#5 – MAGNUS ÅKERLUND
|HEIGHT:||186 cm / 6’1″|
|WEIGHT:||83 kg / 183 lbs|
Åkerlund was considered a very talented goaltender already at the start of last season and his stock only increased as the season progressed. While there were never any doubts that he would be a regular with the Swedish U18 team throughout the season, Åkerlund rather surprisingly also represented Sweden in the U20 World Junior Championships. Born in late April 1986, he was the youngest goaltender in the tournament and started one game against the eventual champions, Team USA. He faced 39 shots and managed to stop 35 of them in a game in which the Swedish players took a 3-4 loss.
In the U18-WJC Åkerlund started five of six games and played convincingly despite Sweden losing big to Canada, US and the Czech Republic. Looking back at Åkerlund’s season in the Swedish U20 league (SuperElit) he was not only the youngest starter in the league, but also among the best goaltenders overall.
Åkerlund has pretty good size and covers the net well, making it difficult for shooters to find openings. He also has good reflexes and is very agile moving from side to side. Åkerlund’s glove is great and the fact that he catches right is an advantage simply because most opponents are more used to facing goaltenders who catch left. Åkerlund is the most talented Swedish goaltender since Rangers draftee Henrik Lundqvist and his team HV 71 is hoping that Åkerlund will be the next star goalie to come out of Sweden.
The chances of him being drafted in the third round are good. He has been thoroughly scouted this season representing the national team in several tournaments including the U18-WJC and U20-WJC. He is the only Swedish goaltender who will for sure be drafted in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but Brynäs’ Joakim Lundström and Malmö’s Christopher Nilstorp are two candidates for the later rounds of the draft.
HV 71 currently has two contracted goalies: Stefan Liv and Boo Ahl. Liv could be heading over to the Detroit Red Wings, but even if that will be the case Åkerlund is still not likely to be more than the third goalie on the team. If Liv moves over the Atlantic HV 71 will most definitely be out looking for a replacement. Åkerlund could get to play one or two games in the SEL , but the realistic situation is that he’ll spend most of the season in the juniors, or possibly in the 2nd-tier league if HV 71 sends him on loan to another team. Åkerlund will likely be named to the U20 World Junior Championships for the second time in December. He will fight with goalie Christopher Heino-Lindberg and Luleå’s netminder David Rautio for the starting job.
European goalies take a long time to develop. Seeing as the chances of Åkerlund getting to play in the SEL already next season are slim, it is realistic to think that Åkerlund could possibly be a regular in the SEL in two to three years. As for the NHL there will likely be a time of adjustement like with most goalies arriving in North America from Europe, so logically we could at the earliest see Åkerlund dressing up with an NHL team in about five years.
|2002-2003||HV 71 J20||SuperElit||7||3.17||.894|
|HV 71 J18||J18 Allsvenskan||11||3.03||.901|
|2003-2004||HV 71 J20||SuperElit||26||3.28||.892|
|Team Sweden U20||WJC-20||1||4.10||.897|
|Team Sweden U18||WJC-18||5||3.40||.871|
#4 – CARL SÖDERBERG
|HEIGHT:||191 cm / 6’3″|
|WEIGHT:||90 kg / 198 lbs|
Born in October 1985, Carl Söderberg was too young to be drafted in last year’s NHL Entry Draft. He has emerged as a top prospect in Sweden this season not only by dominating the Swedish junior league, but also playing convincingly in the Swedish Elite League with Malmö. Söderberg’s numbers in the juniors this season were oustanding as he amassed 23 goals and 25 assists in 27 games. He led the league in goals, assists, points and was second in the league being +28. It was no surprise that Malmö eventually called him up to the SEL and there were no signs of transition problems as he performed well playing against men. His call-up to the SEL came however too late for the Swedish coach Torgny Bendelin to really consider him for the Swedish WJC roster, where he was rather surprisingly left out.
Söderberg is a very explosive center. He is a good skater and has a powerful stride. With his quick feet he very easily gets past opposing defensemen. He has an accurate shot, a fine scoring touch and is an excellent playmaker as well. His hockey sense is top-notch and the way he handles the puck in full flight is very impressive. A strong player with great size combined with fine technical skills. Earlier his defense was somewhat questionable, but he has become a much better player without the puck and works harder than before . As for his physical game Söderberg does not play overly physical, but he is strong along the boards and in the corners when the opponents try to shut him down.
Söderberg could get drafted late in the first round but the likely scenario is that a team will pick him in the second round. The fact that Söderberg missed the U20 World Junior Championhips could possibly have decreased his stock
to some extent. However, Söderberg did well in early February in the U19 5-nations tournament held in Finland and got to display some of his skills.
We can expect Carl Söderberg to get quality ice time with Malmö Redhawks in the SEL. Already this past season he started some games on Malmö’s top line and a spot on Malmö’s top two lines is not out of reach, especially since Söderberg would not look bad being put on the wing. Malmö will have a nice set of young and talented forwards next season and Söderberg together with Danish prospect Frans Nielsen will likely be the two most shining ones. He will also be a very important player for the Swedish WJC team being the top center on the team.
Söderberg is more NHL ready than most of his fellow 2004 draftees, but will hardly be ready to skate on NHL ice in earlier than three years’ time. He has already NHL size but lacks experience playing against men. Next season Söderberg should establish himself as a good elite league player and in two years’ time he could be up there with the more productive forwards in the league.
|Malmö J18||J18 Allsvenskan||3||1||1||2||0|
|Malmö J18||J18 Allsvenskan||13||9||20||29||18|
|Malmö J18||J18 Allsvenskan||4||6||3||9||25|
|Team Sweden U18||WJC-18||6||2||0||2||4|
#3 – JOHANNES SALMONSSON
|HEIGHT:||189 cm / 6’2″|
|WEIGHT:||85 kg / 187 lbs|
Salmonsson has been the most talked about draft eligible prospect in Sweden since he sensationally became a SEL regular with Djurgården. He signed last summer with Djurgården having played a season in the Swedish 3rd-tier league with Almtuna. Salmonsson was expected to be sent on loan to the 2nd-tier league but played very convincingly in several preseason games, even against the Toronto Maple Leafs when they toured Sweden, and got to stick with the team. He did well in the SEL playing mostly on the lower lines but at times getting the chance to play on the top two lines where he did not look out of place. Salmonsson’s impressive rookie start made him a potential candidate for the Swedish WJC roster up until he suffered a shoulder injury in October. It was believed that he would have to undergo surgery, but Salmonsson felt little pain and the surgery was postponed to after the season. Salmonsson ended up playing 25 games in the SEL adding 3 assists. He competed in the U20 WJC as well but missed the U18 WJC in April having surgery.
In many ways a complete forward. Salmonsson has a great attitude and is very hardworking. He is good at fore checking, strong along the boards and skates a lot. Salmonsson is a fine skater, but what stands out more is the fact that he is always skating hard and moving on the ice. He also has great hockey sense, soft hands and is very dangerous offensively, although he has yet had little room in the SEL to display the most creative side of his game. With gained experience Salmonsson is bound to be more confident about doing those extra things with the puck, as he has so many times been able to do with his old team Almtuna and with the Swedish national team. He should also bulk up and become stronger in order to be even more effective in the offensive zone.
For the majority of the season Salmonsson has been considered a player for the first round in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. His stock decreased somewhat at the end of the season and he might see himself being drafted early in the second round instead. The team that selects Salmonsson will get a dedicated player with a huge upside.
The competition for a regular forward spot on Djurgården’s roster is tough and it is even tougher now with the arrival of talented prospects such as Robert Nilsson and skilled Norwegian Patrick Thoresen. Salmonsson should have no problems being a top 12 forward on the team and if he continues to improve and develop his game coach Wikegård will give him more ice time during the season. While Salmonsson may still not be experienced and ready enough to have a major offensive role in the SEL we can expect him to be a key player for Sweden in the World Junior Championships.
Salmonsson has the potential to become a high scoring player in the NHL one day. He is very all around and has no major weaknesses and would be a good fit on a second line. Salmonsson will likely spend at least three more seasons in the SEL before playing in the NHL becomes a probable option. In three years he will be more experienced, stronger and quite possibly a star player in the elite league.
|Team Sweden U20||WJC-20||6||0||1||1||4|
#2 – OSCAR HEDMAN
|HEIGHT:||183 cm / 6’0″|
|WEIGHT:||94 kg / 207 lbs|
Hedman had a sensational start in the junior league with MODO this season averaging a point per game. His play was good enough for MODO to let him play in the SEL halfway through the season and Hedman immediately had an impact. Not only did he look like a full blooded SEL defenseman, he also became the youngest goal scorer in the SEL this season. In the junior league playoffs he was the highest scoring defenseman registering 6 points in 8 games – and led MODO’s U20 team to the gold medal. Hedman stood out in the U18 WJC as well scoring 3 goals and an assist in 6 games and being arguably the best Swedish player in the tourney.
Hedman is a very strong defenseman with an impressive overall game. Hedman is exceptionally responsible at both ends of the ice and has no major flaw. He is not very tall at 6’0”, but he is built like a tank and as strong as they come. Hedman is also very mobile despite not being the fastest of skaters. He has good offensive instincts and joins the rush whenever there is a good reason to do so. His main strength is his fine passing game and hockey sense. He is a valuable player to have on the power play with his playmaking ability, and if he improves his shot he will be an even more dangerous weapon on the power play unit.
There is an outside possibility that Hedman will be selected late in the first round although at this point it is more realistic that he will get drafted in the second round or possibly early in the third round. Normally a defenseman’s stock would decrease slightly if he is “only” 6’0″, but Hedman makes up for that being as well-built and as mobile as he is.
There is a lot of speculation when it comes to MODO’s roster next season. Rumors say that Peter Forsberg, Mattias Timander and the Sedin twins, among others, will join the team, lockout or not. Hedman’s role with MODO will depend a bit on how many quality defensemen MODO will sign this summer. At this point MODO has five defensemen signed and although there will likely be two or three additional defensemen arriving Hedman should still have a very good shot at seeing quality ice time next season. If he has the same progress rate as he did this past year he could even end up being a top 3 defenseman on the team. In the World Junior Championships Hedman will be the big star among Swedish defensemen next to one year older Luleå defenseman Johan Fransson.
Hedman has the talent and the skills to become a very capable two-way defenseman in the NHL. He has already the size and strength to compete with the very best, but for obvious reasons he lacks the experience to do so. His overall game, which is already very good, needs some fine tuning and some extra work on his release would not hurt either. During the next two to three seasons Hedman should be able to establish himself as a star player in the Swedish Elite League and then a move to the NHL will be right around the corner.
|MODO J18||J18 Allsvenskan||11||0||4||4||8|
|MODO J18||J18 Allsvenskan||14||4||5||9||8|
|MODO J18||J18 Allsvenskan||3||3||1||4||2|
|Team Sweden U18||WJC-18||6||3||1||4||0|
#1 – JOHAN FRANSSON
|HEIGHT:||185 cm / 6’1″|
|WEIGHT:||83 kg / 183 lbs|
Fransson was considered the top Swedish defenseman eligible for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he opted out of the draft seeing as his 02/03 season was very plagued with injuries. It was a wise decision given that he has since then become a high quality defenseman in the SEL and the chance of Fransson being selected in the first round is much greater this year. At the start of the 2003/04 season Fransson was the No. 7, No. 8 defenseman on Luleå’s SEL roster, but quite quickly he became a regular. At the end of the season Fransson was arguably Luleå’s top defenseman and good enough to represent the Swedish National Team in an exhibition game before the World Championships. Fransson was also the top defenseman on the Swedish U20 team in the World Junior Championships scoring 3 goals in 6 games. Many believed he would be named the rookie of the year in the SEL, but slightly surprisingly the rookie honours went to Dallas draftee Loui Eriksson instead.
Fransson is an excellent skater with loads of offensive potential. He is extremely mobile, agile and moves the puck very securely. Fransson has a good release and is, unlike many other young defensemen, not afraid to challenge the opposing players and do the unexpected. He is very creative with the puck and also very good at reading plays. His passing game is above average and Fransson is not afraid to get involved when things get rough. On the downside he could still improve his defensive game and at times he is a bit risky with the puck, trying to do too much. Still the fact remains that Fransson led the entire team being +9 after the regular season, as a SEL rookie.
Among all Swedish players eligible for this year’s NHL Entry Draft Fransson is likely the safest bet to get drafted in the first round. Realistically he could get selected anywhere from 15 to 30. The team that drafts Fransson will get a potential power play quarterback and a strong skating puck carrier in the mold of Flyers defenseman Kim Johnsson.
Fransson will continue to develop his game with Luleå in the SEL. He could very well emerge as one of the best defensemen in the league assuming he shows the same advancement next season as this past one. He will be a key player in the World Junior Championships and will most likely get to represent the Swedish National Team, Tre Kronor, at senior level again. Fransson scored 3 goals and 3 assists during his rookie season in the elite league and he should have no problems two-folding those numbers.
He is a potential No. 1 defenseman in the NHL. Fransson has the tools to become an excellent power play defenseman for years to come and will be valuable for any team that drafts him. His skating and mobility will allow him to frequently join the rush. At this point Fransson is not that far away from being thought of as a SEL-star. With two or three additional seasons in Sweden he could be ready to skate with the very best in the world.
|Luleå J18||J18 Allsvenskan||5||2||0||2||0|
|Luleå J18||J18 Allsvenskan||2||0||0||0||2|
|Team Sweden U20||WJC-20||6||3||0||3||2|