For European clubs, the end of the regular season is approaching rapidly, so we will soon be seeing how Sweden’s top prospects perform when push comes to shove in the playoffs.
Several have already shown how they handle the pressures of the IIHF World Junior Championship, where Sweden’s top two NHL Draft-eligible prospects showed themselves to be very capable in helping Team Sweden to a fourth-place finish after having been the tournament’s top team in the preliminary round.
Looking ahead to the 2016 NHL Draft, only one major Swedish prospect, forward Alexander Nylander, is playing outside of the country. Currently one of the top scorers (69 points in 47 games) for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, Nylander has the opportunity to live with his father, former NHL forward Michael Nylander, and brother William, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ top prospect and one of the top players in the world outside of the NHL.
Once again, Sweden will be providing a number of talents that NHL teams will take into heavy consideration this coming June, even if several are overagers. In general, this year’s batch does not feature as much glamour as in recent years.
Below is the top 10 prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft competing in Sweden.
1. Rasmus Asplund – F (Center/Winger)
Already in his second season with Farjestad of the SHL, Asplund’s role has already grown exponentially this season, going from fourth-line spot duty to a regular shift on a line expected to produce. Measuring in at 5’11” and 176 pounds, his size might indicate that he is not prime first round material, but Asplund does not allow it to affect him or prevent him from playing a tough, meat-and-bone game while capably carrying out all of the tasks a coach would ask of a forward.
Moreover, after captaining Team Sweden at the 2015 U18 World Championship (two goals and five points in five games), Asplund just completed the 2016 U20 World Junior Championship as one of Sweden’s top players, having lined up with likely first rounder Alex Nylander and Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect, Dymitro Timashov. There, Asplund collected three goals and five points along with a +3 rating while clearly being one of Sweden’s most serviceable players.
Becoming a player who more and more sticks out due to a winner’s gene, Asplund’s draft season in the SHL has been very much like that of teammate – and often linemate – Joel Eriksson Ek’s, who was drafted in the first round last summer by the Minnesota Wild. To date, Rasmus has collected four goals and 11 points in 39 games in 2015-16.
2. Carl Grundstrom – F (Winger)
A power winger by trade, Carl Grundstrom arrived on the SHL scene last season, accumulating five points over a 24-game span. This came on the heels of 36 points in 27 games for MODO’s U20 squad, a considerable feat for a 17-year-old. Despite his age, Grundstrom was already able to display a physically strong presence and readiness to crash the net. This led him straight onto the U18 national team, for which he had five points and 10 penalty minutes in five games while being part of a team that easily got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs.
Things have only improved this season for Grundstrom. Already having accumulated six goals, 14 points and 53 penalty minutes in 42 SHL games for a lacking MODO club, Grundstrom was also a lock for the 2016 WJC squad, where he contributed one goal while taking on a yeoman’s role for a stacked squad. He is currently felt to be a sure-fire top-45 pick next summer, but there are plenty questioning just how much offensive upside the burgeoning power forward will ultimately be able to supply.
3. Jonathan Dahlen – F (Center/Winger)
Son to former NHL forward and current coach Ulf Dahlen, Jonathan Dahlen was already a standout for Team Sweden at the 2015 U18 World Championship, where he quietly had five points in five games for a disappointing Swedish team and showed a high level of on-ice sense and the ability to avoid checks while moving the puck effectively.
After a huge year for Timra’s U20 squad last season, in which he put up 26 goals and 52 points in 42 games, Dahlen has immediately stepped into a scoring role for Timra’s Allsvenskan team and been one of the league’s top revelations. In 47 games to date, he has gone about collecting 14 goals and 25 points while quietly managing a -2 rating. As such, his season has been much like the draft season of New York Rangers‘ 2015 third rounder Robin Kovacs (currently with Rogle of the SHL), and he may yet surpass Kovacs’ totals from last season. This said, Dahlen only measures in at 5’11” and 176 pounds, so he will have to spend next season proving that his good play against men this year is not just a matter of circumstance with a club that was willing to hand him responsibility.
4. Filip Gustavsson – G
At 6’2” and 185 pounds, Filip Gustavsson already features wonderful size and weight for a goaltender his age. The goaltending star of the most recent Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (2.11 goals-against and .930 save percentage in five games), Gustavsson is the likely starter-in-waiting for Team Sweden for this spring’s U18 WC outing in North Dakota. This said, his season hasn’t been one to write home about for the technically well-schooled goaltender, as his 17 games of U20 play for the Lulea program have only led to a 3.53 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, numbers hardly indicative of a top-flight goaltender worthy of a draft selection.
Quite the opposite has been the case in his three SHL outings this season, where he has filled in adequately and shown an ability to keep his cage relatively puck-free behind a more mature defense. There, Gustavsson has sported a 2.02 goals-against and .902 save percentage. As the summer approaches, one would have to think that Gustavsson’s U18 World Championship performance will be crucial for his draft position.
5. Lucas Carlsson – D
At this time last year, it was felt that Lucas Carlsson would be a likely draft pick in 2015. After all, he was having a fine season and was soon on his way to the U18 tournament. But at that tournament, Carlsson did little help his team or his cause, and reason to doubt his upside became apparent.
That tide has changed now for the 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman. While it was unknown just what exactly this season would have in store for him, the overager has arrived on the scene for Brynas’ SHL club in a manner making him more than deserving of a second look. To date, the mobile rearguard has put up three goals and seven points in 29 games. This came on the heels of 11 points in 15 U20 league games, making him the first call-up once injuries occurred. More impressive is that several offensive actions to date have been of the highlight reel variety.
Nonetheless, Carlsson is sporting a -5 rating and has much to work on in rounding out his game. A relatively weak crop of viable NHL defensive prospects has him ranked above the rest at midseason.
6. Jacob Cederholm – D
A natural-born winner and true captain material, Jacob Cederholm came into the season as Sweden’s top defensive prospect. Blessed with a statesman’s demeanor and a physically fit 6’3” frame, the 190-pounder is mobile and ready to play a physically punishing game. As expected, he put in a strong showing at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and has all the makings of solid defensive defenseman down the line. As such, he has seen nine games of spot duty with HV71 in the SHL this season and remains promising despite a -5 rating, although not quite there yet.
Surely disappointing, however, is that his offensive game has made little to no real headway. In 32 U20 contests, he is sporting a decent +4 rating, but only has five points to date, numbers a variety of less talented players have trumped in this and in recent seasons. That offensive ability is present is displayed in the seven points Cederholm has in six U18 league games.
Chances remain very good that his name will be called within the first four rounds of the 2016 NHL Draft, even if he is too old for the U18 championship this spring.