Meltzer's Musings: Draft-Eligible Forwards from Swedish Leagues
2014 DRAFT POOL DEEP IN PLAYERS FROM SWEDISH LEAGUES
In helping HockeyBuzz readers prepare for the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia, I am doing a series of blogs on players whose names could be called on either the first or second day of the draft. A few may even end up being selected by the Flyers.
The first part of the pre-Draft series looks at Draft-eligible prospects who played in various Swedish leagues this season. Future blogs will look at players from other categories. In order to keep the profile blogs to a manageable length, I will break them down further into separate blogs on forwards, defensemen and goaltenders.
Not all of the players in this blog hail from Sweden. Some were born in other countries and represent those nations in international hockey but played for clubs in Sweden this season. Additionally, draft-eligible Swedish players who played in North America this season are not included on this list.
A note on sources: Much of this material on players' strengths and areas of needed improvement is acquired via email exchanges with three European-based NHL scouts as well as via an array of publicly available sources. In cases where I have directly watched a player (always via webcasted games), I note my own observations. If not noted, I have not seen the player firsthand. However, please keep in mind that these these are limited viewings both in quantity of the players' games watched and in terms of being at the mercy of what can be readily noticed on the screen.
William Nylander: The son of longtime NHL player Michael Nylander (who briefly tried out for the Flyers in their 2011 training camp but never appeared in a game) is one of the two most widely touted European players in this year's draft. The other is Kasperi Kapanen, the son of former Flyers forward Sami Kapanen.
Nylander is one of a handful of Draft-eligible Swedish players whom I watched play this season via webcast streams. I saw about 10 of his SHL games with Modo this season and tracked him during the Under-18 Worlds. Last season, I saw a pair of his Allsvenskan games with Södertälje.
The two things that immediately jump about Nylander is the way he loves to dangle with the puck and how smoothly he skates. In the games I've watched -- and that is the problem with forming impressions based on limited viewings off a computer -- I've thought he actually overhandled the puck a little bit. In his SHL games, I saw him struggle a bit against tight checking.
That is to be expected for an 18-year-old playing against seasoned pros in a low-scoring pro league. The player's skill level is clearly very high and he has typically dominated players of his own age group. I am not sure that Nylander is a slam dunk to go in the top five or six picks of the upcoming Draft but the chances of him dropping down to the range where he might be in play for the Flyers with the 17th overall pick do not seem very high.
Whichever team drafts Nylander has to be prepared to exercise some patience as he develops and adapts to the demands of the NHL. There is no question he will play in the NHL but I think there could be growing pains in his early years if too much is expected too soon. It is a matter of maturity as a pro player and not of adapting to the smaller rink. With that said, he has a very high ceiling.
Adrian Kempe: A teammate of Nylander and Flyers' defense prospect Robert Hägg on Modo this season, Kempe assembled an impressive rookie SHL season. His older brother and Modo teammate, Mario Kempe, was a Flyers' fifth-round pick in 2007 but was not signed to an NHL contract.
Mario and Adrian are different types of players. Mario is a smallish winger with outstanding speed (he is easily one of the fastest players in the SHL). Adrian is much bigger and stronger and plays more of a power game that is best played as a north-south game. Although both brothers are hard workers on the ice, Adrian is better built to handle the NHL-style game. He is good on the walls and in close quarters, and should get even better as he continues to fill out and add muscle. He could end up playing at about 6-foot-2, 210-215 pounds.
I would not call either Kempe brother a pure sniper but Adrian scores more of the "greasy" goals that aren't necessarily pretty but count just the same on the scoreboard. The younger Kempe brother also has a pretty good one timer. Adrian did not get all that much ice time with Modo's senior team this season (an average 8:27 per game) but still managed to post five goals and 11 points. Later, he dressed in a pair of first-round playoff games and posted an assist. That is very good production for a teenage player in the SHL.
At this year's U18 Worlds, Kempe had one goal and six assists in seven games. Nylander racked up 16 points (six goals, 10 assists).
Kempe's puck skills are adequate but he's not going to dazzle with his stickhandling nor will you see him many spins or dekes. He plays a physical game with a high compete level.
Something else that works in Adrian Kempe's favor is his versatility. He has the ability to play center or wing and can work with linemates of different styles. Kempe is the player on this list whom I have seen play the most times. I watched about 20 of his Modo games online this season, either in whole or in part. His ability to contribute productive shifts despite limited ice time stood out to me.
Kevin Fiala: A Swiss player who came over last year to play in Sweden, Fiala dazzled this year by cracking HV71's senior team and posting 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 17 games and six points in eight playoff games. He also notched five points in five games for Switzerland at the Under-20 World Junior Championships and nine points in five games at the U18 Worlds.
Fiala is an atypical Swiss player. Most Swiss-trained forwards think defense first and are positionally-sound players who skate well but are not particularly aggressive or creative with the puck. Fiala is much bolder with the puck and more inclined to push the attack rather than peeling back and waiting for counterattacks off mistakes by the opposition.
Fiala is an explosive skater with an excellent array of puck skills -- stickhandling, passing and shooting. Although not a physical winger, he has a bit of a feisty streak and can sometimes take bad penalties. I've also seen him dive a few times. His play away from the puck needs work, and he is a bit undersized. Despite his small stature, he is surprisingly difficult to take off the puck.
Strictly speaking in terms of playing style, Fiala reminds me a little bit of watching Patrick Kane and Linus Omark when I covered the 2006-07 World Junior Championships in Sweden. Of course, the NHL team that drafts him will hope he develops into something much closer to the former player than the latter.
The Swiss winger has some things going for him that cannot be taught. The puck seems to follow him and he has a knack for turning seemingly harmless plays into scoring chances. He has to harness some of that talent to fit in effectively with the structured and systems-oriented game that is prevalent in the NHL but you don't want him to get reigned in too much, either.
Fiala was ranked third in Central Scouting's Final European rankings. Nylander was second Kempe was sixth. In terms of pure skills, Fiala and Nylander are both more gifted than Kempe. However, Kempe is more of a traditional Flyers-prototype (and NHL-preferred) of player with his body type and playing style.
Jakub Vrana: The Czech winger recently lit up the Under-18 World Championships with eight goals in seven games. He also appeared at the Under-20 Worlds earlier this season, where he was the youngest participating player.
Over the past season, Vrana has established himself as an SHL regular with Linköping. He came over to play in Sweden two seasons ago and has remained there since then.
Ranked fourth on Central Scouting's final European skater list, Vrana is another smooth skater who does his best work with the puck on his stick. Although his SHL ice time thus far has been limited, he dressed in 14 playoff games for Linköping this season and acquitted himself well. Vrana has been roughly a point-per-game player at the J20 SuperElit level in Sweden, which is fine but not staggering. However, he is capable of dominating at times against players his age.
Vrana's play with the puck is better than his work without the puck. He has average to slightly below-average size and will need to get stronger physically.
David Pastrnak: As with Vrana, Pastrnak left his native Czech Republic two years ago to play in Sweden. Ranked fifth on Central Scouting's European skater list, Pastrnak has both the fleet feet and soft hands to be a contender to become a first-round pick in this year's Draft.
Pastrnak is coming off a strong season playing among grown men for Södertälje SK's senior team in Allsvenskan (Sweden's top minor league, one step down from the SHL). The righthanded shooting winger, who turned 18 on May 25, posted 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 36 games for SSK this season. He also dressed in five games at the Under-20 World Championships, posting one goal and one assist.
Although he did not dominate to the same degree as Vrana at the Under-18 Worlds, Pastrnak had a strong tournament in his right despite failing to score a goal for the silver-medal winning team. He posted five assists in seven games and came within a whisker of scoring a couple goals as well.
Pastrnak has many similar qualities to Michael Frolik in his draft year of 2006, with underrated quickness and good offensive instincts. He is a good passer and has a quick shot release as well. A little more consistency may come over time.
As with most young players, Pastrnak has room to add muscle to his frame. He can also improve his play away from the puck.
Pastrnak has had to deal with a lot of off-ice adversity. His father Milan, a former minor league player, passed away last year at age 52 after a lengthy illness.
Anton Karlsson: A big-framed winger from the famed Frölunda junior program, Karlsson spent most of this season playing at the SuperElit level with the J20 team while also suiting up a few times at the J18 level. After New Years, he appeared in nine Allsvenskan games on loan to Mora but did not receive much ice time.
Most notably, Karlsson dressed in five games for silver medalist Sweden at the World Junior Championships. He did not record a point in a supporting cast role but simply participating at such a young age shows how highly regarded he is.
Karlsson, ranked 11th on Central Scouting's final European skater list, has been one of the dressing room leaders for many of the junior national teams on which he's played. He was an alternate captain for the bronze medalists at this year's U18 World Championships, and captained the national U17 team last year. Karlsson will turn 18 in August.
The player's biggest strengths are his size, strength and two-way ability. He gets involved physically and, if necessary, is willing to sacrifice points to help the team in other ways. He has the potential to be an all-situations player, although his finishing touch is average. He is strong along the walls, and plays a gritty game overall.
Anton's older brother, Erik (not to be confused with the Ottawa Senators superstar defenseman), cracked Frölunda's SHL roster as a full-time forward this season. Erik was a 2012 fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes. Hard work, hustle and a willingness to get their noses dirty are common traits between the siblings. Their father is a coach in the Frölunda junior development system.
Axel Holmström: Ranked 90th on Central Scouting's final European skater list, Holmström is a late riser who could be taken in the NHL Draft ahead of many higher-ranked players (a good number of whom will not be chosen at all). Holmström made a big splash at the U18 World Championships, racking up 11 points in seven games.
A center in the Skellefteå AIK junior system, Holmström was held back by injury for part of the season. Nevertheless, he compiled 15 goals and 38 points in 33 SuperElit games. He also also made his SHL debut for the senior team, dressing in four games.
Holmström is not the fastest of skaters. However, he is strong on his feet and hard to take off the puck. Standing a shade over six-feet tall, he weighs a well-proportioned 200 pounds. As he demonstrated at the U18 Worlds, Holmström also has good offensive instincts. He has shown hints that his offensive talents could transfer well to the pro game. As such, he could be an interesting late round sleeper. Holmström fits in the mold of the type of player that Detroit often drafts.
Lucas Wallmark: The young Luleå center, who slipped through the NHL Draft last yeard will give it another shot this year. He turns 19 on September 5. Wallmark is a well-rounded young player who has shown both hints of offensive ability in the SHL and Allsvenskan along with a willingness to perform less glamorous tasks.
Wallmark was one of Sweden's standouts en route to the silver medal at the most recent WJC. He compiled eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games and played in a variety of situations.
There are two key things holding back Wallmark: He is neither big nor fast. That can be a tough combination for a player will less than elite pure talent to overcome if he is to emerge as an NHL prospect. However, Wallmark does have game and is versatile enough to play wing in addition to his natural center position.
Oskar Lindblom: A big, strong winger in the Brynäs system, Lindblom finished the season with a flourish to occupy the 23rd spot on Central Scouting's final European skater list. At the Swedish J20 level, he was dominant in the SuperElit playoffs, racking up six goals in seven games. To cap off the season, he posted six points (three goals, three assists) for Sweden at the U18 Worlds.
Lindblom spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Brynäs J20 team but appeared at three different levels over the course of the season. He played six J18 games but was clearly too good for that level. Later, he made his SHL debut with the senior team, dressing in four games but playing very sparingly.
There are no frills to Lindblom's game and he is willing to battle for the puck. His size and style are well-suited to the North American game. He is said to still be raw in many aspects but is improving at a rapid pace.
Leon Bristedt: The pint-sized puck wizard will be in North America next season after committing to attend the University of Minnesota. Bristedt is an excellent stickhandler with a high level of creativity and good hands. He is also an elusive skater. At the J20 level this year, Bristedt tore up his SuperElit competition for 60 points in 42 games. A severe lack of size (Bristedt stands just 5-foot-8) may limit his upside. He turned 19 in March. Bristedt was ranked 24th on Central Scouting's final list.
Edwin Hedberg: Born in Medellin, Colombia, the 20-year-old Hedberg is a high-energy forward who grates on opposing players. He makes up for a lack of size with aggressive play and above-average speed. Hedberg stirs up his share of trouble, both between and after whistles, and can hustle up the occasional goal as well. While he is probably a longshot to be drafted by an NHL club, Hedberg has become an effective SHL role player for Modo. Central Scouting placed him 77th on its final European skater list.
Axel Ottosson: A small but feisty center, Ottosson showed improvement throughout the season at the J18 and J20 levels for Modo and earned a spot on Team Sweden at the U18 World Championships. Ottosson, who turned 18 in April, was ranked 109th on the final Central Scouting European list.
Daniel Muzito Bagenda: A solidly built winger, Muzito Bagenda dressed in J18, J20 and a single SHL game for Modo this past season. Primarily, he played for the J20 team, for whom he scored 15 goals. Muzito Bagenda also helped the J18 team win its league championship.
Adam Brodecki: An offensively skilled but undersized forward in the Brynäs chain, Brodecki made his SHL debut for the Gävle team this season, posting one goal in 18 games. He averaged better than a point per game at the J20 SuperElit level this season. Brodecki is 19 years old and is eligible for the 2014 Draft after going unselected last year. Central Scouting placed him 42nd on its final Europan skater list.
Lukas Vopelka: A Czech player who has been playing in Sweden since he was 15, Vopelka made his (brief) SHL debut this season for Örebro and played for the silver-medal winning Czech national team at the U18 Worlds, posting one goal and one assist. At the SuperElit level with the Örebro J20 team this season, the forward posted six goals and 22 points in 35 games. While the stat line is not impressive, Vopelka finished the season 43rd on the Central Scouting European skater list. This was based on a combination of plus skating, above-average size, willingness to play a two-way game and the versatility to play either wing or center.
Henrik Törnqvist: The tall and lanky Linköping prospect finished 50th on the final Central Scouting European skater list. A raw but promising talent who needs additional junior level seasoning before moving to Sweden's higher levels, Törnqvist posted three goals and five points for Sweden at the U18 World Championships. He split the season in Sweden between the J18 and J20 levels.
Oscar Bergkvist: The 19-year-old product of the Djurgården system in Stockholm is set to transfer to play for Modo next season. The winger was a 20-goal scorer for DIF's J20 team this past season.
Kevin Elgestål: Another player from Team Sweden's U18 World Championship entry, Elgestål is a smooth-skating winger. He posted 35 points in 44 games with the Frölunda J20 team and also made his SHL debut with the big club, notching his first pro-level point (an assist) in two games. At the end of the Swedish season, Elgestål was assigned to help strengthen the Frölunda J18 squad during the playoffs. He finished the season ranked 51st on Central Scouting's final European skater list.
Christoffer Ehn: Ranked 89th on the final Central Scouting European skater list, Ehn is a big-framed, defensively responsible center. The 18-year-old dressed in a pair of SHL games for Frölunda and also was a member of Team Sweden at the U18 Worlds.
Pierre Engvall: A huge (6-foot-4) but raw and skinny winger, Engvall notched 17 goals in 39 SuperElit games for the Frölunda J20 team. He also made his Allsvenskan debut on loan to Troja-Ljungby. Engvall is considered a long-term project player. He was ranked 91st on the final Central Scouting list.
Victor Ejdsell: An unknown before this season, the 19-year-old Ejdsell had a promising season for the Färjestad J20 team. A tank of a left winger, Ejdsell stands 6-foot-5 and packs 215 pounds on his frame. His junior opponents struggled to move him when he planted himself in front of the net, and he compiled 17 goals in 38 games. He is very much a project player, as his skating and puck skills need work along with his play away from the puck. For his physical maturity and potential to be a late-bloomer, Ejdsell placed 69th on the final Central Scouting European list.
Hampus Olsson: Olsson fits a similar profile to Ejdsell but plays with a little more of a mean streak and is more of a banger/grinder than strictly a net-front specialist (although he has that element in his game as well). The 6-foot-5, 212-pound winger in the Rögle chain appeared in 13 Allsvenskan games this season with the big club while also dressing in 37 games (seven goals, 16 points) for the J20 team. In Swedish hockey, especially at the junior level, big physical players frequently get penalized for knocking down smaller players; even on plays that would be considered routine hits in North America. Olsson is no stranger to the sin bin. He finished 77th in the final Central Scouting European rankings.
Filip Karlsson: A fast-skating and defensively conscientious center, Karlsson dressed in 17 Allsvenskan games and five postseason games for Rögle this season. He also played 35 games at the J20 SuperElit level, mostly in a shutdown line role. Karlsson lacks size (5-foot-10, 167 pounds) but plays an intelligent game. Central Scouting ranked him 98th on its final European Skater list.
August Gunnarsson: The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson is a sniping right winger on the Färjestad J20 team. The challenge for Gunnarsson will be to continue the process of bettering his all-around game and particularly his skating to successfully move up the ladder. Ranked 99th on the final Central Scouting European list, Gunarsson turned 18 in late March.
Tobias Liljendahl: The captain of the Djurgården J20 team this season, Liljendahl will play next season at the Allsvenskan level for Vita Hästen (the White Horses) after appearing in three Allsvenskan games over the last two seasons for the DIF senior team. At the J20 level this season, Liljendahl posted 18 goals and 34 points. Ranked 100th among European Skaters by Central Scouting, Liljendahl is a big (6-foot-2, 215 pound) center with a solid work ethic.
Ludvig Nilsson: A 20-year-old darkhorse Draft prospect, Nilsson has become a regular in Allsvenskan for Timrå. Nilsson has no star potential but has a combination of decent size, good speed and a high compete level with some grit to his game. Nilsson, who turned 20 in late March, chipped in five goals and 16 points for Timrå this year.Central Scouting ranked him 121st on its final list.
Robert Lantosi: The 18-year-old Slovakian winger was born nine days too late to be eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft. He has been playing in Sweden for two seasons. Lantosi scored a goal in his Allsvenskan debut for Västerås this season but mostly played for the J20 team, for whom he scored 14 goals and 24 points. He aged out of U18 World Championship eligibility (Lantosi played for the Slovaks at last year's U18 Worlds) but he did see some time with the Slovakian national U20 team this year and is a candidate for next year's WJC. Lantosi lacks size but skates well.He was ranked 125th on the final Central Scouting list.
Andreas Schumacher: A big-framed 17-year-old forward who can play either center or wing, Schumacher split the 2013-14 season between the J18 and J20 teams for Färjestad. His older brother, Michael, was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 and made his AHL debut this season. Andreas was ranked 129th by Central Scouting.
Matthias Martini Asperup: The Danish winger quietly put together a good J20 season for Malmö this season and posted six points in five games for Denmark at the Division I World Junior Championships. Asperup, ranked 132nd by Central Scouting, turned 19 in early March.