JONATHAN HEDSTRÖM: A LOOK AT A LONGSHOT PROSPECT
After having covered many of the more talked about Swedish prospects in this column, it’s now high time to mention some longshot prospects. Every now and them, a long-shot prospect arrives from nowhere and makes it to the NHL.
When you’re picked 221st overall, no one – perhaps not even the management of the team that drafted you – expects you to make it. But there’s a small chance, and with enough determination you might just make it.
Determination is not in short supply for 21 year old Division 1-team Skellefteå AIK left winger Jonathan Hedström, who was picked by 221st overall by the Leafs in the 1997 Draft. After having a sub-par season by his standards in 1997/1998 (scored only 5 goals and has 5 assists in 32 games), he has emerged as a solid point-producer and leader for his team this season while playing the powerforward role that made him a regular on the team in the first place. In 29 games, he has scored 13 goals, and he has 23 assists, to go with a team-best +24 rating. To go with that he has a solid 50 PIM.
Despite the almost one assist per game average, he is not a playmaker. His assist come mainly from hard work along the boards and digging out pucks before feeding passes to his linemates. His shot is average, and that has to improve.
Huselius and Holmkvist odd men out in Färjestad
Two of the more talked about NHL-prospects from Sweden in recent years -Panthers draftee Kristian Huselius and 1997 Mighty Ducks first rounder Mikael Holmkvist have been squeezed out of the Färjestad line-up due to the return of two veterans who played significant parts in their back-to-back Swedish championship wins in 1997 and 1998. The two who returned are small winger Patrik Wallenberg, who had played in Finland, and Peter Nordström who returned to his old club after failing miserably when trying to make it in the NHL with the Boston Bruins.
SAME OLD STORY – SWEDES CHOKE AGAIN.
After yet another failure for the Swedish national team in the World Junior Championships, no major criticism has been directed towards the team, the coach or the players. It seems like Swedes have gotten used to constant failures and constant choking in key-games.
The way I see it, the main reason for this is a lack of emotion from the players. Swedes are always disciplined, and they know how to play a system. They usually have a couple of very skilled players too, but as a team there is not enough heart and emotion. On-ice leadership is a problem too.
Just like stickhandling or skating is a talent, heart and grit is one too. Players can improve it to a certain point, but not all players can be the best skaters, stickhandlers, and not all can have the biggest hearts on the ice either. It seems to me like Sweden has been focusing so much on the defensive side of the game, and downplayed the importance of heart, that not many Swedes show emotion on the ice. The players who defy the system-hockey and show a lot of emotion on the ice are often told to play the system first, and that the emotion is secondary. It should be the other way around. To me, having the desire to win is the single most important quality in a player and when the players with the biggest desire to win are slotted into a role with little room to lead and change momentum of a game, the heart the player will show will suffer.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS 10 BRAVE COACHES !
For many swedish NHL-prospects, this season has so far been an endless practice. Yes, they may dress for games and they are almost always included in their respective clubteams squad, but many just dress to sit on the bench for entire games – or possibly serve “too many men on the ice” – penalties on the much shorter bench at the opposite side of the rink.
The NHL teams that drafted them are surely concerned about this, at least to some degree. It would be better if they played, but experience also shows that players mature into regulars on their club teams after serving a couple of years or so learning how to not be a defensive liability and how to best fit into the teams defensive system. To most coaches in Sweden, knowing how to be a good defensive player is the most important quality if you want to be a regular on a team. The second most important quality is discipline. Don’t show any emotion – just obey the defensive system.
YOUNG AIK-DEFENDERS SHOWING PROMISE
AIK has been a pleasant surprise after having played the first half of the Elitserien. They’re currently 6th in a 12-team league, and they’re sporting a 12-12-3 record after 27 games. Most experts thought they would struggle for points, so having a .500-record more than halfway into the season should be thought of as a successful first half of the campaign.
The team as a whole is not the only ones showing promise though. Two NHL-drafted defensemen have also established themsleves in the league. One of them as a star, and the other one is quickly making a name for himself.
The two players I’m thinking of is Dick Tärnström, drafted 272nd overall in 1994 by the New York Islanders and Henrik Tallinder, drafted 48th overall on 1997 by the Buffalo Sabres.