If there’s one thing the Calgary Flames love, it’s Swedish hockey players. Their blueline group, in particular, has been bolstered by some promising young Swedes. In the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, might they consider Swedish defender Tobias Björnfot?
It’s easy to see why scouts would like Björnfot. He’s listed at 6-foot-0 and weighs 203 pounds, and he’s played pro games (in the Swedish Hockey League) and in several major IIHF tournaments.
Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects had a pretty detailed breakdown of Björnfot’s game and season:
Björnfot was expected to become a high first-rounder after he put up very impressive numbers in the SuperElit as a 16-year-old. But he hasn’t taken that next step offensively this season which is part of the reason he’s seen more as a second-rounder now. Even though Björnfot has improved as an all-around player compared to last season, his points-per-game average is almost identical to a year ago which is never a good sign. Björnfot is a reliable two-way defenseman who makes smart decisions at both ends of the rink. He likes to join the rush but avoids unnecessary risks. He has decent size, and he’s a good defensive player because of his high hockey sense. Björnfot has also shown good leadership qualities at a young age. He’s an alternate captain on his team in SuperElit, and he’s been carrying the ‘C’ on his sweater for Team Sweden in international tournaments.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports added his breakdown:
Björnfot could develop into a two-way defenceman with a top-four role at the NHL level. Like most young defenders, he still has some things to learn in his own zone. That said, he is already highly advanced for a draft-eligible player. The question here is the offence. It is rarely seen in Björnfot’s international appearances (with the exception of the Five Nations tournament). While he puts up points in the domestic junior league, there is also some concern that the points per game did not grow much from last season to this one. If a team can unlock his puck-moving and offensive skill, they could have a gem on their hands.
The scouting consensus is that Björnfot is a really good skater with a strong two-way presence in his game. His offense hasn’t yet caught up to his mobility, and may not quite ever do so, to the point where he may become a Swedish TJ Brodie – somebody with excellent skating, but whose offense impacts are dependent on who he’s on the ice with.
Bjornfot spent the entire season with Djurgardens IF, split between their SHL club and their SuperElit (junior) team. In seven SHL games he had zero points, while he had 11 goals and 22 points in 39 SuperElit contests.
He led his entire league in goals by a U18 defenseman and was third overall in defensive points in his age group. He led Djurgardens in defensive points and was 18th in the entire junior league in that category. He was one of the most productive defensemen in a pretty strong junior circuit.
The anxiety regarding his game primarily lies in his lack of offensive growth; if you look at his offense at a per-game basis, it hasn’t made any big leaps (and is actually somewhat flat in some metrics). He’s a good U18 and U20 defender, but he never really became a dominant one the way you would hope a first round pick would in his draft year.
Availability and fit
Björnfot is a consensus pick somewhere late in the first round to midway through the second round. ISS has him 29th, Dobber Prospects has him 38th, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 39th, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 46th, Sportsnet has him outside the first round, The Athletic has him 37th and unranked, and The Hockey News has him 32nd. As with Beecher, if the Flames love this player it might be wise to trade down (and get an additional pick) to get him.
In terms of how the Flames draft and what they value, though, Björnfot fits like a glove. He’s Swedish. He’s a strong two-way player. He skates well. While his offense hasn’t blossomed to the point where he’s dominating his league, he’s posted pretty damn respectable numbers in a strong U20 league. If he can fill out and keep developing his offensive game, he could be a really great value pick late in the first round.