2013 Draft Eligibles: Sweden well represented once again; Lindholm, Wennberg, Burakovsky, de la Rose, Haag

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Since the year 2000, there have been 29 Swedish born-and-bred players selected in the first round of the NHL draft — the highest number of those coming in 2009 with seven players selected overall. (Victor Hedman, TB, #2 overall, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, PHX, #6, Magnus Paajarvi, EDM, #10, David Rundblad, STL, #17, Jacob Josefson, NJ, #20, Tim Erxion, CGY, #23 and Marcus Johansson, WSH, #24).

Last year, only two players were selected in the first round. If you recall, the Anaheim Ducks plucked defenseman Hampus Lindholm fourth overall from Rögle Bandyklubb and the Washington Capitals selected Filip Forsberg 13th overall from Leksands. Some of the more recognizeable Swedish first-round picks over the years include Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and the Sedin Twins.

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Sundin was taken #1 overall in 1989 by the Quebec Nordiques and went on to have Hall of Fame NHL career over 18 seasons with the Nordiques, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks. Sundin left the game tied for 21st in career goals with 564, shared with Joe Nieuwendyk, and also ranks 27th all time in career points (1349). He was the first European-born and trained player to be chosen with the first-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

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Peter Forsberg was selected sixth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1991. On June 30, 1992, Forsberg was included in a deal that sent six players, two first round draft picks, and $15 million to the Nordiques in exchange for Eric Lindros.

One can make the case that the Lindros deal was one of the most one-sided transactions in sports history as Forsberg became a major foundation for the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise’s success over the next decade. Forsberg currently stands in the NHL’s top 10 in all-time points-per-game, with 1.254 PPG in his career and is ranked fourth all-time in NHL career assists-per-game with 0.901, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. It’s only a matter of time before the man they call “Foppa” will be enshrined in Toronto.

Finally, the Sedin twins were drafted #2 (Daniel) and #3 (Henrik) overall respectively by the Vancouver Canucks in 1999. They have both proven to the hockey word that they are elite players in the NHL, and their next goal is to get the Canucks over the hump and bring home that organization’s first ever Stanley Cup. It can’t get any closer than the seven-game loss two years ago to the Bruins.

This year’s draft is one deepest in recent memory in terms of European players and in particular, Swedes. Conceivably, their could be five Swedes taken in the first round this year but there is no doubt that at least three will be selected. Let’s start with the best overall Swedish prospect according to scouts:

Elias Lindholm

Center

Brynas IF (Swedish Elite League)

Anytime a player is tabbed to be “the next” one or the next “great one”, its an unfair burden to him and his development as a player in my opinion. Well for Elias Lindholm, this pressure is all too familiar for him. The media in his native Sweden is already crowning him as the next Forsberg. Never mind that we were lucky one Forsberg came along and there will never be another one. Period. Just like there will never be another Orr, Gretzky, or Nicklas Lidstrom.

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It’s unfair, redundant and simplistic for anyone to compare every Swedish center prospect to Peter Forsberg. First it was Nicklas Backstrom back in 2006, then Filip Forsberg (no relation to Peter) last year, now Lindholm this year. All this Forsberg comparison talk has propelled Lindholm as one of the top ranked European skaters for the draft. NHL.com has Lindholm ranked as their third-overall European skater in their final rankings, which were released last Wednesday, behind only Finnish prodigy Aleksander Barkov and Russian riser Valeri Nichushkin. ISS in their April ranking has Lindholm has eighth overall prospect for the draft. In 40 games with Brynas this year, Lindholm registered 11 goals, 19 assists, for 30 points. Not bad for 17 year old kid. Lindholm had two goals and two assists for Sweden in past year’s World Juniors in Ufa.

In my opinion, playing against the older, physically mature competition in the SEL has given Lindholm the opportunity to advance his game. Lindholm is your typical Swedish center. He’s intelligent, creative and works well in all three zones. Scouts say his hockey IQ and work ethic are second to none in the draft. I have two concerns with Lindholm. He’s barely six-foot tall and 185 pounds soaking wet so he’ll need to add strength at the next level but has a good frame to be center in the NHL. I also think he needs to work on his skating technique. To me his stance is seems a bit too wide.

 

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A best case scenario for Lindholm would be a niche as a Henrik Zetterberg-type player, an all around #1 center that can put a team on his back.

Worst case would be similar to a Micheal Nylander/ P.J Axelsson, a good two way, second-or-third-liner. Overall, I think his height could play a role into why teams may overlook him. He should be around when the Flyers are scheduled to pick but I’m the Flyers I’m staying away from this kid who won’t likely see NHL action for years to come. I’m not saying he’s going to be a good player but I’m not as high on him as some are. To me he’s a project pick.

Note: His father, Mikael Lindholm, was a 12th round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 1987. He participated in 18 games with the Kings before returning to Sweden where he had a lengthy career in the Swedish Elite League. He’s also the cousin of highly touted Detroit Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok (51st overall, 2010).

Alexander Wennberg

Center

Djurgarden IF (Allsvenskan, Sweden second tier)

 

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Alex Wennberg maybe the best pure skater in this year’s draft many scouts say. From watching him play at the World Juniors this past year, I noticed he has a free and easy stride with excellent quickness. He’s capable of keeping defenders on their heels and his speed opens up ice and space for himself.

At 6-foot-1, 183 pounds he can handle himself in traffic as well. He gets to the tight areas and is able to produce some garbage goals. Wennberg is not a “one-trick” pony. He’s very smart with and without the puck. He has good puck skills, can make plays, and can shoot the puck. For a Euro he has a bit a physical edge to his game. In 46 games with Djurgarden this season, Wennberg posted 14 goals, 18 assists, for 32 points. At the WJC, Wennberg a pair of goals and an assist in six games played. Below are some highlights of Wennberg at this past year’s WJC:

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Wennberg’s ceiling is hard to predict because he’s evolving into a better player by the day. I think we’ll really get to see his true potential when he suits up for Frolunda next year in the Swedish Elite League. NHL.com has Wennberg as the fifth overall European skater in their final rankings. ISS has Wennberg has the 15th overall prospect in their April rankings. From what I have seen with Wennberg this year, both with Djurgården and Sweden U20, his potential is sky high. He’s gone from an unknown to one of the best Swedish players in his age group. I think this will cause him to go a bit lower in the draft than he should. Anywhere from 15-30 range makes sense to me. If he ends up being a second rounder, some team is going to get a steal in this player. Did I mention he can play all three forward positions? Wennberg is one of my favorite players in the draft and I’m looking forward to seeing where he lands.

Andre Burakovsky

LW/RW

Malmo (Allsvenskan, Sweden second tier)

 

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Whichever team drafts Burakovsky is taking him based on upside and potential for the future, plain and simple. His stock has dropped considerably since he was cut Sweden’s World Junior team and thought he would be lock to make the squad. The other troubling aspect about Burakovsky is he was downright disappointing and flat out awful for the Malmo Redhawks this season of Sweden’s second tier league. In 43 games, he posted just four goals and 11 points. Granted, he hasn’t has much playing time in Malmo, but maybe that says something about his ability.

That being said he’s an explosive skater with good puck skills who can keep defenseman off balance. He was not an integral part of last year’s U18 squad for Sweden but returns to this year’s tournament as one of Tre Kronor’s top players. Burakovsky has lived up to his lofty billing thus far as he leads Sweden in scoring at this point of the tournament with four goals and one assist in four games, which will ultimately I believe make him a first round pick. He is ranked 6th overall among European prospects by Central Scouting, and 18th overall among all skaters by ISS. He may prove me wrong and turn out to be good NHL player but I wouldn’t touch this kid in the first round if I’m any NHL team.

Others to watch:

Jacob de la Rose

C/W

Leksand (Allsvenskan, Sweden second tier)

 

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De la Rose is a strong skater with speed and balance. He can play in all situations and he has excellent vision with the puck. He gets offensive opportunities but a natural scorer. Defensively, he’s a wizard and he is dangerous on the counterattack. He’s the captain of Sweden’s U18 WJC squad. I like him better than Burakovsky. Projected to go anywhere from mid first round to an early second rounder.

Robert Haag

D

Modo (Superfit/Elite League)

 

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Hagg started last season as a member of the U16 for Modo then he ended up on the ModoJ20 team in the Super Elite League. Haag contributed four goals and 13 assists in only 44 games with Modo’s J20 team. He has split time with the J20 and with Modo’s big squad in the Elisterein. He has good skating ability. He’s quick, agile, and powerful possessing decent puck play and has a good shot. He’s a big kid at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. I would love to see him add on another 15 pounds or so. Great upside. Should go in the later half of the first round.