As usual this season a number of Swedish skaters dominate the top-end of the European prospects rankings. At the top of the list are Filip Forsberg, who is expected to be a top-5 selection, and Sebastian Collberg, whom we have previously profiled and is expected to land anywhere from 10-15. Pontus Aberg is the third of the "big three" Swedish forwards at this year’s draft, although he tends to show up well back of the other two on many lists. The NHLNumbers list had him at 18, Collberg at 13 and Forsberg at 2.
The funny thing is, Aberg was by far the most effective scorer of the trio this season.
While Collberg famously struggled to manage even a single point in the Sweidsh Elite League (SEL), Aberg garnered eight goals and 15 points in 47 games while playing for Djurgarden. Filip Forsberg didn’t even crack an SEL line-up, instead spending his season in the Allsvenskan where he scored eight goals and 17 points in 43 games.
So why is the 5’11", 195 pound winger ranked lower than his peers? Mostly because he’s older – Aberg was born on September 23, 1993 making him one of the more aged draft eligibles this year. Aberg was 18 when the season started last October and will be 19 when training camp breaks this year. Forsberg, in contrast, was born in August of 1994 while Collberg has a February 1994 birth date.
What also likely hurt Aberg’s stock is injuries in the latter part of the season and a rough second half after a hot start. Still, 15 points in a pro league as an 18-year old is a strong effort. Because of that, Hockey prospectus’ Corey Pronman was one draft guru who has Aberg near the top of his list (#9 overall):
Aberg is a plus skater with very good acceleration off his first few steps and a pretty dangerous top speed. He also has a plus shot which will drive a decent portion of his offensive value and allow him to maintain an above league average shooting percentage over his career. His shot is pretty accurate with good technique on his release, his one-timers fly off his stick with remarkable speed, and Aberg has the makings of a dangerous power play triggerman. Aberg has great hands and can show some flash in that area in terms of being able to make great individual plays in creating space for himself.
His true strength isn’t about being a dangerous puck controller, though, as it is playing a speed game and getting the puck to the net. At times, he can move the puck around at an average level, but he doesn’t overly impress with his vision. Aberg also needs to work on his defense, although with his on-ice work ethic, there is reason to believe the finer points of his defensive game will come along. Aberg’s physical game also likely tops out as below-average because of his size but he does work hard and has a gritty edge to his game.
Strengths: speed, shot, work ethic, puck handling
Weaknesses: size, physicality, defensive game, vision
Pronman’s scouting report suggests Aberg is a rather one-dimensional sniper type, albeit with a pretty high ceiling if he can make his game work in North America.
I recently received Future Considerations draft guide (available here) and they are far less bullish on Aberg, ranking him 22nd overall. They agree that he is a "speedy sniper and a hard worker". They also note his good skating, acceleration and highly accurate shot. On the downside, they discuss how his game and output changed as the season progressed:
He started the year strong but somewhere along the way he stopped being the “get everything to the net” guy and started forcing passes to teammates, at- tempting lower percentage shots and giving up on prime scoring chances for himself. NHL teams need to wonder if this is a sign that his hockey sense may not be as strong as what most first thought it would be…
For more context, I recently asked Swedish sports writer Uffe Bodin to weigh on Pontus, particularly on why his scoring slowed in the latter half of the year and why his ranking was lower thwn Collberg and Forsberg despite superior numbers.
(on his production tailing off)
"Åberg had a roller-coaster season. He started extremely well and was the talk of the town in the SEL for the first few months before he tailed off. He got injured in the last exhibition game against Canada before the WJC and had to go home. When he came back in January, he wasn’t the same and struggled for much of the latter parts of the season (he also got a concussion playing with the Swedish U19 team in Switzerland)."
(on being ranked lower than Forsberg and Collberg)
"I would say that he isn’t as big of a talent as Collberg or Forsberg. I think both those guys have bigger scoring potential, but there are a lot of things I do admire about Åberg. He’s got a really good shot (for being a Swede) and he doesn’t shy away from traffic. He’s also hard to get a hold of when he gets his legs going.
My concern is that he basically came out of nowhere this past fall while guys like Forsberg and Collberg have been on the radar for a few years. With guys like Åberg, you’d like to see what they can do in their second year to know if they’re for real or not. I have a good feeling about Pontus, but I’d like to get some kind of confirmation this fall."
On a follow-up, I used the term "flash-in-the-pan" to describe the risk associated with a guy like Aberg. Bodin replied "I guess flash-in-the-pan is a good expression. I think Pontus scored at least 75 percent of his SEL goal between October and December."
There is as much to like as there is to be wary of when it comes to Aberg. On the plus side, his scoring in the SEL as a teen was very good and he has some plus tools, including speed, work ethic and a highly accurate shot. On the other hand, he’s not very big and doesn’t have a well rounded game. On top of that, he wasn’t highly ranked previously, is one of the older guys in the draft, and his notable scoring was limited to a small outburst that could well be due to chance/variance.
Put together, that makes Aberg a high risk, high reward sort of selection. His season in the SEL may prove to be a fluke or his it’s possible his game won’t translate to the NHL. However, he has some notable tools and if he takes a step forward next year as pro in Sweden, there’s no question he will be a quality prospect moving forward.
Probability he be around at 14: Very High
Probability Flames will pick him: Moderate