Swedes have draft class of a lifetime for 2009

By Holly Gunning

It’s well-known that the 2009 draft class contains a lot of good Swedish players. The 1991s have long been known as a good cohort, one that probably won’t be matched for decades.

And because of it, the Swedish team at the U18 world championships was thought to be a favorite going in. The entire country knew that this was the moment to go for gold, given the unique collection of talent. The team took a disappointing fifth place, but it wasn’t because they didn’t work hard — as has been a criticism of Swedish hockey over the last decade — but rather that they did not play to their strengths. The U18 team played physically in open ice instead of using their superior skill set to keep the puck away from opponents. If they had played "Swedish hockey," things might have been different.

It’s the defensemen who are the strength of the Swedish draft class. Victor Hedman is challenging for the No. 1 overall pick, but there are several players who could end up being NHL stars as well: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tm Erixon and David Rundblad. Every one of them can skate and pass at a high level.

The Swedish forwards do not lack for skill themselves. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is the highest rated, though he is frustrating in his inconsistency.  He was dazzling at the U20 world juniors, but not impressive at the U18s where he should have shone. He has a very good shot when he puts it to use. He own goaltender told HF that he was the hardest on the team to stop.

Eight of Central Scouting’s top European skaters are Swedes. Beyond the eighth, Marcus Johansson, there is a genuine drop-off in talent.

Sweden is not known for its goaltenders, and that’s not likely to change based on this draft class. Robin Lehner is rated by some, including Central Scouting, as the top European goaltender in the draft, but it’s a wide-open field in a year that’s not considered strong in net. Russian Igor Bobkov or Finn Mikko Koskinen could be the the first European goaltender taken, but that probably won’t happen until about the third round.

In 1999, 2000 and 2002, there were 24 Swedes taken in the NHL entry draft — impressive numbers for a country of just 9 million inhabitants. But that was at a time when there were nine rounds instead of seven. It’s unlikely that this draft class, as good as it is, reaches that number in seven rounds. It is more likely to break records for the number taken in the first and second rounds.

Since 2000, the highest number of Swedes taken in the first round was three, and the highest number taken in the first two rounds was six. It’s likely that about six will be taken in the first round alone this year. Hedman, Ekman-Larsson, Paajarvi-Svensson and forward Jacob Josefson are virtual locks for the first round, with Erixon, Rundblad, and forwards Johansson and Carl Klingberg also in the mix for the top 30.
In contrast, last year there were just three Swedish first-round picks: defenseman Erik Karlsson (No. 15 to Ottawa), center Anton Gustafsson (No. 21 to Washington) and left wing Mattias Tedenby (No. 24 to New Jersey).

With the focus on the top players, there are some potential steals to be had. One of them is Anton Lander, who captained the Swedish U18 entry. He’s a spunky player and character, but is really underrated in skill. His patience with the puck is rarely seen among 18-year-olds and rivals NHL veteran Slava Kozlov. Lander is a hard worker and good both ways, but it’s his patience and passing that really stand out.

Simon Bertilsson was part of the top pairing at the U18 for the Swedes, but was overshadowed by partner Ekman-Larsson. But Bertilsson can hold his own and has more offensive upside than generally given credit for.

Two Swedes who may be overlooked because of size are Patrick Cehlin and Frederick Styrman. Cehlin, a right wing, is just 5’10, while Stryman, a defenseman is just 5’11. Stryman had one of the best shots on the U18 team according to coach Stephan Lundh, but didn’t see power play time as he was further down the depth chart.

Although there’s a lack of IIHF transfer agreement, NHL teams are generally not deterred from selecting Swedes because they are not difficult to lure to North America. Most Swedes grow up aspiring to the NHL, watch NHL games on television, and admire NHL players. It’s rare to find a Swedish defenseman who does not name Nicklas Lidstrom as his favorite player. Most take a similar approach to the game, and with success like his, it would be crazy not to.

Lidstrom’s Detroit Red Wings are known for drafting heavily out of Sweden, but so are the Vancouver Canucks and increasingly the Washington Capitals. A few teams rarely draft from Sweden, the Atlanta Thrashers being one of them.