Another season has come and gone, and Sweden is again looking to see a number of their young hockey prospects become NHL properties. Nonetheless, it will probably be fewer than in recent years where it has been commonplace to see upwards of 20 Swedes being taken in the NHL Draft.
The highest ranked Swede for the 2016 NHL Draft will likely be taken late in the first round of the draft, but this is only because Alexander Nylander, a very likely top 10 pick, is considered a North American after his OHL season with the Mississauga Steelheads. From the Ivan Hlinka tournament to the U18, all Nylander did was score wherever he played. In particular, the fact that he had over a point per game at the 2016 World Junior Championship (WJC) is very telling about where he is at and that he has no need to hide in the shadow of his brother William, who could very possibly end up being an in-division rival if the draft turns out as many suspect it might.
What Sweden can offer is one of the highest ranked goalies in this draft, Filip Gustavsson. Despite numbers that some would consider workmanlike, Gustavsson’s performances at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the U18 World Championship have many in the scouting community singing his praises. The top-ranked European goalie across the board, Gustavsson has the type of size, schooling, reactions, and mental strength every team is looking for in a goalie his age.
After that, a potpourri of smaller, talented forwards and older, impressive defensemen should build the bulk of the Swedes grabbed in this draft. As in many years before, there are a few youngsters who already look like they will be much more than the sum of their parts in several years’ time, but aren’t currently much more than a late-round consideration. To be clear, though, the draft does feature a good handful of kids prospects have been watched and ranked highly for several years now, but whose 2015-16 season was a bit on the bland side. As was William Nylander’s in his draft year – so non-buyers beware…
Below are the top 10 prospects from Sweden for the 2016 NHL Draft, plus some honorable mentions and overage options.
1. Rasmus Asplund – F – Shoots: L – 5’10”, 176 lbs. – Farjestad (SHL)
CSS European Rank: #4
Dec. 3, 1997
If you want a skilled, responsible forward who will give you solid play in all three zones and may end up producing more offense than your average third liner, then Rasmus Asplund may be the bargain your team is looking for, especially at the latter end of the first round. Tried and proven in pro play, above-average at the recent WJC, Asplund was seen as a leader in Sweden as his underage captaincy at the 2015 U18 tournament (a flop for Sweden) can attest, and people keep talking about his versatility. Possessing anything but dreamy size, he manages to survive and make the most of any and all spaces on the ice. It is difficult at this point to figure out if he will survive the NHL game and, if so, if he’ll produce in it.
Still, the majority of NHL teams view him as a player who will need a couple of years to find out what he can truly do in a men’s league, but as one who will eventually fill out a role centering a top-three line. This past season, he tallied four goals, 12 points and a +6 rating with Farjestad of the SHL. He also contributed three goals and five points in seven games for Sweden at the WJC. To date, he has always collected points when playing against other teenagers, even if his SHL stats have been very minimal so far.
Outlook: Sure-fire top 45 pick who is pegged by most to go between 22-32. After two full seasons of SHL play and quite an impressive WJC appearance, the team that drafts him will likely let him remain in Farjestad for a bigger role for one more season, then have him bound for North America.
2. Filip Gustavsson – G – Catches: L – 6’2”, 184 lbs. – Lulea (U20)
CSS European Goalie Rank: #1
Jun. 7, 1998
Although this draft is not being ballyhooed as a strong one for goaltenders, Filip Gustavsson may just be the best of the bunch and shows a lot of the same skills, schooling, discipline and athleticism that the scouting community has seen coming form the top netminders out of Sweden in recent years.
Posing great size for a goalie, Gustavsson shows great anticipation and knows how to cover the posts better than most. His reflexes are above-average, and he can simply shutdown opponents when he gets in a groove. Ironically, it has been his play when in the spotlight that has really stood out most. That is when he is at his best, as was seen once again at the U18 when his mid-tournament arrival was all the team needed to garner silver. Able to track the puck and keep with shooters well, he has a big look to him and exudes confidence.
After an incredible U17 tournament followed by just as impressive an Ivan Hlinka tournament, Gustavsson manned the nets for Lulea’s U20 program, where the everyday work of winter and a so-so lineup led to some less than impressive numbers. Gustavsson only won eight of 20 games and put up a 3.22 goals-against average and sub-.900 save percentage. He nonetheless got the call for the SHL club when help was needed and proceeded to see action in six games in which he had a 2.15 goals-against and .910 save percentage before a playoff performance in which he didn’t allow any goals against.
There is still a ways to go in Gustavsson’s overall development, but the ability and readiness to step up to the plate has been put on display every step of the way in recent years. He should practically be handed a good job next winter at the pro level.
Outlook: Although a North American goalie will likely be taken before him, Gustavsson surely isn’t surviving the third round of this draft. Throw in the fact that several teams have a great appreciation for top-flight Swedish goaltenders, and he might not last through the second round.
3. Jonathan Dahlen – W – Shoots: L 5’11” – 176 lbs. – Timra (Allsvenskan)
CSS Rank European Rank: #11
Dec. 20, 1997
When the son of a successful former NHL player puts up 52 points as a 16/17 year old player in Sweden’s U20 circuit before contributing five points in five games at the U18 World Championship, he usually enters his draft year with a good bit of hype. Not the case for the slightly-built Jonathan Dahlen, who just spent this winter playing professional hockey for Timra of the Allsvenskan. Maybe his lack of inclusion with the WJC squad had scouts slightly ignoring his possibilities, but all Dahlen did this winter was score. 15 goals and 29 points in 51 games is quite a feat in the Allsvenskan, much less for a player his age, but the six goals and seven points he added in five postseason tilts showed how far along his development is.
With great on-ice vision and an offensive flair reminiscent of his father’s, Dahlen can bring fans out of their seats with some of the uncanny trickiness he puts on display. While his skating won’t blow anyone away, his agility and ability to sidestep hits and opponents all over the ice (including along the boards) almost automatically demands viewers to take note and root for the kid. Becoming more and more impressive is a somewhat wicked wrist shot, something he gets himself well-positioned for. A kid who will be drafted for his offensive upside, he has shown himself to be tenacious on the forecheck and improving in understanding his defensive responsibilities. All this said, he is naturally still a work in progress, and any team taking him will need to invest in his physical build and overall stamina.
Outlook: Some think of him this way, some that. Dahlen’s skillset is unquestioned and he did some real nice things in a strong men’s league this winter, picking things up in the playoffs. With the genes of a former NHL forward who scored plenty of points, there are a lot of teams who feel he is among the top 75 talents in this draft. The hands, vision, and moves are indisputable.
4. Jacob Moverare – D – Shoots: R – 6’2”, 198 lbs. – HV71 (U20)
CSS Rank European Rank: #12
Aug. 31, 1998
For teams that like heady defensemen who play hard and consistently in their own zone, skate out with the puck, then deliver crisp and timely passes, there is no looking past Jacob Moverare. Highly anticipated at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, he only managed three games before an injury occurred, but then had himself quite the winter in Sweden before capping things off impressively with five points in seven games for Sweden at the U18 tournament, where he and his Sweden teammates took silver. A gamer who coaches feel very comfortable with in all situations, and a potential top-four NHL defenseman.
As the season progressed, it became evident that Moverare is simply pretty solid at every aspect of the game. Intelligent and well-positioned, he also plays aggressive without the puck and forces opponents into mistakes, always willing to successfully involve himself physically. He will nonetheless need his time to continue polishing off his game as the next level will have him playing against adults – which will present a bevy of new challenges. This season, he saw four games of SHL action with HV71 but was a key component of the club’s U20 program, collecting 22 points and a +3 rating in 44 games.
Outlook: Swedish defensemen have been very popular commodities in recent years, but not really this one. A nice U18 tourney turned heads for many who thought Moverare was simply a ‘safe’ prospect. He could go anywhere between spot 25 and 60, but is the kind of player who is likely way near the top of the charts for a few NHL teams.
5. Carl Grundstrom – F – Shoots: L – 6’0”, 194 lbs. – MODO (U20)
CSS Rank European Rank: #6
Dec. 1, 1997
A guy who loves to carry the puck, Carl Grundstrom is a strong but not overly good skater who brings the puck to the net, usually right on his stick. In the classic power forward mold, Grundstrom hasn’t hesitated moving through dangerous areas and being involved in physical play when necessary. Like many Swedes, he understands that the game also takes place without the puck on his stick and has shown a strong aptitude for defensive play and the need to work hard on the back-check. There is a crash-and-bang element to his game.
While his overall skating will need to be worked on, it is often his choices on the ice that sometimes leave more to be desired, as Grundstrom isn’t quite the playmaking type, but rather a guy who just does what he can to be involved and in the middle of things. This doesn’t mean he can’t make a solid pass. He has also shown that he will need to have his head up more as he matures. Average in size, he is built well and likes to compete. After 24 games in the SHL in his pre-draft year, he spent the entire season with MODO of the SHL, with whom he ultimately suffered relegation into the Allsvenskan.
Thought of as perhaps the best Swede entering this season aside from Asplund, the questionable upside has seen his value drop. In all, he had eight goals and 20 points in 56 games. His feistiness also saw him collect 59 penalty minutes. He participated in the WJC, where he had but one goal (and point) in seven games.
Outlook: Grundstrom was seen as a first rounder heading into the season, perhaps even a top-20 pick. His play was nevertheless seen as energetic, but inconsistent, and not really indicative of a big future as a scorer. Teams will like his physical abilities and readiness to battle, even if he was underwhelming at the WJC and played for a SHL team that was relegated. He should end up going in the top-65.