Lindholm, Wennberg top another solid Swedish NHL Draft crop

By Chapin Landvogt
Alexander Wennberg - Sweden

Photo: Djurgarden forward Alexander Wennberg has seen his 2013 NHL Draft stock rise steadily this season, to the point where he has an outside chance of being chosen among the top 10 picks (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

In recent years, the number of Swedish born-and-raised players picked by NHL teams during the NHL Draft has continued to serve as proof that the nation of Sweden is currently one of the top developers of hockey talent on the planet.

In 2011, Sweden saw an outstanding and record-setting 28 players taken, eight more than the year before. In 2012, another 22 were selected. These numbers represented, in each case, the highest number of Europeans selected from any one country at the event. Heading into the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30th in Newark, NJ, the next wave of Swedish players is primed and ready to keep that trend going.

This past winter once again saw a number of young Swedish players become adorned with praise about their future possibilities. Several of these players were key components of the surprise silver medalists at the WJC in Ufa, Russia, including top prospects Elias Lindholm, Alexander Wennberg, Jacob de la Rose and Robert Hagg. Sweden also sent a very talented team to the U18 tournament in Sochi, Russia, where the country found itself referring to the USA as its ‘end station’ for the third year running, this time in the quarterfinals. In addition to de la Rose and Hagg, top draft-eligible prospect Andre Burakowsky was also part of the U18 entry, leading the team with four goals at the tournament. Of course, a number of young men from Sweden who were not part of the U20 or U18 WJC teams will likely be picked in the course of the seven rounds this Sunday.

Here's a closer look at the top ten Swedish prospects entering the 2013 NHL Draft and the order in which we at Hockey’s Future feel they’ll be taken.

1. Elias Lindholm – F – Shoots: Right – 6’0”, 195 lbs.
CSS European Rank #3
Dec 02, 1994

Simply put, Lindholm is about as complete a player as you’ll find at this age. He has good, but not excellent, size with room for a bit more weight. He’s a top-flight stickhandler, he’s opportunistic, he has a keen ability to avoid checks or fight them off while maintaining puck possession, knows when to move and how to position himself optimally, can play on the power-play or PK at the men’s level and to top it off, simply shows above-average vision and hockey sense. He’s ranked third amongst European prospects, but this is an absolute testament to the high-end depth of this draft as Lindholm would likely be a top 5 overall pick in many NHL Drafts that have passed.

There’s simply no looking past the promise this young man holds and his achievements this past season. Lindholm not only played for his SEL club Brynas, making the team as a 17-year-old, but finished as its third-best scorer, ultimately chipping in 11 goals and 30 points in 48 regular season games. He managed to finish the season as one of only two players on the team with a plus rating. Along the way he added two goals and four points for Team Sweden at the WJC, winning his second silver medal for Tre Kronor (see 2012 U18 WJC).

Names such as Peter Forsberg, Mike Richards and Henrik Zetterberg have been tossed around when trying to describe the all-round game and style of play Lindholm displays. For those who have had the pleasure of watching Lindholm regularly, which is necessary in order to truly come to appreciate what this young man is already capable of, comparisons to these established icons are quite understandable. Lindholm is widely expected to be one of the top eight picks in this NHL Draft.

2. Alexander Wennberg – F – Shoots: Left – 6'1" 183 lbs.
CSS European Rank #5
Sep 22, 1994

For insiders who had watched Wennberg play as part of the Djurgarden U20 team during the 2011-12 season, where he only managed to score but one single goal in 45 games, there has probably been no one player in the entire 2013 draft class who has risen to prominence out of nowhere so impressively. In fact, despite an eye-opening start to the 2012-13 season, it wasn’t really until the WJC in Ufa, Russia, where people truly noticed that Wennberg is the real deal.

The young man with good height and a frame just begging to see 20-30 pounds added to it in the coming years possesses just about everything an NHL team craves. Wennberg has size, speed, moves, smarts and an ability to make intelligent on-ice decisions with regularity, with and without the puck. He is an absolute hassle for opponents and can make their lives miserable in a number ways, beginning with his hustle and positioning in most every situation. Very exciting to watch, and in many ways still very raw in his on-ice play, there is little doubt about the tools he possesses and the body of work he’s shown this past winter.

This season, Wennberg took a regular shift with Djurgarden in the Swedish Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second highest level of men’s professional hockey. There he put up a total of 14 goals, 35 points and a +10 rating in 49 total games. This was, for example, 15 points more than Filip Forsberg collected in five more games in the same league his draft year. Wennberg also added two goals, three points and a +2 rating over 6 games at the WJC. All this has seen his draft stock continue in an upward trajectory since no later than January. At the moment, it is strongly felt that Wennberg will hear his name called amongst the first 15 picks this Sunday.

3. André Burakowsky – F – Shoots: Left – 6'1" 175 lbs.
CSS European Rank #6
Feb 9, 1995

Having made some considerable noise the past few years in Sweden, Burakowsky came into this season looking like a probable top 10 pick. Now it is a bit questionable that he’ll go in the first round whatsoever, but that surely has a bit to do with the up and down season he just experienced.

Just barely failing to make the WJC team, Burakowsky did find himself on the U18 entry in Sochi, where he went about collecting four goals (five points total), several of which were of the highlight reel variety.

Back home in Malmo, on a team that went into the season with a great deal of expectations (and ultimately disappointed), Burakowsky was expected to grow into a top nine role with some healthy offensive contributions. What ended up happening was that he just couldn’t bring the same game he had shown in juniors to the men’s stage. At the end of the season, one that was ultimately respectable for such a young player, but which saw him display a number of breakdowns usually accompanied by slumps, Burakowsky had chipped in four goals, 11 points, eight penalty minutes and a -2 rating. A lack of strength and key situation minutes led to a perimeter game in which the existing skill set was often kept at bay.

Nonetheless, he did get some time with the club’s junior teams, collecting four goals and ten points in 16 total U20 games and another nine goals, seven assists, and a +13 rating in just seven U18 games.

Despite any troubles at the pro level this season, Burakowsky is clearly a highly skilled player. His ability to hold onto the puck in all sorts of situations is remarkable. He has strong agility on his skates and is very tricky, using his stick, feet, head and shoulders to deke out opponents anywhere and everywhere on the ice. He isn’t always seen taking longer distance shots as he tends to want to drive around opponents, moving east and west a lot, and then get creative around the goalmouth area. Lethal is his ability to quickly and strongly get pucks in the net right under the crossbar, even from in tight.

Despite his incredibly strong offensive skills and hockey sense, Burakowsky will need a good bit of coaching along the way if he is to become an all-around player who shows the right level of three zone commitment. He’ll also need to concentrate on adding to a frame that can certainly house some extra weight. In light of the many good players available in this draft, it’ll be interesting to see what the teams really think of Burakowsky's possibilities.

4. Robert Hagg – D – Shoots: Left – 6'2" 203 lbs.
CSS European Rank #8
Feb 08, 1995

Robert Hagg is a stocky and athletic defenseman who started to slowly but surely make his way up the charts heading into the WJC, where he was then called upon by Team Sweden right before the tournament due to some serious blueline injuries the team was suffering. He went on to find himself eating up top 4 minutes on the way to his first WJC silver medal, contributing a goal and an assist to the collective effort.

Thereafter, Hagg had promptly entered talk about being a first round pick and proceeded to see a lot of time – not necessarily minutes – playing for MODO in the SEL, where he contributed one assist and a -3 rating over the course of 28 games. He was then called upon to assume a huge role with the U18 team, coming in as the leader of the defensive group. Despite kicking off the tournament with a bang, Sweden got shutout in its last two games, exiting quietly and failing to reach the final for the first time in the past three years. Hagg contributed a goal, three assists, 12 penalty minutes and a +1 rating in the process.

Despite two points in two games for MODO’s U18 team, the bulk of Hagg’s in-season work came on the blueline of the club’s U20 team, where he put up an extremely impressive 12 goals, 14 assists, 28 penalty minutes and a +10 rating over the course of 35 total games.

Featuring a rather straight stance with shoulders that are almost always parallel to the ice, Hagg is considered to be a strong skater both with and without the puck, especially when it comes to pivoting and keeping his balance. He’s very sound, although unspectacular, with the puck, usually making the safe, solid pass and happily sends in accurate shots from the blueline, not being too shabby when it comes to taking one-timers, either. He’ll nonetheless try to force things at times or send a pass through that has a minimal success rate. Hagg's defensive game is clearly the key aspect that is going to keep him happily employed throughout his career. He’s positionally sound and loves to check, displaying good timing and decision making when it comes to taking the body. And although he does this, he usually keeps things simple in protecting his own end. Whether aggressive or calm, his ability to decipher which to employ at what time has been improving along the way, although it was often a weakness when playing against pros at the men’s level, which is understandable at this stage in his development.

Hagg showed moments of strength and weakness throughout the season, but one must take into account that he participated in a whopping 83 games at essentially three different levels this past season, where hiccups and growing pains are bound to be a part of the learning and maturing process.

Hagg ultimately projects as a solid NHL defenseman, especially once he’s matured and learned the ropes, but there is a belief that the upside could be limited. Chances are that a team will be happy to grab him in the second round in this draft.

5. Jacob de la Rose – F – Shoots: Left – 6'2" 190 lbs.
CSS European Rank #7
May 20, 1995

On the map for several years now, de la Rose has gone about proving himself as a physical commodity. Although possessing hands and a shot that one could safely call ‘just fine’, his offensive game hasn’t quite gotten to the level it may one day get to. For the time being, it’s his great size, strength, mobility and the willingness to incorporate all three of these things into his everyday game that have gained him the most attention. He’s clearly a player coaches like as he knows how to stand up for teammates and sacrifice his body for the greater good of the team, blocking shots with regularity. In addition, he’s already gained a bit of a reputation as a hard worker who gets the job done shorthanded while pushing opponents relentlessly.

This past season, de la Rose’s status in the Swedish junior sector was unquestioned, having suited up and played regular minutes for both his country’s U20 and U18 WJC teams. At the U20, he gathered a +1 and 22 penalty minutes. At the U18 he chipped in one goal, three points and 29 penalty minutes. He also added a goal and five points in four U20 games for Leksand. However, he spent the great majority of the year skating for Leksand’s men’s team in the Allsvenskan, posting six goals, 13 points, 33 penalty minutes and a +9 rating in 48 total contests. Furthermore, de la Rose was able to settle in and establish himself playing at the men’s level, which clearly gave him a better understanding of just what he is currently physically capable of and how he needs to go about surviving and ultimately excelling in the pro ranks.

Heading into this season considered a probable first rounder, de la Rose may very well first end up hearing his name called in the second round on Sunday.

6. Linus Arnesson – D – Shoots: Left – 6'2" 190 lbs.
CSS European Rank #13
Sep 21, 1994

Having represented his country since the age of 16, including pulling on the gold and blue at this winter’s U20 WJC, Arnesson is one of those quiet defensemen who goes about his job doing everything possible to keep his team’s zone nice and tidy.

Another tall blueliner with a body that’s still filling in, Arnesson is a pretty solid skater who can make a fine first pass, although he generally shows little creativity in doing so. Some feel the stickhandling skills do exist and may expand as he matures, but for now his job is to keep things simple. He can be physical and has the type of skating and in-game understanding that allows him to read the play well and take space away from oncoming opponents. He also knows what his assignments are, but can get a little concentrated on the man-to-man coverage at times.

Arnesson spent the bulk of this season on the same Djurgarden team as Alexander Wennberg, playing with that club's Swedish Allsvenskan squad where he humbly had one assist, eight penalty minutes and a -3 rating in 35 total games. He also suited up a total of 15 times for the club’s U20 team, gathering one goal, four points, 22 penalty minutes and a +1 rating. This is of course added to the 20 U20 games he participated in this winter for Sweden, including all six of the WJC contests (6 penalty minutes). In total, he collected one goal, three points, 22 penalty minutes and a +3 rating while playing for Tre Kronor.

Arnesson has a lot of the attributes and promise that teams look for in the late rounds of a draft. With his international and men’s professional experience, despite a lack of any gaudy stats, it’s likely that his name will be called somewhere between the third and fifth round of the draft.

7. Viktor Arvidsson – F – Shoots: Right – 5’9” 175 lbs.
CSS European Rank #19
Apr 08, 1993

Arvidsson is one of the oldest players in the draft and not one of the larger ones, either, but his ability to excel at every level, regardless of how good the competition is, just cannot be ignored. And it likely won’t be this time around.

Arvidsson’s season has been an extremely good one and, aside from gathering four points in four games for Skelleftea’s U20 team, he has spent this entire season playing for the SEL champions, chipping in with six playoff goals, eight points and a +6 rating during the 13 games necessary for the team to win it all. This outstanding performance came on the heels of a solid rookie season that saw Viktor score seven goals and 12 points in 49 games, being brought along slowly at the beginning and with his responsibility increasing right on into the playoffs. He also played a key role for the silver medalist U20 WJC team, having collected four goals, five points and a +1 rating in six tournament matches.

Size has kept Arvidsson back for the most part in previous drafts, but this season there was no more questioning his ability to simply be an impact player, despite whatever limitations people felt he had. His skating and stickhandling are a pure pleasure to watch and clearly belong with his biggest strengths. He can twist and turn, wheel and deal, and go about pestering opponents with the best of them in the finest waterbug manner. An offensive dynamo, Arvidsson shows strong hockey sense and awareness all around the ice. He knows when to pass, but also loves to shoot and his speed and ability to dangle allow him to get into shooting lanes almost at will. In addition, he brings the energy and work ethic coaches love and has shown himself to be responsible in all three zones.

With the rules on draft picks as they are nowadays, it is not uncommon for smaller skill players to often get overlooked by teams with a ‘wait and see attitude’. Well, despite the long road of patience to this point, Arvidsson spent this past season turning heads and there’s little doubt that he’ll be NHL property come July 1st.

8. Peter Cehlarik – F – Shoots: Left – 6’2” 198 lbs.
CSS European Rank #28  
Aug 2, 1995

Peter Cehlarik is a Slovakian player who just had maybe the biggest whirlwind ride of any draft-eligible European player this past season.

With a tall, skinny figure, but enough weight to allow him to perform adequately with and against men, Cehlarik spent this past season in Sweden with the Lulea franchise. It was his second year there and the team had some considerable expectations for him as a U18 team leader with the ability to help out their U20 team. He did more than help out, pretty much becoming its best contributor, chipping in with 17 goals, 21 assists and 12 penalty minutes in 41 total games. This was accompanied by his eight goals, 17 points and +13 in 10 total games for the U18 program.

Still, as nice as all this was, it paled in comparison to what happened at the end of the season, when Cehlarik was called up to the SEL club and promptly contributed three goals, six points and a +8 rating in eight regular season contests. It was so impressive that the team kept him up for the playoffs where, in a minimal role, he was able to contribute another goal and +1 rating over six games. This was followed just days later by a key role for newly-promoted Slovakia at the U18, where Peter added two goals and seven points in six games, helping a battered Slovakian team achieve class retention.

There’s a lot to like about Cehlarik, who is far from finished with his development. He is big, knows how to use his size and is strong along the boards. His stride is good and his on-ice vision is very much part of his incorporated game. He displays increasing power-play capabilities and can function well as a sniper and a playmaker, as he simply has a knack for generating offense. He shows little fear and actually moves quite well for a big man although that desired second gear just doesn’t seem to be there at this point. He does work very hard, however, giving opposing defensemen a lot to deal with, and comes out of corners with the puck more times than not.
 
The plan is that Cehlarik will return to Lulea next season, where he’s expected to stick with the SHL club (as the SEL has now changed its name to SHL). Of course, there’s also talk that he could head to North America and, with the chances pretty good that he’ll get drafted, perhaps within one of the first four rounds, there will surely be some input coming from the team that holds his NHL rights come July 1st.

9. Wilhelm Westlund – D – Shoots: Left – 5'11" 185 lbs.
CSS European Rank #15
Mar 15, 1995

An average-sized kid of a humble nature, Westlund found himself spending half the season in the SEL, scoring one goal and going -1 in 32 total games. The majority of his season was spent playing a major role for the club’s U20 team, collecting three goals, 15 assists, 78 penalty minutes and a +9 rating. Originally cut from the country’s U18 team, Westlund was recalled after the injury to Carl Dahlstrom and proceeded to gather an assist and +1 rating in four games. The outing proved to be a very good thing for Westlund’s draft position and his inspired yeoman’s work will likely have put him on few teams’ short list.

As a player, Westlund simply possesses the defensive tools to take considerable steps in development over the next 4-6 years. His skating is adept, especially his first few steps, and attacking forwards do not tend to be able to skate by him easily. His awareness and mobility keep him right in the middle of things when it comes to protecting his own net, but he can be caught missing an assignment every now or again. Despite a good level of grit and no hesitation from heading into dangerous areas if necessary, Westlund is not necessarily a physical player who aggressively seeks out contact. Whenever possible, he prefers to let positioning and a timely stick check be the tools he best utilizes in disrupting opponents. Of course, much of that could be attributed to many minutes playing against men at a top-flight level, where his own body strength just wouldn’t be enough to deal with on-comers.

Westlund has been playing internationally with the national program the past three seasons, and his play at Sweden’s highest professional level is nothing to bat one’s eyelashes at. Players with this profile are usually welcome additions in the middle rounds of a draft.

10. Lucas Wallmark – F – Shoots: Left – 5’11” 176 lbs.
CSS European Rank #16
Sep 5, 1995

One of the very exciting things about Lucas Wallmark is that he is, well, quite exciting. A playmaker oozing with creativity, Wallmark is considered one of the premiere U18 players in all of Sweden – at least amongst those in the Swedish ice hockey scene.

This season, he had to deal with a hip injury and this prevented him from getting the playing time and viewing to perhaps be elsewhere in the draft rankings. It also affected Wallmark along the way even when he was able to play.

In general, Wallmark's skating is still considered something that can use some good work, but he does have the type of shiftiness and knows how to use edges to give him an advantage that he cannot gain through straight-away speed. What he does have, though, are hands and they allow him to do quite a bit, even in being able to make those dazzling passes that bring their fair share of ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’. Seen as a complementary player, he does have a nice array of shots and isn’t afraid to use them, but they are usually first coming from a generally close range. As passing and creativity are his strengths while skating isn’t his top attribute, he can often be found distributing the puck to players who are on the move.

Heading to Lulea of the SHL next season, Wallmark was actually part of the championship Skelleftea program this past season, but he only saw two games and limited minutes with the big club. After 16 points, 18 penalty minutes and a +5 rating with the club’s U20 team, it was felt he would best be able to progress playing in the Allsvenskan. Loaned out to Karlskrona, he did quite well for himself, putting up five goals and 15 points in 23 total games, even going +2 in the seven qualification round games. His season concluded with two goals and five points in five U18 contests for Sweden.

There’s no telling where Wallmark might have been ranked had he been able to play the whole season, but he isn’t lacking in the areas of stickhandling, passing, vision or in-game hockey sense, and he is believed to be well on his way to establishing a 6’0” 190-pound frame when all is said and done. There’s bound to be an NHL team that will be happy to add him to the ranks at some point before the sixth round on Sunday.

Other notables

As with prior drafts, there should be no lack of players being picked out of Sweden this year, even if a few possess Norwegian or Danish passports.

Having spent the past few seasons in Sweden are draft-eligibles Markus Soberg (Frolunda) and Mattias Norstebo (Brynas), both of whom hail from Norway. Soberg had just the type of season he needed to stay on a few teams’ maps, but hasn’t been able to break through as some felt he might back when he was getting top-line minutes at the 2011 U18 tournament as a 15-year-old. Norstebo, on the other hand, has done nothing but rise up the charts, almost astronomically, and if he were six inches taller, folks may have been speaking of him as one of the top 20 prospects whatsoever coming out of Europe. Then there is Dane Mads Eller of Frolunda who, despite the bloodlines (Mads is the brother of the Montreal Canadians' Lars Eller) and a number of bulldog-style attributes that are easy to like, hasn’t come close to having the season teams were looking to see out of him. Nonetheless, he was a cornerstone of Denmark's U18 team that gained promotion back into the A group, having chipped in two goals, six points, 10 penalty minutes and a +5 rating in just five games in that tournament.

Of course, despite these more exotic hockey names, there are likely to be a number of Swedish-born players taken ahead of them. One of them will be 5’11”, 190-pound defenseman Emil Djuse, for example, who was a regular on the silver medal-winning WJC team and spent the entire season playing men’s hockey in the Allsvenskan, where he had four goals and 15 points in 43 total games. Another is the hulking 6’3”, 190-pound Carl Dahlstrom of Linkoping juniors, who was also having an ever-improving season, having been one of the top defenders in Sweden’s top junior circuit. He was primed for a key role at the U18 tournament before getting injured right beforehand in a test event.

Two other defensemen whose names you should expect to see called along the way are Anton Cederholm and Niklas Hansson, both of whom hail from the Rogle program. Both are works in progress, but have shown themselves to be quite teachable and possess some of the attributes that teams desire when projecting their possibilities over the next 3-5 years. Three other defensive names to keep an eye on are Jesper Pettersson (Linkoping juniors – 14 games with the SEL team), Andreas Borgman (Timra juniors – five games with the SEL team) and the smaller Robin Norell (Djurgarden juniors), the latter of which found himself getting some good minutes at the U18 tournament.

Though not quite as stout as the defensive prospects lining the walls of this draft’s depth, the forward ranks also include a number of young men who should be the property of an NHL franchise come July 1st.

One of the most talked about Swedish players several years ago was Victor Crus-Rydberg, a 5’11” 187-pound center who represented Sweden at the U18 this past spring. Although he had a fairly strong winter, his stock has dropped in light of not having quite developed to the level of dominance some felt he’d have achieved by now.

Among the most exciting forwards are Frolunda’s Andreas Johnson, who put up one SEL goal in 12 games after an impressive 24 goals, 56 points, 66 penalty minutes, and a +32 in 46 U20 circuit games, as well as the impressive yet smaller playmaker, Filip Sandberg, who had two goals at the WJC as well as two points in 15 SEL games for HV71. This came on the heels of a U20 season that saw Filip chip in 27 goals, 62 points and a +27 rating in 40 total games.

A number of other players that pose some good promise did some great things at the junior level and have spent some time playing for Sweden internationally over the course of the past two seasons. These include no less than Gustav Possler, Victor Ohman (both MODO juniors), Adam Brodecki (Brynas juniors), Alexander Henriksson (Farjestad juniors), Anton Blidh (Frolunda), Tobias Liljendahl (Djurgarden) and the smaller but effective Leon Bristedt (Linkoping juniors). Overagers Ludvig Nilsson, Jeremy Bryce-Rotevall (both Timra) and Tobias Tornkvist (Rogle) could also find themselves being drafted this time around.

Sweden is also a country that has been well-known for the goaltenders it has churned out over the course of time and although no goaltender in this year’s crop appears to be going ahead of the top 10 ranked players coming out of Sweden, both Ebbe Sionas of the AIK juniors and Marcus Hogberg of the Linkoping juniors have a very good chance of being taken along the way. Sionas has been ranked among the top European goaltenders for pretty much the entire season and appeared in 2 games at the U18 WJC. But particularly the 6’4” 195-pound Hogberg is quite interesting, having even seen three games of SEL action and having put up a very respectable 2.57 goals-against average in the process after a fairly dominating performance at the junior level, where he had a 2.41 goals-against and .917 save percentage in 23 games.

As usual, there are another handful of Swedish players who are technically ranked and could very well be picked along the way.

Abbreviations:
AHL = American Hockey League
CSS = Central Scouting Service
SEL = Svensk Elitliga (Swedish Elite League)
SHL = Svensk Hockeyliga (Swedish Hockey League)
Allsvenskan = 2nd highest level of men’s professional hockey in Sweden

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin