Johnson one of a trio of NHL-drafted Frolunda forwards to star in 2015-16

By Chapin Landvogt

Axel Holmstrom - Skelleftea AIK - Champions Hockey League

Photo: Skelleftea AIK forward and Detroit Red Wings prospect Axel Holmstrom (#25) scored 8 goals and 23 points during the 2015-16 campaign (courtesy of Skelleftea AIK/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)


7. Axel Holmstrom – 2014 7th round, Detroit Red Wings

It was a playoff run that ended poorly for Axel Holmstrom, an SHL final returnee, as he had some big shoes to fill this year – namely his own.

After putting up 10 goals and 20 points in the regular season last year, he went on to lead all SHL scorers with 18 points in 15 playoff games. That wasn’t quite the story this year as his Skelleftea team featured a number of leaders and veterans, thus seeing a change in his role and line. Holmstrom concluded this year’s playoffs with two goals, six points and a +3 rating in 10 games. This all said, his all-around game continues to be polished and he continues to show that he is all about doing what needs to be done to win. A cog in the WJC team’s attack, Holmstrom was an assistant captain at the tournament and plied his all-around trade to the tune of six points and a +3 in seven contests.

Already signed by the Detroit Red Wings, Holmstrom put up eight goals and 23 points in 48 regular season games. It is unclear whether he will make the jump to North America next season, but after two straight championship appearances, there is little left for Holmstrom to prove in Sweden.

8. Nick Sorensen – 2013 2nd round, Anaheim Ducks

A team that loves its Swedes, the Anaheim Ducks have had to be very patient with Nick Sorensen, who has spent the bulk of the past three seasons dealing with injuries, including his entire time with the Quebec Remparts. Nonetheless, they do believe in his possibilities and signed him in the summer of 2014. Since then, Sorensen has spent two seasons in the SHL and can thankfully say that the 2015-16 season was his best as a pro to date.

Finally staying healthy for a good 80% of the season, the half-Dane contributed 10 goals and 26 points along with 39 penalty minutes and a +6 rating to Linkoping’s strong season, showing just how important he can be when in the lineup. At the moment, he is with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL and a wait-and-see approach will be taken, but it is believed Anaheim would like to have him taking a regular shift in the AHL next season. If back in the SHL, he will be expected to take on even more responsibility up front.

9. Peter Cehlarik, 2013 3rd round, Boston Bruins

The season was a long one for Slovakian Peter Cehlarik, who was the game-winning hero of Game 4 of the semifinals for Lulea against Frolunda, the team that eventually won it all. With that goal, he continued a decent playoff run in which he put up three goals, five points, and a +3 rating in 11 games. In the midst of his best-ever SHL season, he has put up career numbers of 14 goals, 25 points, and a +12 in 57 games. Nonetheless, he has ultimately been one of the players who (as opposed to teammate Wallmark) hasn’t individually benefited entirely from Lulea’s big spending spree last summer.

At this juncture, the 6’2” power forward is open for a move overseas next season, with inclusion on the national team for the World Championship being a possibility. One way or the other, the Boston Bruins may need to make a decision about whether Cehlarik plays a role in their plans moving forward.

10. Lukas Vejdemo – 2015 3rd round, Montreal Canadiens

One of the big winners in the 2015-16 season, the 6’2”, 194-pound Lukas Vejdemo was almost a surprise third rounder of the Montreal Canadiens last summer, but showed the ice hockey world exactly why he was taken where he was by not only making Djurgarden’s SHL club, but also contributing six goals, 18 points and a +7 rating over 60 games. Questions even abounded when he wasn’t selected for the WJC squad, but Vejdemo took that disappointment like a pro and actually upped his ante over the course of the season.

Seen as a two-way forward who has been learning his lessons in the defensive zone, Vejdemo clearly possesses some natural-born offensive instincts and is scheduled to not only continue his apprenticeship for Djurgarden next season, but even play a bigger role on the offensive front.

Honorable mention

Normally, we’d have expected 2015 first rounder Joel Eriksson Ek to have been amongst the 10 best drafted forwards in the SHL, but this year was much more about learning and growing into a more complete player. His playoff performance, much like that of his team Farjestad, was nothing to write home about (one point, -3 in 4 games), but doesn’t tarnish what was a solid year for the youngster, collecting 10 goals, 16 points, and a +4 rating in 45 SHL contests. He was also a top-9 forward for the country’s WJC team for which he scored two points and had a +2 rating. Already signed by the Minnesota Wild, many feel another year of SHL play would be the best thing for Eriksson Ek at this juncture.

Since going on a strong run two seasons ago, when an ACL tear finished his season off far too early, ultimately removing him from a WJC team he was likely going to play a big role for, Gustav Possler (BUF) has not been able to get back into the groove he seemed to have. The slow transition may be blamed on the injury, but the inability to become the scoring star he once looked like he was turning into can be attributed to unrealistic expectations (perhaps even those he has of himself) and the desolate MODO club he’s been playing for, which was just relegated despite a plethora of young talent and well-known international veterans. In all, the 6-foot, 183-pound forward put up his best numbers to date, collecting 10 goals and 27 points in 59 games. Now 21, Possler has signed with Djurgarden for the upcoming season.

Robin Kovacs was drafted by the New York Rangers last season and was able to push his game forward this season. He had one assist and a miserable -7 rating in four games with Rogle in the SHL, but in pumping in 22 goals and 38 points with a +3 in 51 games for AIK Stockholm in the Allsvenskan, he topped his 35 points and -4 in 62 games in his draft year. He was also one of the final cuts from the WJC squad. Interestingly, the little tyke also collected 83 penalty minutes.

Other notables

Another player who had a strong Allsvenskan season was Pierre Engvall, a Toronto Maple Leafs’ seventh rounder in 2014 who chipped in 13 goals and 25 points in 55 games while taking a fairly regular shift. Despite the strong season he was having, it wasn’t enough to put him ahead of either Christoffer Ehn or Anton Karlsson in consideration for the WJC. Both forwards were part of a Swedish side that finished fourth overall at that tournament.

A Detroit Red Wings prospect, Ehn has had an eventful year, seeing action in 15 U20 league games (18 points) and 13 Allsvenskan matches (5 points). These stations sandwiched the WJC (2 points in 7 games) and 45 SHL contests with Frolunda (2 points). Karlsson, on the other hand, once highly touted, continued to search for his form this season, suiting up for five different teams including the WJC squad. Scoring his first goal in what was his third WJC, Karlsson finally found his niche playing for upstart Leksand (three goals, 11 points in 35 games), helping the team gain promotion into the SHL. A strong skater with a physical edge, the Arizona Coyotes will likely let him remain in Sweden, hopefully with Leksand, to get in a full year of SHL play.

The 6’4”, 201-pound Kevin Stenlund, a Columbus Blue Jackets second rounder in 2015, spent 49 games with HV71 in a learning role. He only had three points and a -7 rating, but there are no worries about his offensive abilities as he put up 24 points and a +11 in 17 U20 games in between.

Jens Looke (ARI) and John Dahlstrom (CHI), both measuring in at roughly 6-foot and 190 pounds, had seasons that were perhaps ‘on par’, although neither was able to cast too much of a spotlight on himself. Looke could not duplicate his draft year, ultimately only seeing five games of scoreless SHL action. Instead, after proving to be too much in the U20 circuit (14 points, +9 in 10 games), he spent most of the year in the Allsvenskan, putting up just 13 points and a -7 in 34 games for Almtuna. He did chip in four points in seven WJC contests, however, and he is scheduled to spend all season with Timra next year. Dahlstrom had 13 showings with his SHL club Frolunda (one assists, -3), but spent the bulk of the season captaining the U20 squad, for whom he scored 25 goals and 45 points in 42 games. Just eight penalty minutes and an even rating both indicate that he could have been much more involved on all fronts.

Lastly, Emil Pettersson is 22 and was a 2013 draft pick of the Nashville Predators. After a strong showing last season in the Allsvenskan, he proceeded to put up 15 goals and 31 points in 59 games for MODO, which managed to get relegated for the 2016-17 season. It is felt that he may very well be signed and brought over.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin


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