Ullmark top goaltending prospect playing in Sweden

By Chapin Landvogt

Marcus Hogberg - Sweden

Photo: Linkoping goaltender and Ottawa Senators prospect Marcus Hogberg backed up Oscar Dansk on Sweden’s silver medal squad that competed at the 2014 World Junior Championship (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the arrival of Henrik Lundqvist in the NHL back in the 2005-06 season, the NHL seen an influx of Swedish goaltenders being drafted or signed to professional contracts and brought over to North America at a rate not seen before.

Now, highly rated goalies such as recently drafted Robin Lehner (OTT) and Jacob Markstrom (VAN) have started to make their way into the NHL while somewhat older draft picks such as Jhonas Enroth (BUF) and Anders Lindback (TBL) have taken on bigger roles with their respective clubs. Goaltenders like Eddie Lack (VAN), Jonas Gustavsson (DET), and Viktor Fasth (EDM) have come over at later stages of their careers, but each has found himself filling certain niches over the past couple of seasons.

At the moment, the Swedish pro hockey scene has a number of relatively young goalies, but features few drafted goalies that are still NHL property and are currently active in their native country. Naturally there are a number of players who dot the maps of AHL teams such as Anders Nilsson (NYI), Joacim Eriksson (VAN), Magnus Hellberg (NSH), Christopher Nilstorp (DAL), and Niklas Svedberg (BOS), or are taking on leading roles in Canadian juniors such as recent WJC Team Sweden starter, Oscar Dansk (CBJ). All of these goalies are held in high esteem by their respective clubs.

The following provides a look at the few who you may be hearing more about in North America in the not too distant future.

1. Linus Ullmark – 6’3”, 198 lbs. – 2013-14 Season: MODO
Sixth round (163rd overall) in 2012 by the Buffalo Sabres

Linus Ullmark came into the season uncertain of what his role would be. But he has been given an excellent opportunity to take the bull by the horns and go as far as possible with it, and he has not disappointed.

His club, MODO, decided to enter the year putting all its marbles into a very inexperienced basket, letting Ullmark and the slightly older Anton Forsberg (Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick) split the duties. To this point, Ullmark has gained the role of starter in as much as there is one. He’s played 35 of the team’s 55 games and leads the SHL with a .931 save percentage and is seventh overall with a 2.08 goals-against average.

MODO is currently ranked sixth in the league and looks playoff-bound with just a few games left to play. In the process, Linus has put up a 14-15-4 record, often almost singlehandedly ensuring the team a victory, as was the case in several of his three shutouts to date.

A large goalie, Ullmark has shown a strong ability to read the oncoming play well. Smart positioning and effectively using his size have been keys to his success, and he is also fairly strong on the posts. Ullmark started off the season in strong fashion, but has shown some growing pains as the season has continued, which can be expected of goaltenders his age playing in arguably one of the top five leagues on the planet.

In light of Ryan Miller’s trade to St. Louis and Jhonas Enroth’s inability to so far show himself as a sure-fire starter option for the future, one has to think that the Sabres are very excited by the season Ullmark is having. He’s definitely established himself as the most interesting NHL goaltending prospect currently playing in Sweden.

2. Niklas Lundstrom – 6‘2“, 187 lbs. – 2013-14 Season: Sodertalje
Fifth round (132nd overall) in 2011 by the St. Louis Blues

Signed this past summer by St. Louis after having been drafted several summers ago, Niklas Lundstrom has spent a great deal of his young career playing for Sweden’s national teams, from the U16 to the U20.

This year he has appeared in two games with AIK of the SHL, having put up a 4.39 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. The majority of this season has been spent in the Allsvenskan for Sodertalje, a team that has spent the better part of the season not living up to expectations. In 24 games there, Lundstrom has a 2.86 goals-against and .895 save percentage and has played a role in helping the team remove itself from the initial relegation danger.

Lundstrom is considered your typical butterfly goaltender that, despite good size, does show strong side to side movement. His glove hand can be very impressive at times, too. His skills haven’t always led to the desired results this season, however. More questionable has been his decision-making and mental fortitude at times. The contract given by St. Louis would, however, indicate that they do feel he has a good shot at putting it all together at some point.

Despite the struggles at times this season, one shouldn’t be surprised to see Lundstrom assuming a spot in the SHL next season.

3. Marcus Hogberg – 6’5”, 212 lbs. – 2013-14 Season: Linkoping and Mora
Third round (78th overall) in 2013 by the Ottawa Senators

Marcus Hogberg is an extremely tall goalie who has had a bit of a disappointing season to date. He began the season with the Allsvenskan club Mora where it was widely felt that he’d be the hands-down favorite for the starting job. The maturity and poise he showed last year led credence to this decision. Nonetheless, some lackluster performances and the strong play of Latvian Mantas Armalis has seen Hogberg’s season take a bit of a dive.

Despite a few good appearances here and there, he’s only put up a 2.93 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. He even found himself manning the nets twice for Linkoping’s U20 team, having sported a modest 2.53 goals-against and .925 save percentage.

Originally on loan to Mora from Linkoping, Hogberg got called up to the SHL club when things got tough in the goaltending department and has since played in four games. His play has raised some eyebrows as, in those four games, he’s put up a 1.08 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. Seeing as how he spent last season building a memo on playing better when something was on the line, this strong play under these circumstances almost shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The season surely hasn’t been one Ottawa might have hoped it would be, but the club can afford to be patient on this front, having seen Marcus as a bit of a shot for the fences when they selected him last summer.

4. Fredrik Bergvik – 6‘1“, 194 lbs. – 2013-14 Season: Frolunda Juniors
Fourth round (117th overall) in 2013 by the San Jose Sharks

Having just turned 19 on Valentine’s Day, Fredrik Bergvik has had a decent but unspectacular season for his Frolunda junior club and has recently found himself backing up Linus Fernstrom with the SHL club. In a recent, terribly disappointing 6-0 loss to Orebro, he saw his first SHL action filling in for Fernstrom late in the game, where he made 16 saves on 19 shots. Moreover, he made a few wonderful saves along the way and is giving every indication that he should be ready for the SHL challenge in the very near future.

In juniors this season, Bergvik has stood in goal for 19 games and put up modest numbers, having gathered a 2.68 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. His play hasn’t always been steady and he’s still learning the ropes, but there’s certainly no rush . On the other hand, he had a 1.29 goals-against and .950 save percentage in 14 games for the same club last year, so improvement in the statistical department hasn’t been the case.

At the moment, one has to think that Frolunda could envision Bergvik being given strong consideration for the back-up role come next fall.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin