Sweden’s Fall proving as fruitful as ever for NHL prospects with an eye on the 2014 WJC

By Chapin Landvogt
Mattias Janmark-Nylen - Team Sweden

Photo: Detroit Red Wings forward prospect Mattias Janmark-Nylen (#24), shown here in action with Sweden at the 2013 Karjala Cup, has been scoring a a point-per-game clip for AIK this season (courtesy of Janerik Henriksson/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The first quarter of the Swedish Hockey League’s 2013-14 season has come and passed, and there’s plenty to be happy about in the scouting community. The number of young, recently drafted players currently dotting the rosters of both SHL and Allsvenskan (second highest men’s professional league in Sweden) clubs is about as impressive as ever, as professional teams continue to have little concern about going to battle with line-ups that often only feature an average age of 23-25.

SHL

Coming out of the starting gates like gangbusters has been the Detroit Red Wings' 2013 third round draft pick Mattias Janmark-Nylen, an overager who raised a few eyebrows last season while collecting 14 goals and 31 points as a 19-year-old. He has been leading his club AIK in scoring pretty much right from Day One this season and currently has 12 goals and 19 points in 19 games. As a testament to his rise, he has been called up to the national team to play in this weekend’s Karjala Cup tournament.

Perhaps just impressive has been the start put in by Frolunda winger Andreas Johnson, who was picked in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The rangy winger with a nice pair of hands and loads of energy has made an impact like few would have expected coming in, having already collected 10 goals and 16 points in the team’s first 19 games, enough to be the team’s top scorer. First turning 19 on the 21st this month, Andreas has his eyes firmly set on an appearance for the blue and gold at the WJC this winter. He will play this weekend for Sweden at the Four Nations Cup in Russia.

Two more forwards of considerable note so far in the SHL have been Buffalo Sabres' 2013 fifth rounder, Gustav Possler, and Nashville Predators' 2012 second rounder Pontus Aberg. Possler has collected eight goals and 13 points for Modo, one of the SHL’s more veteran-laden teams, and has even solidified a position on one of the team’s power-play units, no easy feat considering the experience the roster has to offer. After scoring all eight goals in the first 11 games, Possler’s production slowed down a bit and is now on hold after suffering an injury last week, one which should not keep the 18-year-old out of WJC consideration. Aberg spent the entire 2011-12 season in the SEL before honing his offensive game last year with Djurgarden in the Allsvenskan, leading the team in scoring with 40 points in 52 games. Back in the show with Farjestad, the competitive Aberg has been a regular contributor with five goals and nine points in 16 games.

Not to be forgotten is Anaheim Ducks' 2011 second rounder William Karlsson, who is playing his second full season in the SHL. Last season for HV71, the crafty, compact, and speedy Karlsson scored four goals and 28 points while gathering a +17 rating. Some felt he may spend this season in North America, but he instead returned to suit up for the Jonkoping-based team where he has five goals and nine points in 19 games. This is accompanied by a +1 rating, which is worth mentioning, because the usually successful club has spent almost the entire season at one of the last two spots in the standings.

Other forwards taking on a nice role with their SHL teams are Columbus Blue Jackets' 2013 first rounder Alexander Wennberg for Frolunda and Montreal Canadiens' 2013 second rounder Jacob de la Rose for Leksand, who each have six points this season. The Canadiens' 2012 second rounder, Sebastian Collberg, has chipped in three assists for Frolunda this season. All three are expected to return to action for Team Sweden at the 2014 WJC.

With respect to regular ice time, other drafted forwards who are earning their keep with a somewhat regular shift in the SHL include Farjestad’s Max Gortz (Nashville, 6th round in 2012), Skelleftea’s Oskar Sundqvist (Pittsburgh, 3rd round in 2012), Brynas’ Emil Molin (Dallas, 4th round in 2011), Frolunda’s Erik Karlsson (Carolina, 4th round in 2012), and Linkoping’s Joachim Nermark (Colorado, 4th round 2011, but rights relinquished). Each has come to take on a specific role with his respective team.

Although not Swedish, one of the league’s most interesting and unorthodox acquisitions this past offseason was Los Angeles Kings’ 2012 sixth rounder Tomas Hyka of the Czech Republic. After having spent the past two seasons averaging well over a point-per-game for the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, the underweight Czech decided to move to one of the world’s top professional leagues. In 16 games for Farjestad, the 20-year-old winger has popped in three goals and eight points while sporting a -1 rating.

Continuing to make a more than solid name for himself as an up-and-coming offensive defenseman is 21-year-old John Klingberg. A 2010 fifth round draft pick of the Dallas Stars, John arrived on the scene for 2012-13 SEL champion Skelleftea last season with one goal and 13 points in just 25 regular season games. He added another four points and a whopping +9 on the way to the title. He’s picked up where he left off last season, but instead wearing a Frolunda jersey where he has five goals and 11 points in 17 games to date. His development has been so impressive that he is spending this weekend playing for the men’s national team in the Karjala Cup in Finland.

Another young defenseman, and Klingberg’s teammate in Frolunda, was also expected to join the national team this weekend, namely Toronto Maple Leafs 2011 fourth rounder, Tom Nilsson. The defensive-oriented blueliner has had a very solid debut in the SHL after having played for Mora with Anze Kopitar and Bobby Ryan in the Allsvenskan during last fall’s NHL lockout. Unfortunately, a knee injury will sideline him this weekend, if not for several weeks thereafter. Of special note is that both Klingberg and Nilsson have been averaging over 20 minutes of ice time for Frolunda so far this season.

Another big time minute-muncher has been the Red Wings' 2011 fifth rounder Mattias Backman, who has two goals, seven points and a +5 rating in 19 games this season. He arrived in the league in a major way last season skating as Linkoping’s top offensive defenseman, having finished the season with 26 points and a +5 rating. He then added two goals, eight points and a +6 rating in just six playoff games. Already under contract with Detroit, he is expected to cross the pond for good next fall.

Dallas Stars 2012 second rounder Ludvig Bystrom has effectively brought his smooth-skating game to Farjestad this fall, where his coach is investing over 17 minutes of ice time per game in him. He’s repaid that trust with one goal, five points and an impressive +6 rating in 19 games. He had six points and a +7 in 30 SHL games last season. Minnesota Wild prospect Daniel Gunnarsson, who has already had two outstanding seasons in a row for regular title candidate Lulea, is still getting top four minutes, but hasn’t quite made the impact he’s used to making. A minus player at the moment, he’s still seeking his first goal of the season, something he’d desperately like to add to his five helpers in 19 games.

Other NHL-drafted defenseman getting a good shake at playing time in the SHL this season include Modo’s Robert Hagg (Philadelphia, 2nd round in 2013) and Viktor Loov (Toronto, 7th round in 2012), Brynas’ Christian Djoos (Washington, 7th rounder in 2012), and Frolunda’s Erik Gustafsson (Edmonton, 4th round in 2012). Young Wilhelm Westlund (Colorado, 7th round in 2013) has suited up for four games for Farjestad.

A trend towards younger players hasn’t made itself all too apparent in the goaltending department this season, however, even if many clubs had given young draftees a lot of minutes and responsibility in recent years.

But there is one team that is placing its goaltending faith entirely into the hands of two recently drafted goalies. Modo is splitting time between Buffalo Sabres' 2012 sixth rounder Linus Ullmark and Columbus Blue Jackets' 2011 seventh rounder Anton Forsberg, and the team can’t say it’s disappointed in their performances. Ullmark in particular is raising some eyebrows with his 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage through 10 games, though Forsberg has not exactly paled in comparison with a 2.05 goals-against and .930 save percentage in his nine games this season. The duo has helped considerably in currently placing Modo in 5th place.

Farjestad has also looked to former Winnipeg Jets prospect Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel for the majority of its goaltending duties this season. His year has been decent as he’s posted a 2.24 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 11 appearances to date.

Allsvenskan

As impressive as it is to see many of these draftees making their way in Sweden’s top pro circuit, it is often felt that the greater amounts of ice time and situational play, such as power-play and penalty-killing experience, that players can often acquire in the Allsvenskan has a longer-lasting effect on their actual development. Young defensemen in particular are well-liked in this league and afforded the opportunity to hone their skills and get used to the faster pace of men’s hockey at this level, something NHL teams are usually quite enthusiastic about, particularly for freshly-drafted players.

Of note this season is without a doubt Ottawa Senators 2012 seventh round selection Mikael Wikstrand, who was part of the 2013 silver medal-winning WJC squad. He’s spending his second straight season with Mora where he’s continuing his offensive development – and domination – after having gathered 11 goals and 25 points there last season. This year he’s off to an amazing pace with three goals, 13 points, and a +6 rating in his first 16 games. The mobile defenseman’s choice to remain in the Allsvenskan was a bit unexpected as options to sign with an SHL team were not lacking.

Almost as strong has been the play of former Nashville Predators’ prospect Simon Karlsson, who has been a big reason why Karlskrona has been the league’s top club and biggest surprise. The former OHL player has contributed two goals, 12 points, 28 penalty minutes and a +9 rating in 15 games this season. He’s been contributing everywhere and taking an almost unexpected positive step in his development.

Boston Bruins' 2013 second rounder Linus Arnesson is taking a regular shift for Djurgarden. The sound defensive defenseman has three assists and a +1 rating in 17 games, while also sporting 24 penalty minutes. Former Florida Panthers prospect Rasmus Bengtsson has rejoined the Allsvenskan after two seasons in the USHL, but the transition has been a rough one as he hasn’t mustered up any points and a less than remarkable -5 rating in 13 games for a Vasteras team that fully intends on gaining promotion. Having just as hard a time with things is the Panthers' 2012 seventh rounder, Jonatan Nielsen, whose stats mirror those of Bengtsson, but in 15 total games for Troja-Ljungby. Faring a bit better with one goal, three points and a -3 rating for Sodertalje is the Chicago Blackhawks’ and NHL’s last overall 2013 draft pick, Robin Press. Other drafted defensemen making their way with some regular ice time in the Allsvenskan include Rogle’s Niklas Hansson (Dallas, 3rd rounder in 2013) and Malmo’s Calle Andersson (New York Rangers, 4th rounder in 2012, and older brother to top 2015 prospect, Rasmus Andersson).

Much like in the SHL, there are a number of young goalies in the Allsvenskan, many of whom have not been drafted. Only a few of those drafted have gotten anything resembling regular playing time, though.

The most notable may be St. Louis Blues’ 2011 fifth rounder Niklas Lundstrom, who has been fairly solid for Sodertalje. Playing in all 17 games as the clear-cut starter, he’s managed a 2.64 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Another one of those is Djurgarden keeper, former Chicago Blackhawks prospect Johan Mattsson, a former OHL and USHL player who has put up a 2.43 goals-against and .907 save percentage in just eight games so far. He is, however, being outplayed by the same-aged and undrafted goalie Adam Reideborn. One goalie from whom much is expected in the future is Ottawa Senators’ 2013 third rounder Marcus Hogberg, who has yet to shine as hoped with a disappointing 3.08 goals-against average and .894 save percentage in nine games for Mora. He too has been outplayed by his partner, Lithuanian Mantas Armalis, who himself is only 21. Lastly, former Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Iilahti is also splitting time in net for Timra, where he has a 2.50 goals-against and .904 save percentage.

After arriving on the SHL scene in a short, but impressive fashion at the end of last season, Boston Bruins' 2013 third round pick Peter Cehlarik has spent the majority of this season on loan to Asploven, where he’s been given a top-six forward role and the ice time necessary to collect five goals, 13 points and +3 rating in 17 games. Also pulling more than his weight has been another former Vancouver Cancuks’ prospect, Pathrik Westerholm, who, after 31 total points in 58 Allsvenskan games last season, already has 11 goals and 15 points in 18 games this season, accompanied by a +11 rating. Former Ottawa Senators prospect Marcus Sorensen has chipped in 11 points in 15 games for Djurgarden while Columbus Blue Jackets' 2012 sixth rounder Daniel Zaar has nine points in 19 games and is battling for a spot on the WJC roster. Other NHL-drafted forwards gaining experience in the Allsvenskan include Anton Blidh (Boston, 6th rounder in 2013) and Emil Pettersson (Nashville, 6th rounder in 2013).

All in all, Sweden’s incredibly high number of NHL draftees in recent summers is well represented in the country’s two highest levels of professional hockey.

Eyes on the WJC

With this weekend serving as a break in the European leagues, a number of the aforementioned players will be involved for Sweden in international action. William Karlsson was nominated for the men’s national team, but will be passing on the Karjala Cup event while John Klingberg takes part in it. Most key for the preparation of the WJC team whatsoever is this weekend’s Four Nations Cup in Russia. The team being taken by Coach Rikard Gronborg will feature no less than the aforementioned Marcus Hogberg, Linus Arnesson, Christian Djoos, Robert Hagg, Sebastian Collberg, Jacob de la Rose, Andreas Johnson, Erik Karlsson, Oskar Sundqvist, Alexander Wennberg, and Daniel Zaar.

Expected to be a key contributor on this weekend’s team was Gustav Possler, who will have to pass due to the aforementioned injury. He is nonetheless a very likely candidate for the WJC squad. Not to be forgotten in looking forward is the Erie Otters' Andre Burakovsky, taken in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals, who would seem almost a lock in light of his outstanding OHL performance to date, along with the fact that the event is taking place in his hometown. Another forward who likely won’t be left off the team come December is would-be returnee Nick Sorensen, an Anaheim Ducks' 2013 second rounder, who has had some health issues to date, but has put up 15 points in nine QMJHL games for the Quebec Remparts.

On the defensive side, the country’s options seem endless, yet consideration will likely be given to Minnesota Wild 2013 second rounder Gustav Olofsson, who had a strong USHL season heading into his draft, but has gotten precious little ice time for Colorado College to date. To conclude, Rogle-raised Anton Cederholm made a last-minute jump from his home team in the Allsvenskan to the Portland Winterhawks before the season. The Vancouver Canuck 2013 fifth rounder and former U18 national player has started the season very nicely with eight points, 28 penalty minutes and a +13 in 17 games. Cederholm's new-found experience with North Americans in what is widely considered one of the roughest junior circuits on the planet could be just too much for Coach Gronborg to pass up on.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin

 

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