennessy, F Liam Reddox

Current NHL draft picks

None.

Best Swede who never had an NHL shot

Forward Robert Rosen, 28, is a fairly consistent scorer who always found a way to create scoring opportunities.

Best player who was never drafted

Forward Richard Gynge, who has been an offensive producer in top European leagues.

Older players you may still see in the NHL one day

Winger Joakim Hillding, 27, looked like he may be getting offers from NHL teams last summer. Then he and Farjestad flopped last season. A rebound season as a top-six winger could reignite interest.

Defender Eddie Larsson, 24, has been etching out a role as a defensive defenseman and many feel he does it as well as anyone in the league.

Goalie Stefan Steen, 22, arrived in the SHL last season with a top-flight backup performance in 25 games. This could be the season he becomes a number one.

Calle Rosen, 21, is considered a real riser amongst older prospects, and after collecting 30 points (including 12 goals) as a defenseman for Rogle in the Allsvenskan last season, he is sure to get all the opportunity in the world to show just how SHL-ready he is now.

Scouts are watching closely

Draft-eligible young 17-year-old defenseman Alexander Andersson is likely to spend the whole season playing for the club’s U18 and U20 teams, but he should get a look at the SHL level at some point. The talk is that he has the tools and already had 24 points in 37 U20 league games as a 16-year-old. You may see him at the U18 World Championship next spring.

Prognosis

There is still a lot to like in this lineup and situation, but the champion has to replace some players who helped big-time in that championship run. Anything is possible come playoff time, but we feel Vaxjo will have to get over the honeymoon in the regular season. Teams are gunning for them, now.

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