The SHL has in recent years churned out products for NHL bluelines, and the 2015-16 season has been no different. Once again a number of different young veterans and overagers have bloomed to the tune of NHL offers, with former Vancouver Canucks draft pick Henrik Tommernes likely leading the group.
In addition to being a first liner for the champion Frolunda Indians, Tommernes contributed 12 goals, 37 points and +17 rating in 66 total games. Of course, he joins young vets like Tim Heed and Linus Hultstrom as one of the players who has become more and more interesting on the international market.
Nonetheless, the 2015-16 season saw several young men make their NHL teams extremely excited by taking on big roles with their respective clubs, despite their still very tender age. What was outstanding was not only the fact that several improved, but rather that players such as Gustav Forsling, Jacob Larsson, and Andreas Englund were cogs to every bit of success that their respective teams enjoyed. As such, it should come as no surprise that several of these players will be turning in their visiting cards in North America next season.
Here’s a look at this past season’s top 10 NHL-drafted defensemen in the SHL.
1. Gustav Forsling – 2014 5th round, Vancouver Canucks (currently Chicago Blackhawks)
In his draft year, Gustav Forsling did some nice things at the junior level and followed that up with a dazzling U18 tournament. Still, at 5’10” and 165 pounds, he was anything but a certain draft pick at the time. He now weighs in at 6-foot, 182 pounds and is coming off his second full season of SHL hockey for Linkoping. There, he was a regular top four defenseman getting ample power play time. By the time his team bowed out in a tough, six-game first round bout, Forsling had amassed seven goals, 24 points, and a +23 rating in 54 games. This wonderful output was accompanied by three points and a +2 rating in six WJC games. Now part of an exciting Chicago Blackhawks organization, a world of opportunity awaits Forsling, who has become known for his powerful one-timer from the blueline. North American fans will not have to wait long to see what this little big man is capable of on a bigger stage.
2. Niklas Hansson – 2013 3rd round, Dallas Stars
A few miles south of Forsling, the right-shooting Niklas Hansson started off the season like gangbusters for HV71. After a quarter of the season was through, he already had four goals and 14 points from the blueline. Having turned 21 this past January, HV71 experienced quite a blow when Hansson was injured, causing him to lose not only his mojo, but a good portion of the season. The good news for Dallas is that he came back and somewhat found his form again, finishing off the season with seven goals and 22 points in a total of 50 games. This was accompanied by a -11 rating, but he was +1 in the playoffs and much of those defensive ills were not necessarily at the beginning of the season. The 6-foot, 180-pounder is currently with the Texas Stars of the AHL.
3. Carl Dahlstrom – 2013 2nd round, Chicago Blackhawks
Like Forsling, Carl Dahlstrom is a Linkoping defenseman in the Chicago organization who is coming off a memorable and successful season. Unlike Forsling, he is less about offense and more about using his 6’4”, 227-pound frame to keep opponents honest and prevent them from scoring. As his +13 would indicate, this is something the 21-year-old was successful in doing for almost the entire season. Expected to be a third-pairing defenseman after 55 SHL contests last season, Dahlstrom exceeded expectations and gave Linkoping new options on the blueline. Cool, smart, collected and proving that he can take instructions, Dahlstrom quietly chipped in nine points in 56 games. He is currently getting his feet wet for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, but is scheduled to be manning the point again for Linkoping next season.
4. Jacob Larsson – 2015 1st round, Anaheim Ducks
They love their Swedish defensemen out in Anaheim and as such, it must have been a no-brainer for many when the Anaheim Ducks grabbed Jacob Larsson 27th overall last summer. He was coming off of 20 SHL contests and three points in five U18 contests. An all-around defender still growing into what should be a very solid frame, Larsson headed into this season with a whole lot of competition on Frolunda’s blueline. All he did was push aside a few more established names in earning a good portion of ice time. With his season still raging on, he’s put up five goals, 16 points and a +13 rating for Frolunda to date and also contributed a healthy three points and +3 rating for Sweden at the WJC. Most impressive is his multifaceted game and the way in which he has ripened at such a quick rate. It is assumed that Larsson will stay in Gothenburg next season and take on an even bigger role for the team for which he has just become a champion, but with Anaheim having parked him in San Diego for the spring, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the club feels he is ready for North America next fall.
5. Gabriel Carlsson – 2015 1st round, Columbus Blue Jackets
A giant like Dahlstrom at 6’4”, Gabriel Carlsson also spent this entire season patrolling the blueline for Linkoping. One of Jacob Larsson’s best friends, the two of them were drafted just two picks apart and have played quite a bit together for various national teams, including this winter’s WJC squad. Carlsson was a key component of the WJC team, chipping in three points and a +1 rating in the team’s seven games and efficiently put up nine points and a +4 for Linkoping in 51 games, outlining his reputation as a minute-munching defensive defenseman. Offensively speaking, there is a belief that there is more in the tank, and he did post eight points and a +7 for the club’s U20 team in just 12 games. With the future looking bright, chances are that Columbus will be looking to allow him another season of heightened SHL responsibility in Sweden.
6. Emil Johansson – 2014 7th round, Boston Bruins
At 6 feet and 194 pounds, the stocky Emil Johansson ended up having an almost thoroughly surprising season for HV71, which started off slow before picking things up as the season wore on. Only expected to be a depth defenseman, Johansson ended up being much more than that, ultimately turning himself into a very usable all-purpose defenseman, who was the team’s biggest story in the playoffs where he contributed three goals and five points in six games after having scored just two goals all season. In total, Johansson spent 56 games with the big club in the SHL, putting up 15 points and a +4 rating while growing into a bigger role with almost every game. He also had three points and a +2 in just two U20 league games. What it means for the Bruins organization going into next season is still to be seen, but Johansson’s strong skating and heady play has to have the brass as impressed with a seventh rounder as one can be.
7. Robin Norell – 2013 4th round, Chicago Blackhawks
You should be noticing a trend here, as Robin Norell is already the third Blackhawks property to make this top 10 list. Yet another kid whose strength and weight is greater than his 5’11” height would indicate, Norell is a physically adept kid who prides himself in a defensively responsible game. As probably the leader of Djurgarden’s kiddy corps blueline, Norell was a workhorse in the regular season, putting up eight points and a +1 rating in 51 games for a team that had to battle hard to see postseason action. Once there, Norell had a tough time of things, facing the opponent’s top lines and often getting burned in the process, going pointless and a -7 in seven playoff matches. Undeterred by this blip on the radar, Chicago has brought Norell over to the aforementioned IceHogs for the second year running and is letting him finish out the season there. At the moment, Djurgarden is keeping their fingers crossed that Norell will be able to spend one more season in the SHL before competing for a full-time NHL position.
8. Andreas Englund – 2014 2nd round, Ottawa Senators
Another rearguard of great importance to Djurgarden this past season, Andreas Englund has been signed by Ottawa after a big year of sound defensive play and tremendous leadership for a very young squad. With six points and 40 penalty minutes in 54 total games, Englund brought his rugged and burly style of play night-in and night-out. Despite a rough playoff outing (like many of his colleagues), Englund did carry a +5 into the postseason. His importance on a team and to Swedish ice hockey was no doubt highlighted by his captaining the WJC team in Finland, for whom his chipped in two points and a +1 rating. There is still plenty of work to do, but Englund is felt to have a game that will adapt well to North America, and by heading to the Senators, he will have several other high-flying Swedish players to work with and help him in his transition. At this point, there is no reason to believe that Ottawa isn’t serious about seeing if Englund can crack their blueline next fall.