Swedes to watch for the 2005 Entry Draft

By Johan Nilsson

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In little less than a year, the 2005 NHL Entry Draft will take
place in Ottawa. Players born late in 1986 and before September 16, 1987 will be draft eligible for the first time. The Swedish players born
in 1987 have been described as the most interesting group since the 1982’s. The
1985’s were considered being a poor age group as Robert Nilsson and Johan Fransson were the only standout prospects at an early stage.
Players such as Loui Eriksson and Carl Söderberg have emerged as top prospects in Sweden and
now the 85’s don’t look bad at all.

The Swedish 1986’s have a really impressive depth but unfortunately with the exception of Johannes Salmonsson and Oscar Hedman few really big names. The depth is there though as mentioned which was further illustrated when players like Johan Harju and Alexander Bergström did not even make the Swedish U18 WJC-team. In the Swedish 3rd-tier league there were also several players born 1986 that weren’t really tested with the national team; defensemen Alexander Edler, Anton Strålman and forward Johan Ryno who averaged a point per game playing against men.

The year of the forwards
There is without a doubt an impressive depth among forwards eligible in
2005. In net, Joel Gistedt and Mattias Modig are two very capable goaltenders. The Swedish defense might at this point lack the names the 86’s had but there is a good, even group of players and most of them have already seen plenty of regular
ice time in the U20 league. It is however the forwards that make next year’s draft crop from Sweden so interesting.

Bergfors the top prospect
Nicklas Bergfors is the name of the player that has so far received most of the hype and he is already being thought of as a potential first rounder. He has come off his first
full season in the Swedish U20-league (J20 SuperElit) facing players three to
four years older than him. Bergfors had a huge impact scoring 30 points in 31 games with Södertälje. Those numbers were enough to rank him 14th overall in the league, only 5 points behind Daniel Åhsberg who finished second in the scoring race. When he helped out Södertälje’s U18-team during a shorter stint, playing against players his own age, it was quite obvious that he was on a different level scoring impressive 14 goals and 4 assists in 5 games. This upcoming season Bergfors might have a difficult time matching his numbers in the junior league seeing as he has a good shot at already being a SEL regular at the tender age of 17. As for his skills as a player, enough can’t be said about Bergfors. At barely 5’11”, 190 lbs he is not a giant but he is probably as complete as a player his young age can be. He is a smart, a strong skater, offensively very skilled, has a quick release and also fine playmaking ability. What makes him stand out even more is that he is extremely well trained and shows a great willingness and dedication to improve as a hockey player.

Wandell and Sundström not far behind
Bergfors is far from being the only potential star to come out of Södertälje in the future. His linemate in the junior league, Tom Wandell, will likely soon be playing in the Elite League as well, although probably not this coming season. Wandell is perhaps the most creative and technically skilled Swedish player that will be drafted next year. He has great hockey sense and is a fine playmaker. While Nicklas Bergfors will miss U18 Junior World Cup in August because he is already playing with the Swedish
U20 team, Wandell’s reason for missing the tournament is injury related. The third big name among forwards is former NHLer Patrik Sundström’s son: Alexander Sundström. Sundström, who is strong on the puck and a well-balanced skater, has however already had major problems with injuries. He missed a lot of games this past season and really needs to be healthy for a whole season at this point. Sundström’s club is Björklöven, a team that lacks a junior club in the top
U20 league in Sweden. This means that unless Sundström surprises a lot of us and becomes more or less a regular in the 2nd-tier league, he will be stuck playing in a not very competitive junior league which could further decrease his stock. There is also a possibility for Björklöven, who has a rather deep roster at this point, to send him a loan to another men’s team.

Another strong year for Frölunda
In recent years there have always been a fine group of prospects coming out of Frölunda, and next year will not be an exception. Sebastian Karlsson (late 86), Patrik Zackrisson, Mattias Ritola and Fredrik Pettersson have all been regulars with the Swedish national team and look very
promising. Karlsson, the younger brother of Kings prospect Jens Karlsson, is a strong two-way center with fine playmaking skills. Zackrisson and Ritola are both high scoring players that know where the net is at. The most exciting and perhaps the most interesting player out of these four is the 5’8”, 5’9” machine Fredrik Pettersson. Obviously undersized, but nonetheless one of the most skilled players born 1987 and without a doubt the most energetic one. Pettersson is an amazing skater, very explosive and has unbelievable
work ethic. He is tireless out on the ice forechecking and playing hard until his shift is over. At the same time Pettersson is a good leader and a capable scorer as well as playmaker.

Johan Dahlberg makes Sweden tougher
Another organization that is known for producing quality players is MODO and like always there are a couple of players to watch. Johan Nilsson is an undersized forward with an impressive offensive arsenal. He is a fine stickhandler, creative with the puck and has a nose for the net. He might be a bit one dimensional at this point but has the highest upside of MODO’s prospects for next year. The other two, that are both regulars with the Swedish national team, are Johan Dahlberg and Andreas Molinder. The 86’s had Fred Wikner, the 87’s have Johan Dahlberg who is if possible even meaner and physical than Calgary draftee Wikner. Dahlberg has good size, is very strong and he loves to throw his body around. Unfortunately he can go little too crazy at times which have at several occasions resulted in game misconducts. His upside offensively is somewhat limited, but with the physical presence he brings he could become an excellent checking line player in the future.

Lesser known forwards
Looking at forwards that are a bit more spread out Oscar Sundh (late 86) is a name that stands out. He had a decent U18 WJC in April and is already playing against men in the 2nd-tier league with Almtuna. Sundh is a speedy winger with good size that can also contribute offensively. From the Swedish 3rd-tier league we can already now mention Örebro’s skilled forward Marcus Andersson. Unknown to most Andersson has been playing junior hockey in a lower tier this past season, but will see regular
ice time in the 3rd-tier league next season. He tore up his junior league in points and hopefully he will be tested with the Swedish national team at some point next season. Robin Lindqvist, born in mid August 1987, will be among the youngest Swedish players eligible for next year’s and is definitely a player to keep an eye on. He has come off a season with Boden where received very little
ice time in the 2nd-tier league and thus making his move to Luleå this summer less surprising. Lindqvist will join talented duo Magnus Isaksson and Linus Omark, both eligible for next year’s draft, in the junior league. All three know how to put up points and could be a big attraction
next season.

Strålman and Gunnarsson interesting 86’s
Heading back to the Swedish defensemen, there are few names that really stand out. While there seems to be a big group of defensemen that could all turn out good in the future, there is not really someone that shines more than anyone else. Two defensemen born 1986 that by all means should get drafted are Anton Strålman and Carl
Gunnarsson. Strålman opted out of the draft this year after getting little attention in the 3rd-tier league despite playing a big role in Skövde’s success. Skövde was promoted to the 2nd-tier league which means that Strålman will be much more noticed and his chances of being drafted earlier are much greater. As for Gunnarsson he spent this season with Örebro in the 2nd-tier league and was at several occasions paired with much more hyped Emil
Axelsson, who was drafted by the NY Islanders less than a month ago. While Axelsson has been the one that has received most of the attention, Gunnarsson has been the most consistent and
the better performer. He makes fewer mistakes and has showed an impressive defensive awareness playing against men. Just like Axelsson, Gunnarsson is now moving to Linköping where he will mostly play in the junior league next season.

Ribbenstrand and From-Björk in Djurgården
Defenseman Alexander Ribbenstrand has been a regular on AIK’s U20 roster and performed well in the junior league. He has now moved to Djurgården’s junior academy where we should see him continue his progress. Ribbenstrand is not an overly flashy defenseman, but he does most things rather well and handles the physical aspect of the game fairly well. Another interesting defenseman that will play for Djurgården is Christoffer From-Björk. This 6’2” defenseman played with Hammarby last season and is in fact among the biggest defenders on the Swedish national team. Another one with decent frame is the 6’1” responsible Södertälje player Fredrik Sontag. He scored 2 goals and 5 assists as a rookie in the U20-league and should see increased ice-time and greater responsibility next season. Alexander Hellström (Björklöven), Linus Morin (Brynäs) and Hjalmar Törnqvist (Luleå) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (HV 71) are some of the other defensemen that are worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

The fact that the Swedish 87’s are talented and look good on paper is already known but in August, during U18 Junior World Cup, we will get an indication on how well they fair against the top prospects from the other nations. Unfortunately the top three forwards: Sundström, Bergfors and Wandell, will all miss the tournament, but
others will get the opportunity to show what they can do.

Elite Prospects’ preliminary ranking for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft will be posted in late August.

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