Swedish Elite League prospects preview

By Johan Nilsson





The 2004

The 2004-05 Swedish Elite League season starts
today and the league has never been stronger. It would have been the truth even
if there was no lockout as we have seen many well known players return to
Sweden. Here is a look at how the various NHL prospects will fit into the 12
teams in the SEL this season.

1 – MODO


While Peter Forsberg and Marcus Näslund are the top stars on this team, players
like Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Mattias Weinhandl also have what it takes to
at least average a point per game at this level of play. The third and fourth
lines will consist of former NHLers Per Svartvadet, Andreas Salomonsson and top
prospects like Alexander Steen (TOR) and Joakim Lindström
(CLB). Lindstrom has been tearing it up during preseason and finally,
after having played very little hockey the last two years due to injuries, he is
now healthy and looking better than ever.

MODO is very deep defensively and in some ways it is a shame that lockout
players have arrived because this will mean that Oscar Hedman (WAS)
and Tobias Viklund (2005 eligible) could be sent packing to the
2nd-tier league or the juniors. Both of them have performed well in the
preseason games, but it will not be easy to crack the top 6 with the top 2
defensemen from last season remaining and four defensemen (Hans Jonsson, Mattias
Timander, Bryan Muir, Pierre Hedin) with NHL experience. When a top
prospect like Oscar Hedman is barely the seventh defenseman on the roster you
know it’s a strong team. The first month will be very important for Hedman as he
will probably log a good amount of ice time because Bryan Muir will not join the
team until October.

Drafted prospects
Tobias Enström (Atlanta)
Oscar Hedman (Washington)
Joakim Lindström (Columbus)
Alexander Steen (Toronto)
Mattias Wennerberg> (Chicago)

SEL rookies
Mikael Zajkowski
Tobias Viklund
Mattias Hellström

Juniors
Oscar Hedman
Tobias Viklund
Mattias Hellström

2 – FÄRJESTAD

Last year Färjestad’s only weakness was
their goaltending. The spectacular, but not always consistent Sinuhe Wallinheimo,
was excellent one night, but could allow several soft goals the next night.
Therefore the addition of goaltender Daniel Henriksson, last season with Luleå,
is very important. Henriksson is a technically skilled goaltender and he has
experience from playing with the Swedish national team.

Färjestad has three superb defensemen in Czech player Radek Hamr,
Jonas Frögren (CAL) and national team player Per Hållberg. The rest of
the defensemen are pretty average by SEL standards. Blues 2002 draftee Robin
Jonsson
(STL) is a player worth keeping an eye out for though and he could
have a breakout season.

Drafted prospects
Jonas Frögren (Calgary)
Robin Jonsson (St. Louis)
Pär Bäcker (Detroit)
Calle Steen (Detroit)

SEL rookies
Fredrik Eriksson
Rickard Lidström

Juniors
Rickard Lidström

3 – FRÖLUNDA

Frölunda’s roster looked very good on paper before the lockout was confirmed
and now with Christian Bäckman, PJ Axelsson, Samuel Påhlsson and Daniel
Alfredsson, the team is a true power house. The down side to this is the fact
that Frölunda’s talented prospects will see limited ice time. The last couple
of seasons Frölunda has undoubtedly been the top Swedish team at developing
young hockey players and the junior program is still very impressive. Each year
a few youngsters get the chance to play in the SEL, but that will most likely
not be the case this season as the roster now is just too deep. Even a SEL
regular like Jens Karlsson (LA) could have a hard time getting
ice time which says a lot about Frölunda’s depth among forwards.

Frölunda’s defense is a whole other story. It is arguably the strongest in the
league when looking at the top 6 and includes high profile players like
Christian Bäckman, Tom Koivisto, Ronnie Sundin and Antti-Jussi Niemi, but if
anyone of them would get hurt two rookies: Björn Gustafsson and Richard
Demén-Willaume
(COL) would have to step in. A normal season that would
not be a problem, but how does a 18-year old youngster handle Peter Forsberg?

As for Frölunda’s goaltending, Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) is
arguably the best Swedish goaltender there is. He has nothing left to prove in
the SEL and this should be his last season in Sweden before he moves over to
North America. Lundqvist is arguably the most consistent goaltender in the
league, and very rarely has a poor game.

Drafted prospects
Henrik Lundqvist (NY Rangers)
Richard Demén-Willaume (Colorado)
Arto Tukio (NY Islanders)
Loui Eriksson (Dallas)
Magnus Kahnberg (Carolina)
Jens Karlsson (Los Angeles)
Joel Lundqvist (Dallas)
Kalle Olsson (Edmonton)
Jari Tolsa (Detroit)

SEL rookies
Richard Demén-Willaume
Björn Gustafsson
Kalle Olsson
Daniel Åhsberg

Juniors
Richard Demén-Willaume
Björn Gustafsson
Kalle Olsson
Daniel Åhsberg

4 – LINKÖPING

Hockey has probably never been as big in Linköping as it is now. The team can
pride itself with a beautiful new arena and one of the greater fanbases in
Sweden. On ice, things have never looked better. Linköping has a roster that
could go all the way, a roster with all important ingredients.

Kristian Huselius will form a line with NHLers Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison.
That unit will be very lethal and productive, but there are plenty more
offensively gifted players to name like Tony Mårtensson (ANA),
Tim Eriksson
(LA), Jussi Tarvainen, Johan Franzén and Mikko Peltola.

Drafted prospects
Tim Eriksson (Los Angeles)
Tony Mårtensson (Anaheim)

SEL rookies
no rookies on the team

Juniors
no juniors on the team

5 – HV 71

HV 71 had a very strong roster last season when they won the SEL Championships.
The roster is even stronger this season, but since the competition is much
tougher, they will have a harder time. This is basically a team without any
weaknesses. The team is strong in all aspects. Stefan Liv (DET)
is a very capable SEL goaltender and was more consistent last season than in the
past. If Liv gets hurt, it could be a problem as veteran goalie Boo Ahl is not
as good as he used to be and young Magnus Åkerlund (CAR) is
hardly ready to replace Liv.

At defense veteran Per Gustafsson is still among
the best in the league, but as usual his health is a concern. Behind him Kimmo
Peltonen, Fredrik Olausson and Jouni Loponen are all above average SEL
defensemen.

Among forwards there is a good mix of high scoring players, pure role players
and agitators. One notable thing is HV 71 has no top prospects, but guys like
Andreas Jämtin
(DET), David Fredriksson (STL) and
Martin Thörnberg all have a bright futures ahead of them.

The team has yet to sign any lockout players and the only one that has been
really rumored to sign is Islanders defenseman Kenny Jönsson.

Drafted prospects
Stefan Liv (Detroit)
Simon Skoog (St. Louis)
David Fredriksson (St. Louis)
Andreas Jämtin (Detroit)
Magnus Åkerlund (Carolina)

SEL rookies
David Fredriksson
Alexander Larsson
Magnus Åkerlund

Juniors
Ola Svanberg
David Fredriksson
Alexander Larsson
Magnus Åkerlund

6 – DJURGÅRDEN

Djurgården looks very good on paper, in particular its forwards. Players like
Mariusz Czerkawski, Espen Knutsen, Nils Ekman and Fredrik Bremberg are all very
productive and will be fighting for the scoring title. There are also excellent
role players like Marcus Nilson, Jimmie Ölvestad, Daniel Rudslätt as well as
top prospects like Robert Nilsson (NYI) and Johannes
Salmonsson
(PIT). There are no weaknesses up front.

Djurgården’s defense is not the strongest in the league, but not poor either.
Daniel Tjärnqvist will be important here, as will Nichlas Falk. If prospects
Johnny Oduya
(WAS), Daniel Fernholm (PIT) and
Staffan Kronwall
(TOR) take yet another step forward in their
development things look even better.

Few teams have more talented youngsters than Djurgården. Robert Nilsson,
Johannes Salmonsson, Johnny Oduya, Daniel Fernholm and Norwegian Patrick
Thoresen have all the potential to become stars in the SEL, and in some cases
stars in the NHL as well. Many of Djurgården’s key players are getting old and
eventually they will show signs from it. When looking at the d-men you notice
that they are either veterans or youngsters. With the exception of lockout
player Daniel Tjärnqvist there are no players in their prime. Four players are 33
years, or older and three players have yet to reach the 23rd birthday. If the
veterans fail to show up, it could be too much to handle for the young guard.

No team will get off easy when facing Djurgården, the team with arguably the
most players that are willing to drop the gloves and play physical, with Johnny
Oduya, Marcus Kristoffersson, Tomas Kollar (DET), Marcus Nilson
and Jimmie Ölvestad.

Drafted prospects
Björn Bjurling (Edmonton)
Daniel Fernholm (Pittsburgh)
Staffan Kronwall (Toronto)
Johnny Oduya (Washington)
Tomas Kollar (Detroit)
Robert Nilsson (NY Islanders)
Johannes Salmonsson (Pittsburgh)

SEL rookies
no rookies on the team

Juniors
Robert Nilsson
Johannes Salmonsson

7 – TIMRÅ

Timrå has at the time this preview is being written not confirmed that Henrik
Zetterberg and Miikka Kiprusoff will play for the club during the lockout.
However, Canadian press is reporting that Zetterberg has agreed to play for Timrå
and Timrå’s GM Kent Norberg has confirmed that Timrå has a verbal agreement
with Miikka Kiprusoff. Zäta and Kipper will be the biggest stars on this strong
team, which has definitely seen an upgrade compared to last year.

The loss of sniper Markus Matthiasson is the only subtraction that hurt.
Matthiasson should however be quite easily replaced by national team players
Magnus Nilsson and Jonathan Hedström. Timrå has also during the summer signed Lars
Jonsson
(BOS), who is among the more talented young defensemen in the
league, and Finnish power play specialist Teemu Aalto. It is difficult to find
any weaknesses on this team and the top 7 teams in the SEL this season all look
extremely competitive. While we do have the Red Eagles ranked seventh, they have
a very good shot at cracking the top 5.

Drafted prospects
Antti Jokela (Carolina)
Lars Jonsson (Boston)
Yared Hagos (Dallas)
Christian Söderström (Detroit)

SEL rookies
Jimmy Danielsson
Johan Svedberg

Juniors
Johan Jonsson

8 – SÖDERTÄLJE


Södertälje has many talented prospects. Especially among forwards things have
looked really good during preseason where Linus Videll (COL),
Dragan Umicevic
(EDM) and 17-year-old Nicklas Bergfors
in particular have performed well. However, with the late additions of the
Ferraro brothers their ice time will likely decrease a bit.

In net Rastislav Stana (WAS) will make an interesting debut. He
was a very good goaltender in the AHL last season and has chosen to spend a year
in Sweden before trying to establish himself in the NHL.

Another interesting new addition to this team is rookie Jonas Andersson (NAS).
Arguably the best skater in the league, Andersson has had major problems with
injuries the last couple of seasons in the minors. If healthy the entire season,
which may seem unlikely, he could be a darkhorse to win the rookie of the year
award in the SEL.

In Nicklas Grossman Södertälje
may have the next great stay-at-home defenseman coming out of Sweden and Jonathan
Ericsson
, who can play forward as well, is also an interesting
prospect. They will play behind lockout players Dick Tärnström and Niclas Hävelid,
who should be among the elite in the league, and Peter Popovic, Petri
Liimatainen and Jan Huokko who are also very experienced players that contribute
both ways.

Drafted prospects
Rastislav Stana (Washington)
Jonathan Eriksson (Detroit)
Nicklas Grossman (Dallas)
Jonas Andersson (Nashville)
Gabriel Karlsson (Dallas)
Dragan Umicevic (Edmonton)
Linus Videll (Colorado)

SEL rookies
Nicklas Grossman
Jonas Andersson
Nicklas Bergfors

Juniors
Nicklas Grossman
Linus Videll
Nicklas Bergfors

9 – LULEÅ

There is a good mixture of high scoring forwards
and pure role players. Mikael Renberg, Tomas Holmström, Jonas Rönnqvist, Karl
Fabricius and Jonas Nordquist (CHI) are perhaps best
offensively of the bunch and all should at least get around 25 points, if they
stay healthy. In Tomas Berglund they have arguably the best agitator in the
league, and Berglund does also contribute offensively. Per Ledin is a less
skilled version of Berglund and his only strength basically is that he is decent
at getting the opposing players to lose their cool.

Luleå is building a very interesting team for the future. There are plenty of
future SEL stars on the team such as for example Johan Fransson (DAL),
Jonas Nordquist, Karl Fabricius and at the same time many high caliber veterans.

Together with Mora and Malmö Luleå’s goaltending is the most questionable in
the league. Kristian Antila (EDM) is often injured and Gusten Törnqvist
has much to prove.

Drafted prospects
Kristian Antila (Edmonton)
Johan Fransson (Dallas)
Tuukka Mäntylä (Los Angeles)
Jonas Nordquist (Chicago)

SEL rookies
Gusten Törnqvist
Erik Lindberg
Per Savilahti-Nagander
Fredrik Hynning

Juniors
Johan Fransson
Per Savilahti-Nagander

10 – BRYNÄS

The squad looks stronger than last season with great additions such as NHLer
Andreas Dackell, playmaker Mikael Wahlberg, goaltender Johan Holmqvist and
Finnish players Sebastian Sulku and Vesa Viitakoski.

Among forwards things look good, but perhaps a
reliable sniper is missing. Dackell will likely score a good amount of goals and
Viitakoski is a proven scorer and those two will be very important for Brynäs.
Brynäs’ goaltending is flawless, but the defense is average compared to the
best teams in the league. Perhaps youngsters Mattias Karlsson
(OTT) and Niklas Andersson will get to prove themselves.

Tommy Sjödin is still a first class defenseman at the age of 39 and one of the
MVPs of this team. Behind him it is rather thin though. Sebastian Sulku has
performed well in Finland and should do fine here as well. But players like
Daniel Casselståhl, Jesper Björck, Daniel Johansson and youngsters Niklas
Andersson and Mattias Karlsson are depth players and some more high quality
defensemen on the team would not hurt.

Drafted prospects
Mattias Karlsson (Ottawa)
Nicklas Danielsson (Vancouver)

SEL rookies
Niklas Andersson

Juniors
Niklas Andersson
Mattias Karlsson

11 – MALMÖ

Up front there is plenty of talent and skilled
youngsters such as Carl Söderberg (STL), Frans Nielsen (NYI), Marcus
Paulsson
(NYI) and Andreas Valdix. Nielsen is waiting
for his big break in the SEL and Söderberg, who will be a key player for Sweden
in the WJC, is as talented as they come.

Despite losing several important players the replacements look quite good. Mika
Hannula is back with Malmö after a season in the AHL, sniper Markus Matthiasson
from Timrå will play a huge role, Anaheim prospect Björn Melin
had a strong playoff run with HV 71 and Mikko Luoma is an interesting AHL
defenseman.

There are 5 forwards that are 23 years old or younger and all of them have yet
to reach their peak. Many of them have the potential to become high scoring
players in the SEL and if at least some of them break out this season, Malmö as
a team would benefit greatly from it.

Malmö’s depth at defense is not very good. Austrian defenseman Robert Lukas is
likely to leave the team since he is currently ranked as the seventh defenseman.
Miska Kangasniemi and talented Johan Björk (OTT) are decent, but
compared to other clubs Malmö has poor depth and will rely a lot on the likes
of Peter Andersson.

Drafted prospects
Johan Björk (Ottawa)
Björn Melin (Anaheim)
Frans Nielsen (NY Islanders)
Marcus Paulsson (NY Islanders)
Carl Söderberg (St. Louis)
Andreas Valdix (Washington)

SEL rookies
Marcus Paulsson

Juniors
Carl Söderberg

12 – MORA

This will be Mora’s first season ever in the SEL after having spent numerous
seasons in the Swedish 2nd-tier league. If Mora manages not to finish last in
the SEL that would be quite the accomplishment. With the exception of NHLers
Daniel Cleary (who will miss the first month of play due to an injury), Shawn
Horcof, Andreas Lilja and the few ones that have played in the SEL in the past
Mora simply does not have elite class players.

At this point Daniel Cleary, Shawn Horcoff and former Brynäs players Peter
Nylander and Kenneth Bergqvist are pretty much the only ones that could be
considered capable scorers at SEL level. The others are yet unproven.

Both goaltenders are unproven in the SEL. Bengt Höglund has stood in nine SEL
games earlier in his career, but is still a rookie. Finnish netminder Tero
Leinonen was average in Finland and needs to step up once he enters the ice with
Mora.

Drafted prospects
Pierre Johnsson (Calgary)

SEL rookies
Bengt Höglund
Calle Bergström
Pierre Johnsson
Peter Nolander
Tomas Skogs
Jonathan Granström
Magnus Sandberg
Jonas Westerling
Martin Gudmundsson
Daniel Back
Håkan Bogg

Juniors
Martin Gudmundsson
Jonathan Granström