Photo credit:courtesy Skelleftea AIK
Could the Calgary Flames opt for a mobile Swedish blueliner in 2023’s first round?
8 months ago
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The first round of the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft is primarily known for its star-studded forward group. The likes of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Will Smith, Zach Benson, and many more headline a fun and interesting group. However, there are two defencemen that scouts have had their eye on and one of them we’re going to talk about in this draft profile.
Axel Sandin-Pellikka may not be the biggest defenseman, but he packs an offensive punch that not many blueliners do.
Standing at 5’11” with only 181 pounds (82 kilograms) to his name, Sandin-Pellikka may not have the most overpowering figure, but it’s the skill that creates the separation between him and the others at his position. Born in Gällivare, Sweden, on March 11, 2005, the right-shot defenceman uses his feet and hands to create space both on the blue line and through the neutral and offensive zones. He played 22 games in the Swedish Hockey League with Skellefteå AIK and in the J20 Nationell for them as well, where it was certainly a coming-out party statistically, which we’ll get into later. He has played for Skellefteå AIK since 2019-20 in their U16 program.
Alexa Potack over at Dobber Prospects described his skillset as:
“After a less-inspiring J20 Nationell finish, Sandin Pellika’s strong performance at the U18 World Championships reasserted his abilities. He’s a mobile skater, which he uses to his advantage heavily in transition. He’s great at weaving and while not the most deceptive, he has above-average hands and puck skills. One of his most notable and translatable strengths is his ability to dictate the pace. He consistently demonstrates awareness of when to slow down and be patient or, conversely, generate speed into the offensive zone. The neutral zone and offensive zones are his best areas on the ice, while his defensive zone decisions are lacking at times.Defensively, he’s great at forcing the rush to the outside and managing the gap, but if a player gets by him, he can appear flatfooted and slow to recover. His smaller size and play style hinder his aggression, which may be necessary for taking the next step to the professional level. Adding more grit to his game would make him very hard to play against in any zone. He shouldn’t be expected to play a highly physical game, but it would double down on his silky hands and smooth skating, adding a new level to his playmaking toolbox.”
The knock on Sandin-Pellikka pretty much anywhere you look will be his size and physicality, which, as a defenceman, is more important than if he were a forward. Of course, the lack of those attributes is compensated by the excessiveness in skill and speed, which is a primary reason why he’s continuously ranked within the top 15 of the draft. Physicality and weight can be taught and trained; the kind of skill Sandin-Pellikka possesses cannot be.
In 2022-23, Sandin-Pellikka put up a fantastic number of points in the U20 league, scoring 16 goals and tallying 20 assists for 36 total points in 31 games at 18 years old. He played in 22 games in the SHL at just 18 years old and produced 5 points in 22 games, which for a defender at that age, playing against professional competition, is impressive. At the U18 World Junior Championships, he was also over a point per game with 11 points in 7 games.
Although he wasn’t as impactful in the box score at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup or in the World Juniors, his skating ability and ability to create offence shined everywhere he played.
Availability and fit
Given recent rankings across the hockey world, it’s hard to imagine that Sandin-Pellikka will be available for the Flames to select at 16th overall. However, crazier things have happened, and Calgary would be very fortunate to have someone with the skill and upside of Sandin-Pellikka waiting in the wings. It might take some time, and he’s bound for the SHL in 2023-24. But, if after the day of the first round, he’s headed for the team with a ‘C’ as their logo, Flames fans should be ecstatic about the kind of player they’re getting.
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