Red Wings Swedish Prospects update: Part 2

By Zoran Manojlovic

In Part 1 of the Detroit Red Wings Swedish prospects update, we examined the best-looking Swedish prospects for the future.

In this, the second part, we take a look at the progress (or more correctly speaking, the lack of it) for those underperforming.

Some of these prospects were doomed to fail as soon as they were selected in their respective drafts. The lack of their progress was not unexpected, although some of them made strides in the first few years after the draft. But now, they’re again looking like true longshots to make the big club one day.

Johan Berggren, D, Södertälje (SEL, Swe J-20) Arboga (Swe-1)

Berggren was a surprise pick in the 2002 NHL draft when Detroit chose to select him at No. 131. At that time, he was barely a regular with a second-tier team and hadn’t proven much to warrant a draft pick.

There were a few attractive qualities with Berggren as he has good size and mobility. He looked like a smooth, puck-moving defenseman who also plays the game with a physical edge.

But unfortunately he hasn’t continued to build on those blocks and is falling fast off the prospect chart. He lacks offensive skills (hockey sense and puckhandling) and is not good enough defensively (not a consistent physical presence and defensive positioning).

This has made it impossible for him to crack the Eliterien line-up of Södertälje, and he is now playing a one-in-the-many role with a low tier team. He will most likely stay at that level for the reminder of his career and there are no high hopes for this youngster.

Stefan Blom, D, Arlanda (Swe-2)

Blom is another one of the Swedish picks that hasn’t panned out, and most likely never will. He was never a very good player in the junior-A and hasn’t done much in the last few seasons to create excitement.

He doesn’t have any special qualities now and he never really had, except for his size at 6’2. Therefore it is hard to understand why the Red Wings chose to use a draft pick on him.

Blom is now playing in the second-tier league in Sweden and still hasn’t scored a single goal in the first 23 games of the season and has just five helpers.

Blom’s days with the Red Wings organization are numbered as he will most likely spend his days in the lower tier leagues in Sweden.

Pär Bäcker, C, Färjestad, (SEL)

Bäcker was at one point in his career labeled as a steal for the Red Wings scouting staff, but he never really stood a chance of making it to the big show.

He was selected with the 187th pick in the 2000 NHL draft when playing for Bofors in Allsvenskan. After a successful season where he led his team in scoring in the playoffs, he signed a contract with the Swedish powerhouse, Färjestad.

With Färjestad he developed his game and was a vital part of the team that won a championship in the 2001-02 season.

But with all the numbers and attention that he got, the real question marks regarding his game were never answered. His skating and physical presence are the two major downsides to his game that are keeping him at the level he is on right now.

He lacks foot speed and doesn’t have any power in his stride. Also he hasn’t managed to gain the weight he needs to play in the NHL since the draft. Without these two attributes, he doesn’t stand a chance of making it to the highest level.

Bäcker will likely spend the rest of his career in Sweden.

Nils Bäckström, D, Djurgården (Swe J-20)

Bäckström was selected as one of the last players in the 2004 NHL draft, and there are reasons for that. He is a slightly built defenseman who has good skating ability and is a solid puck carrier. On the downside, he is very weak and has no strength in his upper body.

He doesn’t really have the offensive skills to be a strictly offensive defenseman, but he isn’t good enough in his own end either. This makes it hard for him to take the next step in his development, which is to play in the top league in Sweden.

This season he has developed his game slightly and is more of an offensive weapon on his junior-A team. He has five goals and 14 points in 32 games. He has also made his first appearance in Elitserien and will most likely take on a bigger role on the team next season.

Even though his development curve points at the right direction, it looks like it won’t go all the way to the NHL. He will most likely spend his career in the Swedish leagues.

Jonathan Ericsson, D, Södertälje (SEL) / Arlanda (Swe-1)

Ericsson is the one with the best upside from the players that have been presented in this article. He was also a late round pick (9th round in 2002), but unlike the others, still has some hope of success.

He has a great combination of size, mobility, puck skills and attitude, but he just hasn’t put it all together yet. He will probably need another two to three years until his name can be written off the list.

This has been a disappointing season from a development perspective for the soon-to-be 22-year-old defenseman. He still hasn’t earned a top-6 spot with Södertälje and looks like a longshot.

But don’t be surprised if he makes the jump to the AHL for next season. Håkan Andersson (Detroit Chief European scout) has liked this player for years now and will likely want to give him a real good opportunity to show of his potential in North America before writing him off.

He has a good shot of blossoming in the AHL and with two to three years on the farm, he could finally blossom.

Mikael Johansson, C, Färjestad (SEL)

Johansson is another one of the Red Wings picks that were selected among the very last players in the past few years. He was the fourth to last pick in the 2003 NHL draft.

He has come a long way since than and has fought his way to the top Swedish league, now playing with Färjestad.

Johansson is still a smallish player with good skating, puck skills and a well-developed hockey sense. But he still lacks the physical attributes needed to play in the pros.

His offensive skills are worth noting, but unfortunately the rest of his game will hold him back at the next level. He just doesn’t have the body/skill combination to make it to the NHL. If he was a bit bigger, he would have probably been on the radar for another season or two.

But with the situation as it is now, Johansson is not a legitimate NHL prospect.

Andras Sundin, LW, Nybro (Swe-1)

Sundin has a famous name, but is not on a path to a career comparable to the more well-known Toronto Maple Leafs superstar, Mats Sundin.

A scoring machine in the second-tier junior league, Sundin looked to break into the Elitserien. But unfortunately for him, he has gone in the opposite direction now playing in the second tier division.

During this season he has just collected three goals and six points in 28 games. Those numbers aren’t much for someone seen as an offensive player with good skills and speed.

He lacks confidence as well as finishing skills. He hasn’t gained much strength since the draft and is weak in the corners. He has trouble playing in the traffic areas which also contributes to his low scoring.

Once a promising scorer in the junior-A, Sundin has now a long way ahead of him if he wants to make it to the NHL, which is highly unlikely.

Jari Tolsa, LW, Frölunda, (SEL)

Tolsa was also a scoring machine in the junior-A, playing on one of the best lines in Swedish junior-A history. After a slow start in Elitserien back in the 1999 and 2000 seasons, he matured and earned a bigger role on the team in 2001 when he set a career high in points with 24.

This season he has had problems with injuries and hasn’t managed to take his game to the next level. This is bad news for the 24-year-old left winger who was looking for a big season in order to earn a contract from Detroit.

It is now highly unlikely that he will be offered a contract at the end of the season as he hasn’t shown much improvement over the last few seasons.

He still has solid size, good skating and a great attitude. But on the other hand he hasn’t bulked up much and is still a bit light in the corners. His role is now to be a forechecking third to fourth line winger who can chip in on a few occasions.

Tolsa will most likely spend the rest of his career in the Swedish leagues as a solid player who doesn’t stand out much.

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