Below I’ve written some words about a few Swedish prospects of very shifting talent and quality. I’ve chose five players; one center, two wingers and two defenders all located or born in the northern part of Sweden. The selection of the players is more or less random, but I wanted to get as many different types of players as possible represented.
JOHN WIKSTRÖM, 6’5″, 205 lbs, D, 300179, Luleå – 129th 1997, Detroit
HF Comments: John finished the past season in Mörrum (SWE 1st division) after a less successful attempt to play in North America. The season before, he tried out in Piteå HC, also 1st division, but didn’t make it so he was sent back to Luleå juniors. Already at the age of 17, he made his first appearance on the Luleå bench in the Elite League, but it seemed like he never got a chance to step out on the ice. Maybe if he would have, Detroit would have never drafted him, because Wikström has never made it in a senior team. Among juniors, such a big player may appear as dominating, but despite of his size, he is not a very physical player and not very trustable on his own blueline, concerning passing and quick change of play. I don’t know where John will play next season, but I do know that it is highly unlikely that he’ll ever make it to Detroit. Probably not even to the Swedish Elite League. Maybe he’ll be a solid defender in the Swedish 1st division one day.
PIERRE HEDIN, 6’3″, 200 lbs, D, 190278, MoDo – 239th 1999, Toronto
The top three picks by the Carolina Hurricanes in last months NHL Entry draft were surprised, and not always for the best. David Tanabe, Brett Lysak, and Brad Fast were taken in the first, second, and third rounds, respectively.
Carolina made Tanabe their first pick, 16th overall. The pressing need for an offensive defenseman surpassed the available players ranked higher. The Hurricanes had the worst powerplay in the NHL during the 1998-1999 season. The 11 defensemen who skated for the Canes last season combined for 15 goals in 82 regular season games. Of those 15 goals, only three came on the power play. Tanabe, on the other hand, scored ten goals in 35 games. Three of his goals won games and one came on the powerplay. This came in his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the third highest scorer. He has stated that his development is up to the Hurricanes organization and the Minneapolis native will either return to college or sign a contract and go into the Canes system. The combination of his great skating, hard shot, and superior passing caused Carolina to pick him as the third defenseman taken in the draft, when in fact, he was ranked eighth in that category.
In the 6th round of this year’s entry draft, the AIK defender Jan Sandström was picked by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. If 21-year-old Sandström makes it to the NHL, he will also be the 6th player from a small town in northern Sweden called Piteå to join the league.
Piteå is a small town located in northern Sweden. The city with it’s suburbs has about 25 000 inhabitants and the whole county about 40 000. There is no logical explanation to why this particular town should be such a good place for hockey players to develop, but apparently, it is. The city only has two indoor rinks. Pitea’s arena only has room for 1920 spectators and is ready to be torn down. Piteå Hockey has also suffered a lot because of their economy in the past years, but despite of all this, the town seems to develop talented hockey players in a very rare and interesting way.
The first Piteå player to play in the NHL was the Islander defenseman Stefan Persson. During his NHL career (1977-86), he was fortunate to win three Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Persson played 622 NHL regular season games, and scored 369 points and 574 PIM. In a recent voting among journalists he was nominated to be the 6th best Swedish defenseman ever to play the game of hockey.
I know it seems a bit early to be looking ahead to the 1999-2000 OHL season, but the way I see it, it’s never too early to look ahead to next season. The 1998-99 season was a very exciting one for the OHL. The Ottawa 67’s won the Memorial Cup and put together a 14-game winning streak, while the Barrie Colts went undefeated in 31 straight home games.
When Nashville Predators conditioning camp opens this week, all eyes will be on one particular player. David Legwand. Legwand is expected to make a splash in training camp and make the big jump to the next level from the OHL.
Legwand’s numbers signifcantly dropped in 98-99 after an MVP rookie season with the Plymouth Whalers. Some nights he was totally invisible on the ice. He looked more Sergei Fedorov or Alexander Mogilny skating the ice and not knowing what to do with the great skills he possesses unlike the Mike Modano he is usually compared to. Many point to his work on two way play to improve defensively as a reason his numbers dropped. His numbers were still solid, but for Legwand, a major disappointment. Others point to a case of mono he contracted during Predators training camp as a reason for the drop off and he was struggling to recover from the illness. His performance at the World Championship competitions also caused the critics to stand up and rise. He did not stir anything up for Team USA causing some to believe if he is the real deal.
When Legwand’s Whalers got bounced from the OHL playoffs, the Preds immediately signed him, in order to get Legwand into an NHL game. Legwand’s dream had come true. In the final game of the season against New Jersey, he made his first appearance at the Nashville Arena. The Preds were happy with his performance. He didnt make any serious mistakes and took it easy but General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz knew immediately something was missing from Legwand’s game. Size.