As far as the NHL Draft is concerned, hardly a year has gone by in the past decade without a Swedish goalie being taken at some point during the proceedings. In recent years, the count is three in 2015, three in 2014, and two in 2013.
Of these goaltenders, several have turned into important components for their team at either the SHL or Allsvenskan levels. Both leagues are highly valued as professional and developmental leagues, and the SHL in particular has amazed pundits on both sides of the ocean, having practically dominated Champions Hockey League play the past two winters while featuring boatloads of players aged 23 or younger. This has made it one of the best leagues in which to measure goaltender progress.
During the 2015-16 season, four drafted goaltenders went about producing excellent results in either the SHL or Allsvensken. Here’s a look at the top five drafted Swedish goalies plying their trade in Sweden.
1. Marcus Hogberg – Third round, 2013, Ottawa Senators
He has been afforded plenty of time to ripen, and Marcus Hogberg has pretty much made full use of that development time. Regarded highly in his draft year, Hogberg has spent the past two seasons serving as Linkoping’s goaltender 1A. In 2014-15, he stood in goal for all six playoff games, but did not see a minute of play during Linkoping’s postseason this season. A gut feeling by the coach whose team exited in the first round?
In any case, Hogberg saw action in 28 regular season games this season and put up a strong 2.31 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, numbers just slightly below his 2014-15 season (over the course of 27 games). More importantly, he went 14-8-5 in this period of time and pitched two shutouts. Taking these decent, yet not entirely uncommon, SHL numbers into account, one must note that he manned the nets behind a defensive group that featured three regulars aged 19 or younger, however highly-touted they may be. Physically dominating at 6’5” and 209 pounds, questions abound as to whether he will be brought to North America or allowed to continue playing in the SHL, where he is expected to be Linkoping’s full-time starter next season.
2. Felix Sandstrom – Third round, 2015, Philadelphia Flyers
It has been quite a year for the 6’2”, 187-pound Felix Sandstrom, who went from a disappointing 2015 U18 World Championship where he was Sweden’s clear-cut starter, to a renowned back-up goalie for an upstart Brynas team this past season. Along the way, he got in three performances at the WJC, two of which were fantastic, before allowing 8 goals against in an 8-3 loss to the U.S., which unfortunately came in the bronze medal game.
But his regular season in the SHL is and will remain the true story for the well-schooled goaltender who plays a careful game. Not even expected to be in the SHL, he put up a 10-12-2 record for a surprisingly strong Brynas team that at times was ranked as high as second in the standings. In the process, he put up a 2.61 goals-against average and .904 save percentage before being overrun in the playoffs (3.60 GAA, .892 SV % in two games). Still, this cannot detract from the wonderful season he had at such a young age, having started the season as an 18-year-old. While the Flyers can be ecstatic about his overall season, there is still much for Sandstrom to learn, and he will head into the next season with the added pressure of ‘expectations’. Brynas is certainly counting on Sandstrom getting stronger after getting his feet more than wet this season.
3. Linus Soderstrom – Fourth round, 2014, New York Islanders
Like his World Junior colleague Sandstrom, this has been quite a season for Linus Soderstrom, who has somewhat risen to prominence thanks to an incredible performance at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship that earned him the award as the tournament’s top goaltender. In his second WJC as Sweden’s starter, Soderstom put up a 1.42 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in his five outings. His only loss came in a close, one-goal game against archrival and eventual gold medalist, Finland. His wonderful tournament came in the light of the news that Soderstrom suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and has faced a number of challenges in order to play sports in general, much less handle a position as physically and mentally draining as that of a goalie in ice hockey.
During the regular season, Soderstrom was on loan from Djurgarden to Vita Hasten of the Allsvenskan and shared goaltending duties as the 1B. He saw action in 17 games in which he put up an outstanding 1.86 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Djurgarden has watched its goalies disappear and signed Adam Reideborn away from MODO for next season. It will be no surprise if Soderstrom is in the SHL as well, especially considering the plethora of goaltenders and goaltending prospects the Islanders currently have under contract.
4. Jonas Johansson – Third round, 2014, Buffalo Sabres
Not lacking in Swedish goaltenders in the system (see Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark), the Buffalo Sabres will be able to take a comfortable wait-and-see approach with Jonas Johansson, who was very highly touted after a solid U18 performance as an underager in 2013. The 6’4”, 205-pound giant leaves little space to get the puck by him, but is still working on the mechanics of his position as well as his overall mental game.
A Brynas prospect like Sandstrom, Johansson spent the entire season in the Allsvenskan tending goal for Almtuna, which plays in the university town of Uppsala. After just nine games for Almtuna last season, Johansson saw no lack of rubber in deflecting pucks in 42 regular season games (2.39 GAA, .913 SV %) and four postseason contests (3.01 GAA, .892 SV %). All in all, a very productive season that allowed him to be the number one in a pro league at the age of 20. As for next season, the question begs as to whether he is SHL-ready (most feel he is) and if so, where will he play as Brynas will not necessarily be ready to place it’s entire goaltending responsibilities into the hands of a couple of goaltenders aged 21 and 20. The Sabres would surely like to see him facing lots of shots next season.
5. Joren van Pottelberghe – Fourth round, 2015, Detroit Red Wings
If the name doesn’t seem quite Swedish to you, you would be correct. Having spent three seasons in Sweden, Joren van Pottelberghe hails from Zug, Switzerland, and is scheduled to spend the 2016-17 season there as part of the HC Davos program, which feels Van Pottelberghe could challenge for a starting spot heading into next season. That said, his name may not sound all that Swiss or German to you, either, and you would be correct on that front as well. The son of Belgian immigrants, Van Pottelberghe is hoping to become the biggest goaltending name in Belgian hockey since John Vanbiesbrouck (who was American with Belgian roots).
Having spent this past season with Linkoping in Sweden, Van Pottelberghe has enjoyed a strong schooling over the past three seasons. Although he didn’t get a shot in the SHL, he plied his trade in the U20 league to the tune of a 2.63 goals-against average and poorer .896 save percentage. He did appear in six games for Switzerland at the WJC, however, where he was at least in net for maintaining the class in a tournament where he couldn’t be a difference-maker when push came to shove. In general, the skills and fundamentals are there and Van Pottelberghe will have to work on his mental game while simply gaining experience. It would appear the Detroit Red Wings will give him plenty of time to grow before entertaining thoughts of signing him and bringing him over, a practice that is not uncommon for the organization.
Oscar Dansk is signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and has been loaned to Rogle of the SHL. There, he had a 2.68 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 36 contests, putting up a 12-19-3 record along the way for a team that spent part of the year being quite the upstart. At this point, the 22-year-old is expected to return to Rogle for next season.
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