Very few Sens fans coming into this season knew much about Mikael Wikstrand and what his game is all about. His phenomenal start to the 2012-2013 Allsvenskan season is performing some rapid public education on the matter.
When the Senators selected Mikael Wikstrand 196th overall in this year's entry draft, it was greeted with about as much fanfare as seventh round picks normally receive (read: very little). The Swedish defenseman was picked up after his first season in Sweden's second highest men's league, Allsvenskan. Statistically speaking, there was not much to write home about in his first professional campaign. Stefan G:son, The 6th Sens' resident expert on all things Senators, Swedish and much in between, interviewed Wikstrand after the draft and gave a little insight into his play.
Wikstrand, who likes his name spelled with a "W" despite the passport saying "Vikstrand", is a decently sized, mobile defenseman that can transport the puck with his skating and easy-solution, crisp passes. As a young player in a men's league, he would often opt for the simple play, as we've seen so many times with other young defensemen. Smart decisions defensively and while he's not a physical force by no means, doesn't shy away from contact and is fairly strong on his skates.
- Courtesy The 6th Sens
In short, Wikstrand was a rookie on a fairly veteran team that failed to qualify for the promotion playoffs to Sweden's Elite League, Elitserien. As a result, there was a possibility of upward mobility for the Swedish youngster after an unspectacular year of 3 points through 47 games.
Through the first thirteen games of Mora IK's Allsvenskan season, it is obvious Wikstrand has embraced that opportunity and is taking advantage of the new ice-time and responsibility being sent his way. Wikstrand has thus far put up ten points through thirteen games, including an assist on the game-winning-goal Wednesday (props to twitter account @SensProspects for consistently getting these numbers out. If you aren't following him yet, make sure to do so.) Another number, once again courtesy of @SensProspects: Oliver Ekman-Larsson had 27 points in 42 SEL2 games, 9 of them goals. So far, 7 of Wikstrand's ten points are goals. To further emphasize his phenomenal start to the season, Wikstrand has one less point than teammate Anze Kopitar in three less games. Wikstrand is the highest scoring defenseman currently playing in SEL2. He is also within a point of another familiar forward: eleventh overall selection of the Washington Capitals, Filip Forsberg. There were 184 selections between the two in the entry draft and currently one point in the SEL2 scoring race. On Monday, Wikstrand was named to Swedens U-20 World Championships roster.
Senators fans are always on the lookout for the next late-round pick that will prove to be both a great story and an even better asset. A puck-moving Swedish defenseman seems to fit the bill. Yet, before we rush to anoint Wikstrand and subject him to the same adulation Jakob Silfverberg, David Rundblad and Mark Stone have received in season's past, it is worth remembering that performance in SEL2 does not equate to NHL production in a season or two, depending on when Wikstrand makes his way to North America. For example, the leading scorers in the league are Evan McGrath (26-year-old AHL veteran yet to see a game in the NHL) and Jared Aulin (2nd-round selection in 2000, saw 17 games with the LA Kings in 2002/2003, several seasons in the AHL).
Of course, Wikstrand is an eighteen-year-old with much room to develop. Regardless, Bryan Murray's team merits some serious praise here: if Wikstrand's performance to start the year could have been foreseen, he certainly would have elevated himself on scouts' radar to a spot well above 196th.
Impressive numbers are one thing, but I think I voice the concern that is on the mind of all Sens fans when I ask "so, does he play on the penalty kill?"