The SHL often features a plethora of NHL-drafted forwards who play an important role for their team. This year, two of those forwards, namely Andreas Johnson (TOR) and Lucas Wallmark (CAR), have been absolutely key contributors. Johnson actually finished sixth overall in league scoring and continued adding to his point collection in the playoffs. The playoffs also were a showcase for Wallmark who, after just eight goals in the regular season, scored seven in nine postseason contests.
Aside from those two players, a number of other drafted NHL properties have made their mark on the SHL this past season. It should come as no surprise when a good handful are over in North America next season, with a few hoping to make their debut in the NHL. Several others will likely stay in the SHL until their parent club can assure them a spot on the NHL roster. Several of them are already signed and spent this past season on loan.
Here’s a look at the SHL’s top 10 drafted forward prospects from the 2015-16 season.
1. Andreas Johnson – 2013 7th round, Toronto Maple Leafs
Andreas Johnson is 5’10” and 183 pounds, and simply hasn’t given anybody any reason to believe he won’t have a long and productive career. After having been the SHL Rookie of the Year during the 2013-14 season, he has done nothing but improve year after year after year. As such, he has completed his career-best season at the age of 21, having put up a total of 21 goals, 48 points, and a +11 in 68 SHL games, although he went scoreless over the final eight games of Frolunda’s championship playoff run.
Already signed and being loaned by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the smaller winger continues to show the drive, wherewithal, and innate ability to generate points, although there have always been reasons to believe he will not be cut out for bigger things as a pro. Slight in stature and at times easy to separate from the puck, it is his one-ice vision and untaught nose for the net that keeps him surviving and excelling.
With Toronto fans already ecstatic about having fellow Swedes William Nylander and Dmytro Timashov in the system, the love for Swedish scoring threats may get all that much more intense once Johnson shows up on the scene.
2. Lucas Wallmark – 2014 5th round, Carolina Hurricanes
Lucas Wallmark has been talked about for years as an extremely talented and crafty player whose heart has been taken into question and whose skating has regularly been seen as below average. At this point, though, the Carolina Hurricanes have to be thinking there is hardly a safer fifth round pick a team could make than Wallmark.
Already a sensation last year with a strong six-point World Juniors to complement 23 SHL points, Wallmark has taken things to an entirely different level this season. At this point, it should amaze no one if he is on Sweden’s World Championship team in Russia this month, as he has become a key go-to guy at the SHL level. After showing some deft playmaking throughout the regular season in collecting 24 assists, the trickster with an excellent eye for the game became Lulea’s sniper extraordinaire in the playoffs (seven goals in 11 games). All in all, he has collected 15 goals, 41 points and a +6 rating in 59 games. There’s little doubt that Wallmark will spend next season in North America as Carolina feels he can be a nice long-term complement to what is becoming a growing cast of Swedish impact players.
3. Victor Olofsson – 2014 7th round, Buffalo Sabres
Yet another seventh rounder doing more than any could have expected, Victor Olofsson came out of nowhere in the 2014-15 season and put his name on the SHL map with 10 goals and 18 points in 39 games. Wondering what he could do as an encore in a lineup loaded with (ultimately disappointing) established international veterans, Olofsson was an absolute bright spot in a club full of negative headlines, chipping in 20 goals, 37 points and a +10 rating in 56 games for a MODO club that was relegated from the league just last week. He doesn’t have to worry about his future, though, as he is already signed with Frolunda for the next season and may not even wind up there if he is able to impress the Buffalo Sabres‘ brass heading into next season.
What makes Olofsson very exciting is that he and his 5’11”, 172-pound frame have done nothing but exceed expectations since being drafted, while his wrist shot can be off the charts. Surely another season as productive as this one for Olofsson will leave few doubting that a season across the ocean is in the near future.
4. Oskar Lindblom – 2014 5th round, Philadelphia Flyers
For many, Oskar Lindblom is the truest winner amongst the SHL’s drafted forwards in this season. Playing for an upstart Brynas club that spent 75% of the year in contention for a top-3 spot in the standings, Lindblom was often a mainstay on the first line and power play. Seen as a complementary player, this became more evident than ever while playing with the team’s brightest stars, as he was constantly able to get them the puck or free pathways on the attack. The 6’1”, 192-pound winger has a strong ability to get through the battles along the boards and in front of the goal, where he can be quite tricky in making life dangerous for opposing forwards.
Due to this style and his eye for his teammates, many feel his game will translate well to North American ice. This was the case after his SHL season ended, as he put up seven points in eight AHL games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, raising a lot of eyebrows among Philadelphia Flyers faithful. Back in Sweden he concluded his second SHL season with nine goals, 28 points, and +5 rating in 51 games. Just how valuable he can be was also placed on display at the 2016 World Junior Championship where he contributed three goals and six points in seven games. The future looks bright for a kid who threw a few question marks out there during his draft year, but has done nothing but progress ever since.
5. Johan Sundstrom – 2011 2nd round, New York Islanders
At age 23 and definitely the most unique case amongst players mentioned in this rubric, Johan Sundstrom spent three years with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL, experiencing injury problems throughout much of the final two campaigns. Uncertain of his NHL possibilities and coming off his statistically worst season in North America, Sundstrom decided to put his career back on track in Sweden – with the consent of the New York Islanders, who have retained his rights. The move appears to have been the best thing possible.
Often playing on a line with the above-mentioned Johnson, Sundstrom’s season just culminated in a championship and finals MVP nomination after having been a cog in Frolunda’s attack all season. Without a doubt one of the league’s biggest scoring surprises, Sundstrom went about collecting 20 goals, 45 points, 30 penalty minutes, and a +24 rating in powering his team to a championship.
Whatever happens, his season may end with an appearance with the national team in Russia this month. In light of some big-name UFAs and a number of contractual decisions to make this and next summer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Sundstrom once again becomes part of the Islanders’ plans.
6. Artturi Lehkonen – 2013 2nd round, Montreal Canadiens
Yet another of Frolunda’s terribly talented young guns, Artturi Lehkonen has picked up things considerably this season after having made the surprise leap from Finland to the SHL last season. It was a strong 16-goal, 33-point regular season, but Lehkonen turned it up several notches in the postseason and powered Frolunda to its championship with 11 goals and 19 points in six games. This was accompanied by a +11 rating, giving him a +17 over the course of the whole season.
A smaller player at 5’11” and 176 pounds, Lehkonen is a winger full of intangibles and with a good bit speed to burn. Becoming more and more capable in all three zones, he is a heart-and-soul type that every team likes to have in their lineup. His propensity to find the back of the net in pressure situations has become uncanny. This said, Lehkonen still has plenty to improve on, so it may be the Montreal Canadiens’ decision to bring him over for nurturing as soon as next season. Nonetheless, he would then be one of many smaller offensive products in the system. What remains to be seen is if he will be taken into consideration for the Finnish national side during the IIHF World Championship in Russia.