The Detroit Red Wings have spent many of their draft picks on Swedish talent throughout the years. Looking at the current roster, it is evident that the strategy has paid off, even though not all of the current Swedish Wings are Detroit draft picks.
Much of the success this season has been provided by draft picks made by Christer Rockström (former Wings scout) and Håkan Andersson (current chief scout in Europe). Players like Niklas Lidström, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmström and Johan Franzen have done everything that was expected of them.
Then there are players like Mikael Samuelsson and Anders Lilja who have come in out of nowhere and provided excellent depth on the chart. Even though they were not originally drafted by Detroit, Andersson has played a big role in getting those two on the roster.
The neverending story about how the Red Wings scouts seem to find Swedish talent in the draft will probably continue, for at least couple of more years. There are currently a couple more prospects looking like serious contenders for roster spots in the not very distant future.
Here is a breakdown of the best performers this season and best looking prospects for the future. Part 2 will examine those under-performing.
Anton Axelsson, LW, Frölunda (Swe/Swe-J-20)
Axelsson has made a smooth transition to Elitserien from the junior ranks, where he was a scoring machine. At the start of the year he was mostly used as an extra forward on the fourth line and didn´t get much ice time. But as the season went on, he got more opportunities to develop his game, and so he did.
At the midway point of the season he was a regular and had a solid amout of ice time. He has chipped in a few points (3 goals and 6 points in 38 games), but his overall game is the most important development issue.
His skating and two-way game have improved this season. He´s not the scoring, go-to guy he used to be on the junior team last season. He´s grinding on the checking lines and is learning to play that kind of game.
He has to get stronger, including his upper body strength and leg strength so that he can hold his own in the corners and in physical play. His offensive game, especially finishing skills, has to get better.
He has average size for a speedy, hard-working winger who can score a goal or two on the fly. He has a great attitude and is a true team player who can help you win games. He will most likely challange for a spot as a third line winger down the road.
He still has a lot of development to do and is likely another two to three years away from seriously contending for a roster spot, but he is on the right track.
Andreas Jämtin, RW, TPS (Fin) / HV-71 (Swe)
Jämtin made a bold move in the offseason and signed with the Finnish SM-Liga team, TPS. He has stated that the move was made because he wanted to play in a tougher and more physical league in order to develop his physical game.
He finished the season fourth in the team scoring, with 8 goals and 15 points in 37 games which are not very impressive numbers for a guy who has good offensive instincts.
That move was quastionable, but his comeback to HV-71 is a good one. One good thing about his Finnish move is that he now has added experience from the more physically challanging Finnish league. This should help him adapt to the AHL once he gets signed, which will likely be at the end of the season.
Andersson has been high on him since the draft and a move to the AHL next season would be beneficial, where the Red Wings brass can evaluate him much closer.
Jämtin hasn´t made any huge strides in his development this season as he pretty much plays the same game that he always has. He loves to get physical and enjoys to get under his opponents’ skin. His offensive game hasn´t developed much and he needs to show more offensive fire in the reminder of this season.
But for now, he´s back with the team that he won a championship with back in 2004. Jämtin will try to bring his physical game to his new team as they make a push for another championship.
Tomas Kollar, LW, Södertälje (Swe)
Kollar is one of the lesser known Red Wings Swedish prospects as he was selected late in the draft and has been playing an unheralded role on his teams in Sweden.
He is now playing on his third Stockholm team, Södertälje. Previously he has played for Hammarby in Allsvenskan as well as with Djurgården in Elitserien.
This season he has taken positive strides in his development and is looking like a possible grinder in the mold of Franzen for the Red Wings, although he doesn´t have the same offensive skills and hockey sense. He has always had a great attitude and phenomenal work ethic, but this season he has also taken a more offensive role on his team, which is one of the worst in the league. Currently, he is tied for the fifth place in team goal scoring with seven goals and he has collected 14 points in 46 games.
He has surpassed his career high in goals (6) from the 2003-04 season and has tied his career high in points from the same season.
Kollar has great size, attitude and is a solid skater who can play a speedy forechecking game. He is valuable on the penalty-killing unit and brings a lot to the table regarding the defensive aspects of the game.
He will not score a lot of points, but he could be a valuable grinder for the Wings in a couple of years. He could make the transition to the AHL next season and try to work his way up from there, but a contract offer is not a guarantee for him.
Christoffer Löfberg, LW, Djurgården (Swe/Swe-J-20)
Löfberg was a huge surprise in the last year’s draft. But this is a big work in progress and he will need time to develop his game.
He has just followed the predicted development plan and is right on track. He has great upside, but a long way to go as well. His combination of size, skating, skills and natural scoring instincts are very attractive.
On the other hand his strength, defensive game and physical aspects of the game still need a lot of improvement.
This season he has split time between the junior A team (6 goals and 8 points in 6 games) and men’s team (1 goal in 42 games). With the men’s team, he has mostly been used as an extra forward and has received limited ice time.
Next season he should earn a bigger role with the team and we can expect him to increase his offensive numbers. He is still some three or four years away from being a serious contender for a spot.
Mattias Ritola, RW, Leksand (Swe/Swe-J-20)
Ritola is slowly developing into a senior player. Previously he has been know for his attitude issues, but this season has been a straight forward pass for the young winger.
He has earned a spot on the men’s team and has gotten his feet wet in the serious action. The reward was a spot on the Swedish WJC team that made a solid performence in Canada finishing fifth in the tournament, where Ritola had two goals and four points in six games.
He is not only growing on the inside, as he had added some serious weight and has grown big since last season. These two improvements combined with his natural skills and hockey sense bode well for the future.
Ritola is a good skater who has shifty feet and an uncanny ability to undress the d-men and goalies when one-on-one. He has very good offensive instincts and is a marquee offensive player. This season he has added more muscle and is more involved in the physical game.
On the other hand he still has plenty of things to work on, but he is on his way. Next season he will hopefully add even more grit and earn more ice time on his team to help his development. He will also get a chance to represent Sweden at the WJC for the second time and will probably be counted on to bring even more offense to the table.
Ritola has all the tools to be an NHL player down the road and will most likely be a serious roster contender in a couple more years.
Johan Ryno, LW, Oskarshamn (Swe-1)
Ryno was big and unknown at the last year’s draft. Now he is big and well known, at least in his native country of Sweden where he has been on the radar of all Elitserien teams.
Last season he played on a team that plays in the 2nd-tier league in Sweden and was therefore not heavily scouted by NHL scouts, except for Håkan Andersson.
He liked what he saw from the hulking winger and made him a Red Wings property at the draft. Now Ryno looks like a serious steal, although he still has ways to go before making it to the big show.
His season has been impressive as he has taken huge strides in his development in all aspects of the game. So far he has scored 11 goals and 21 points in 31 games and is third in team scoring.
Ryno has great size and is willing to use it. His skating is still a work in progress, but he has the fundamentals to be an impact skater for his size. His soft hands and tremendous hockey sense are two other huge attributes that he brings to the table.
His combination of skill, size, and hockey sense could be a very good fit for the Red Wings in the very near future. The biggest development areas are his physical presence and his skating. When those two are in place, he will be ready to take on the big stage.
Note: Stefan Liv is no longer considered as a prospect by the Hockey’s Future standards, but his game this season has made it clear that he is ready and willing to come over the pond and challenge for a spot in the organization. Right now he is the fifth or sixth-ranked goalie on the depth chart.
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