The first Swedish Hockey League (SHL) notebook of the 2015-16 season includes a look at the top teams in the league through early season action, plus the highlighting of some significant contributions from NHL prospects or players that could become NHL property before too long.
The SHL season is well underway, and after a little more than a third of the season, the favorites have clearly established themselves. Hockey’s Future saw the Frolunda Indians, the youngest club in the league, to be the championship favorite heading into the season. With a 17-3 record after 20 games, they have done nothing but support the notion that they will be a force to be reckoned with right on up to the finals.
At the same time, Frolunda is clearly the most interesting team from an NHL standpoint due to the presence of a large number of young, mostly drafted talent on the team. Having greatly contributed to the team’s success are NHL properties and forwards Johan Sundstrom (NYI, 10 goals, 17 points, +14 in 19 games), Andreas Johnson (TOR, seven goals, 16 points in 20 games) and defensemen Henrik Tommernes (VAN, two goals, 14 points, +9 in 20 games), Jacob Larsson (ANA, three goals, six points, +11 in 20 games), and Tom Nilsson (five assists and +8 in 12 games).
Particularly impressive has been Artturi Lehkonen, a Montreal Canadiens 2013 second rounder who has seven goals, 15 points, and a +4 in 20 games after having collected just 22 points in 60 games all of last season.
Gaining interest in the scouting community must be 21-year-old right-shooting defenseman Lukas Bengtsson, who has four goals and 10 points as well as a +9 in 20 games while logging nearly 20 minutes of playing time per night. A top-scoring defenseman for the past two seasons in the Allsvenskan, the 5’10”, 181-pound defenseman has been proving his worth right from the first day of the season.
Frolunda prospect sidenote
Only sixteen years of age, Finn Kristian Vesalainen has gotten into four games this season and has one point and a +1 rating. At 6’3” and 203 pounds, he’s quickly rising to the top of the charts amongst 2017 draft eligibles. Young for a Finnish international, he shares the same agent as the aforementioned Lehkonen.
Right behind Frolunda is the league’s reigning powerhouse, Skelleftea, scratching up 16 victories in their first 20 games. This comes as no surprise, as the team has attended five straight SHL finals and continues to set the tone in the league, especially impressive due to the number of younger players receiving prime roles on the team. Whereas leading scorer Patrik Zackrisson (25 points, +17 in 20 games) and former Penguin Janne Pesonen (19 points, +9 in 17 games) are leading the way offensively, contributions are coming from throughout the lineup.
Taking a regular shift is defenseman Marcus Pettersson (ANA, three points and +12 in 20 games), who is already considered a stalwart. Colorado’s Anton Lindholm has only managed to appear in seven games this season and has one assist. Last year’s Defenseman of the Year and former Anaheim Ducks pick Tim Heed has 10 points and continues to be the team’s ne plus ultra power play quarterback. He is technically an unrestricted free agent in the eyes of the NHL.
Still making noise are two youngsters who have been passed over in drafts through no fault of their own. We have often discussed defenseman Sebastian Aho, who has five points and has averaged 14 minutes of ice time per game over 17 games, but last spring’s U18 overachiever Sebastian Ohlsson has etched out a fairly regular shift for himself, contributing three points in 17 contests. His achievements to date have him nearing his way to a WJC performance. Some feel he plays a lot like current Nashville Predators prospect, Viktor Arvidsson.
The league’s current third place club is the surprise of the year. Brynas has managed to accumulate 13 victories in 20 games, with two of their losses coming in overtime.
Leading the way is the league’s top scorer, Anton Rodin. The former Vancouver Canucks draft pick is now 24 and has 13 goals and 28 points in 20 games. After a career-best 47 points in 61 games last season, many felt he would be among the league’s top 10 scorers this season, but his knack for being in the middle of things has never been as obvious as it is now. At this point, one would have to expect him back in North America by next season – likely right in the NHL.
The good news here for Philadelphia Flyers fans is that 2014 fifth rounder Oskar Lindblom is seeing significant ice time in key situations and is among the top three in scoring among NHL-drafted SHL prospects with four goals and 15 points. More impressive is his ability to mesh well with a number of different, usually older and more established linemates. Overall, Lindblom is fourth in scoring on the team and sports a +13 rating.
Another surprise is Rogle. A newbie like Malmo and Karlskrona, the green-and-white had a hard time coming out of the gate, but have managed to creep up to spot #11, putting up a big battle for 10th place in the standings. Having a big hand in the success of this otherwise low-scoring team is none other than starting goalie Oscar Dansk. Loaned out to Rogle, the Columbus Blue Jackets 2012 second rounder has let in 32 goals on 392 shots for a 2.33 goals-against average and .918 save percentage while collecting a 6-7-1 record. Most impressive is that, despite initial problems in adjusting after several seasons in North America, Dansk has buckled down in recent weeks and has this team playing their best hockey yet.
While newcomer Karlskrona entered the season with a lineup barely considered sufficient for the league, and thus their one regulation victory in 20 games is no real surprise (even if quite telling), MODO has gotten off to a horrendous 5-15 start despite having entered the season with a roster full of players with NHL experience. In fact, no team in the league came close to the combined NHL experience that the Markus Naslund-run team has been throwing on the ice. The lack of success already began with Ryan Whitney ending his career after just two games (and a -4 rating). Still, whether Bobby Butler, Maxim Lapierre, Kyle Wilson, Noah Welch, Bill Thomas, Patrick Dwyer, Joel Kwiatkowski, or captain Byron Ritchie, no amount of NHL experience has been able to right this ship. It cost Canadian coach Larry Huras his job, which is now held by former NHL forward Andreas Johansson.
Although Butler (14 points) and Wilson (11) are first and third in team scoring, the team’s bright spots have clearly been Buffalo Sabres prospects Victor Olofsson and Gustav Possler, who check in at 12 and 11 points respectively. They’ve each averaged 15 or more minutes of playing time per game and have been contributing more and more as Huras’ coaching term began coming to a close. There is plenty of time for the team to get back into the race for the tenth spot in the standings, from which they are currently 10 points removed.
Since having returned from his successful camp with the Carolina Hurricanes, forward Lucas Wallmark has been producing at the same clip for Lulea this season as William Nylander did for MODO last season at this time. Wallmark is second on the team with two goals and 16 points in 16 games, getting almost 17 minutes of ice time per game. His 14 assists tie him for fifth overall in the league.
Just as fascinating has been Dallas Stars‘ 2013 third rounder Niklas Hansson who, before getting injured, had taken the league by storm, accumulating four goals and 14 points in 17 games while logging more than 22 minutes of ice time per game. Already having been a bright light on Rogle’s Allsvenskan blueline last season (25 points in 57 games), he has produced in a manner few would have expected in this, his initial SHL season. Did we mention he is a 20-year-old defenseman?
Another bright spot in the SHL is Chicago Blackhawks prospect, Gustav Forsling. Known for his cannon of a one-timer from the blueline, he has contributed two goals and 10 points along with a +8 rating in his 20 appearances. Despite being just 19, Forsling is a top-four defenseman for the fourth place Linkoping club.
Last season, both forward Daniel Viksten and defenseman Linus Hultstrom arrived on the SHL scene in a big way. Coming into this season, they both had much to prove as many prior, surprisingly good young players have just as quickly vanished into anonymity shortly thereafter. Up to now, it doesn’t look like this will be the case for either player.
Viksten, 26, currently leads his club Orebro in every major offensive category. With eight goals, 20 points, a +6 rating, and just under 17 minutes of ice time per night, there is no doubting his importance to his team’s success. His ever evolving, power-forward style has led him to the type of confidence that could land him a spot on the National team come next spring.
Likewise, Hultstrom has been irreplaceable for his new team Djurgarden, which in Robin Press (CHI), Adam Ollas Mattsson (CGY), Andreas Englund (OTT), and Robin Norrell (CHI) features four under-21 NHL draftees seeing regular ice time. Only 22 himself, he registers over 20 minutes of ice time per game and has been the team’s go-to guy with five goals, 13 points, and a +9 rating in 20 games to date.
There is little or no doubt that both are on the radar for several NHL teams.
Moving on up
Drafted in the third round by the New York Rangers last summer, forward Robin Kovacs led his AIK Stockholm team (Allsvenskan) in scoring with 19 goals and 35 points in 62 games last season. After starting this season with nine goals and 14 points in 19 games, Kovacs has now been called up to Rogle of the SHL. He has one assist and a -6 rating in his first two games with the team. Before the call-up, he was seen as Sweden’s top U20 player not already playing in the SHL. Expect to see Kovacs playing for Sweden at the 2016 World Junior Championship.
The top Swedish prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft are MODO’s Carl Grundstrom and Farjestad’s Rasmus Asplund. Both were already SHL players last season, and both have been regulars this season, but neither is excelling in an offensive capacity as yet.
For Grundstrom, his goal and six points are accompanied by a -2 rating, which is middle of the road for the league’s biggest underachiever. His power hockey style has already led to 20 penalty minutes and he continues to show the tendency of driving hard to the net, especially when he has the puck. An average of over 12 minutes of ice time per game may even increase with the new coach and as the season progresses.
As for Asplund, last spring’s U18 captain, it shouldn’t be alarming that being part of a deep, low-scoring club expected to contend has led to a modest four points and +4 rating in roughtly 11 minutes of average ice time. He is still doing what is expected of him on a veteran-laden club and finds ways to contribute off the scoresheet, as his 23 shots on goal and 10 hits attest. A likely WJC team member, there is little doubt that Asplund would be playing a bigger role with a number of other SHL teams. In addition, his modest stats are not too far behind that of Joel Eriksson Ek‘s seven points, with Eriksson Ek seeing over a minute more ice time per game.
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