This month’s Off the Radar segment takes us off the map for our North American readers.
Ängelholm, Sweden, in a different life, was perhaps a border town adjacent to Denmark – today, a picturesque city on Sweden’s Western coast that is home to the historic Rögle Bandyklubb, better known as Rögle BK, and perhaps best known for providing the hockey world with famed defenseman, Kenny Jönsson. Soon, they hope to provide the hockey world with Oskar Norlöv.
Norlöv is playing in the J-20 SuperElit League, the crown of Sweden’s tiered junior system, as an 18-year-old. In a league where NHL Draft picks such as Oskar Sundqvist (PIT) and Erik Karlsson (CAR) are noteworthy achievers with point-per-game averages, Norlöv is pushing the pedal to the metal at a clip of over two points per contest through 23 games. His 34 assists and 47 points are pacing a league that only has two players with more than 30 points. To date, though, no professional games, and no international competitions of note for the 1994-born winger.
“He’s been showing his talent for a couple of seasons but has had some bad luck with his back and his knee,” says a man that is least likely to consider him “off the radar”, his junior coach, Daniel Petersson. “He’s whole again and his physique is improving.”
Norlöv has finally been able to repel the injury bug and get a full off-season’s worth of training in and it has paid dividends so far. Though his stock takes a bit of a hit by being left off of Sweden’s World Junior team, he’s just now really surfacing on the hockey scene and has another full year to get noticed and included in some very exclusive company.
If NHL scouts are swallows, then the World Juniors is San Juan Capistrano. While it would be an ideal place for Norlöv to get himself better noticed, his goal might be to gain exposure at his country’s highest level first.
“I think he would manage to play against men for a couple of games but maybe not an entire season,” Coach Petersson tells Hockey’s Future while describing a fairly typical developmental path in Sweden. “It’s definitely to his benefit if he can perform at a high level with no injuries [at the junior level] and get a summer of off-ice practice to build up better strength and power.”
He goes on to say that Norlöv will be ready to show off his skills professionally next year “without a doubt.”
The Ängelholm native logs a lot of ice time for Rögle’s top-flight junior team and has found himself on a line with New York Rangers prospect Thomas Spelling – a right-handed Dane, and the team’s oldest player by a month – and Filip Karlsson, who is a greenhorn at the J-20 level and is the team’s youngest player, the lone 1996 birthday on the regular roster.
Petersson says they’ve developed excellent chemistry in a short period of time.
When asked why Spelling and Columbus Blue Jackets late rounder Daniel Zaar are getting noticed by NHL teams but Norlöv was passed over, Petersson suggests that the 6'1” winger is still a work in progress. Moreover, players mature and develop at different rates and perhaps the scouts who saw him last season (if they saw him – he was limited to just 20 games at the J-20 level in 2011-12) will see a different player this season.
“If you compare him with Zaar and Spelling, [currently,] I think those guys have one more level to their game,” acknowledges Petersson, a graduate of the very program he coaches currently. “[Norlöv’s] got the skills without a doubt. His strength is in his passing abilities and imagining what he could do with players that are better [at getting] to the net is absolutely tempting!”
The last part of the coach's response generally references the more north-south nature of the North American game that is played on smaller rinks, as opposed to the creativity and technical emphasis of the European game.
A good developmental coach keeps both laurels and darts handy and Petersson notes that the savvy playmaking winger has some wrinkles to iron out all over his game. He’s been improving his skating technique and balance which has allowed him to absorb a bit more contact. Surely some abuse doesn’t get under his skin too far because he certainly doesn’t retaliate – he’s only taken three minor penalties in a junior career that dates back to 2009.
Norlöv, while a plus-23 this year, is still a little wobbly defensively. His coach suggests he’s improving and gives him a passing grade on the subject, but there’s room for improvement to be sure – as anyone would expect from an 18-year-old, undrafted prospect. He has the intelligence and the awareness to figure things out behind the center stripe; it’s just a matter of his determination to get his overall game well-rounded and whole.
As a prospect, Norlöv is as raw as the unfriendliest winters the upper reaches of Sweden have to offer. But, with proper development and a little bit of luck, Norlöv has the potential to shine like the Tre Kronor emblazoned on the front of every national team jersey.
"Off the Radar" is a monthly feature at Hockey's Future that focuses on players passed over in the NHL Draft that may be deserving of a second look.