12Simon Holmstrom
Photo Credit: Simon Holmstrom (Stefan Lantz / BILDBYRÅN)

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series: Sweden

Sweden has been nothing short of a factory for top NHL defencemen for many years, and don’t seem to be slowing down in 2019. Two Swedish defenceman in Phillip Broberg and Victor Soderstrom could go in the top 15 of the 2019 NHL Draft, and as many as three in the first round, if teams like Tobias Bjornföt enough. To discuss that and all things Sweden ahead of Friday and Saturday’s draft, I’m joined by former Future Considerations and Hockey’s Future – and ever knowledgeable – scout Chapin Landvogt.

Christian Roatis: Though they may not have a headliner prospect this year, Sweden is likely to show well once again at the 2019 NHL Draft, and be well represented within the first round. How would you characterize this Swedish draft class a whole? Is it a stronger year than usual, or about average?

I would say it’s a tick below average, especially with respect to Swedish talent seen to date and if we’re using the past five-to-seven years as a measuring stick. But my assessment is based on two things, namely that you don’t have one of those big, big names in the top five or seven and that I’m thinking there may only be roughly 20 Swedes taken this summer. That’s still a good number of draftees and likely a higher number than any other single European nation, Russia included, but we’ve seen 25-to-30 going every summer the last half dozen years, so this would be a lower number than usual.

And that 20-some possible picks will include a couple of over-agers.

In addition, a small handful of Swedes who spent this (and in the odd case or two last) season in North America may be drafted and they technically count as North American prospects. Still, even if you throw them in with the others, there may not even be 25 Swedes taken this summer.

This said, several solid NHLers will once again come out Sweden’s crop this summer.

Philip Broberg’s ranking has been the topic of much debate, with some seeing him as top 10 talent, while others believing he slots into the second half of the first round. Current buzz however suggests teams at the top of the draft are buying the former. What’s your evaluation of Broberg? Do you see him having that number one D projection that makes one worthy of a selection that high?

For my tastes, no, I don’t see a number one NHL defenseman here.

I see a big athletic kid with room to grow who is quite young for this draft (first turns 18 on June 25) and who really likes the idea of producing as a blueliner. Playing a whole season for an Allsvenskan club means that he’s ahead of the curve in general, but it also showed that he’s got plenty to learn. His international showings were very promising offensively, but there may be a long learning curve here and in order to adequately handle NHL duties as hopefully a top three defenseman, he’s probably going to have to sacrifice some of that lust to produce that he shows when playing against his peers. And yet, that potential offense is exactly what has some people licking their chops.

My feelings about his actual upside is a reason I concur with those who strongly feel that outside of Byram, teams picking in the top 10-to-12 should probably still be sticking to the many offensive weapons available.

Victor Soderstrom is another defenceman ranked similarly to Broberg, with the two jostling for position ranking to ranking. How does Soderstrom compare to Broberg, and for the sake of comparison, which of the two do you personally prefer?

The comparison or weighing in on the differences of these two as boys has led to some real flip-flopping throughout the year.

Soderstrom played basically a full season in Sweden’s top league, one ahead of Broberg. His stats there were ok, especially considering that he played for a team that fell far below its expectations, and even if I saw him in the middle of some bad or rough goals against in the course of the season. We cannot know if Broberg would have produced at the same level in the SHL, much less on what ultimately was one of the SHL bottom-feeders.

But Soderstrom also didn’t excel at either the Hlinka Gretzky Cup or the U18 World Championship, where Broberg definitely stood out and embossed himself in the notebooks of many scouts. Then again, he didn’t manage to play all of the games in either tournament. And he clearly doesn’t, and likely won’t ever, feature the size that Broberg brings to the table.

This all said, Soderstrom is a student of the game and is a very competitive spirit. He has shown himself to be active and, at times, very strong in all three zones. I also have the impression that the better the competition, the better the Soderstrom. The kid wants to excel and to stand out. Brynas didn’t dress him for 44 games for nothing. They invested their belief in a guy who spent 60% of the season as a 17-year-old.

He’s very intriguing, but if I could only have one of the two, I’d likely take Broberg.

Sweden has a reputation for pumping out quality defenceman en masse, and this year seems to be no different. However, they’re also building a reputation of supplementing those defenceman with reliable, two-way forwards. Simon Holmström seems to be the consensus best Swedish forward for the 2019 NHL Draft, consistently ranked in the bottom half of the first round. Does he fit that mould of a two-way forward? How do you evaluate Holmström and how do you see him projecting in North America?

You know, Holmström is a good-sized forward whose biggest weapons are speed and his passing ability. He had a nice U18 tourney, although he didn’t outshine the huge names for the 2020 draft (Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz), but was nonetheless a top contributor. The season he had in Sweden was, well, okay, but not necessarily the type of season you want to see from a kid vying for a spot in the first round of the draft.

I think most agree that this kid is a smart player who reads the game well and, like I mentioned, can pass the biscuit in an often-beautiful manner. He also appears to be responsible, an option on the PK, and understands that keeping pucks out of the net is as important as putting them in there.

Will that level of awareness translate to North America? Well, he shouldn’t lose it along the way.

Then again, injuries set him back to kick off the season and during it, so he wasn’t able to truly show his wares at their best at all times. Some say he wasn’t physical enough, despite a real nice build for a physical game at the junior level. Then again, maybe the injuries played the biggest role there, because he didn’t seem afraid of the rough stuff at the U18?

That could mean that some team is going to end up very happy down the line, especially if they get him in the second round. But it makes it mighty hard to risk taking him with your first rounder. Aside from missing time, he didn’t get much of an SHL look this season (just one game) and only averaged a point-per-game combined at the U18 and U20 levels, which is nothing earth-shattering. That he might be seen as the top forward out of Sweden for this draft makes next year’s draft all that much more exciting with respect to Swedish forward prospects.

There are a number of Swedish prospects vying for first round status aside from the three we’ve talked about. What are a few names you feel worthy of first round status, and why?

Tobias Bjornföt is clearly the most exciting of the bunch for those not yet mentioned. There are surely people out there who prefer his long-term NHL prospects to those of both Broberg and Soderstrom. I like his skating in all directions and while in control of the puck. I like his decision making. He seems to have been pegged as a leader long ago by Sweden’s national team program. I think there is a lot more to his game than we’ve seen to date. And maybe a team will show that by taking him much earlier than most current mock drafts have him going.

I definitely see a smart future top four NHLer here.

After that, I’m not expecting another Swede to be taken in the first round (mind you, I don’t know if Holmström will go there either), but the two guys who clearly have the best chance of getting their names called on day one are overage winger Samuel Fagemo and Albin Grewe, in that order. For my tastes, these are both latter 1st round talents in this draft. In general, I expect both to be taken between picks 25 and 45. Both are about offense and I love Fagemo’s speed and shot while I love Grewe’s quick, savvy passes combined with a bit of puck-hound feistiness, which has however led to some unnecessary penalties to date.

One other Swede has first round possibilities and that’s Nils Hoglander, a smaller winger who spent this season in the SHL. He’s good. He has some dash and pizzazz. He likely has the best hands of anyone coming out of Sweden this year. He can make some things happen. I like Fagemo and Grewe better, but I may not be in the majority there.

Are there any goaltenders in this draft class from Sweden that you think have the potential to be impactful at the NHL level?

In general, not really.

But Hugo Alnefelt and Erik Portillo have the best shot of one day being in the NHL, the latter being an overager. Alnefelt may in fact be the only Swedish goaltender taken in this draft, and he will be taken, because he has a lot going for him, but this position is always tough to tell at this age. And you just don’t know which scouts have their eye on a guy not many know about.

Every draft produces a number of diamonds in the rough – high potential players that can be had in the later rounds because there’s plenty of work to do to reach that potential. Who do you consider this Swedish draft class’ diamond(s) in the rough, and why?

There are several.

We saw the biggest one at the U18. Karl Henriksson is a wonderful little talent. He just keeps producing and will likely take a big step next season. Sure, you’d like to have more size, but that might still come. Can’t argue with the skill set and competitiveness.

But perhaps you’re looking for some rather unknown players.

I liked what we saw this year from Lucas Feuk and Max Wahlgren. Both should be in the pro game next year. Particularly Feuk is one to watch moving forward. Speaking of the pro game, I’m sure a few people really liked Albin Sundsvik, a six-foot-two forward who got into 12 games for Skelleftea of the SHL after a very productive junior season, having just turned 18 in April.

Lukas Wernblom is the son of Modo legend Magnus and he had a really solid Allsvenskan season with the men’s team. He turns 19 in July and I’ve got to think he raised the eyebrows of a couple of scouts out there. Overager Carl Wassenius had a strong junior season, as did tall offensive defenseman Pontus Englund, who has actually been signed by Finnish KalPa for next season.

Holmström’s teammate Anton Heikkinen is a guy with a nose for the net who may have impressed a team enough to be picked late.

But one guy I think a team should take at some point is overager Filip Cederqvist. It’s his second go-around, but he won’t be 19 until the end of August. Furthermore, he put up well over a point-per-game at the U20 level while suiting up for Vaxjo in the SHL 39 times (five goals, nine points, plus-four). He’s also six-foot-one and roughly 190 pounds. I think there’s a good shot that he’ll be around after the fourth round and teams will do a lot worse at this point than an improving forward like this who was able to splash onto the scene at the pro level with a serious club in this capacity.

Which Swedish draft eligible has been your biggest surprise this season?

Modo defenseman Mattias Norlinder would fit the bill here, because I don’t think anyone really would have had this guy on their monitor, but the overager had a very solid and eye-opening system on Modo’s junior team and then with the senior Allsvenskan team. He’ll be taken in this draft and I don’t think many people would have said that coming into the season.

Aside from him, I believe the standard answer to this question will have to be Samuel Fagemo. Don’t think many figured him to be a 25-to-35-point scorer in the SHL as soon as this season.

Who has been your biggest disappointment?

Honestly, I don’t really have one, even if I would have hoped to see more than just 4 goals in 45 U20 games from forward Oscar Bjerselius, who had some really good shifts at the U18. Most disappointing for me this year is that this wave of Swedish players is not presenting one of the top forwards in what is a forward-heavy top 10-to-15 in this draft.

But that will certainly change next year.

If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated Swedish prospect (in the public forum) for this year’s draft class, who would they be?

I hate to say any kid in this draft is currently “overrated”, but if I really had to pick one it would actually be the top-rated Philip Broberg, and that’s only if he does indeed go top 10 in this draft.

Don’t get me wrong, he should be a fine NHLer, perhaps even a good one. But I think the fanbase whose team picks him should be ready to accept that he may end up being more “Calvin de Haan” than “Victor Hedman”. I’d love to see him prove me wrong.

As for the most underrated in the public forum, I think I might like Albin Grewe more than the average fan (or pundit). Good reason in my mind’s eye to believe he’ll be a real strong component for an NHL team down the line, because the kid has some real bite. He may actually need to be tamed a bit, but he likes to play pedal-to-the-metal when he’s on. Thing is, he still has a way to go in his development to be “on” more often. It’s a consistency issue. But there are NHL skills here and a mean streak to boot.

Aside from that, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Wilson Johansson (son of former NHLer Andreas) and overage defenseman Lukas Pilo may be the most underrated Swedish prospects here. I suspect these two will one day effectively don an NHL jersey and people will be wondering how come they were drafted so late, or perhaps not even at all.

Lastly, who is your favorite Swedish draft eligible this year, and why?

Samuel Fagemo. I just don’t think a non-drafted draft-eligible Swede had a bigger season than Samuel, whose dad Linus (currently just 42-years-old) had an interesting pro career. He just turned 19 in mid-March and is still pretty young, but just arrived on the scene in leaps and bounds this winter. Playoffs included, he had 20 goals and 35 points over 58 games. He was given regular ice time, even power play time, on the SHL and Champions Hockey League’s championship squad. In addition, he can really skate and shoot. He just seems to “get it”.

He definitely wanted to show the world that his not being drafted in 2018 was a mistake.

This mistake will not be repeated.

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series

Western Canada | OHL | QMJHL | USA Hockey | Finland

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