Both Scandinavian, in another life these two might have become fast friends. Instead, hockey brands them opponents. What a fickle existence. Where, I ask you, is the love? - Richard Wolowicz
Coming in at number nineteen on Silver Seven's Top 25 Under 25 is a Swedish stay-at-home defender. Fredrik Claesson is playing his first season in North America, manning the blueline in Binghamton after spending his junior career in the Djurgarden organization.
Two days and two articles on Swedish defenders. How typically Ottawa Senators of us. Yesterday, I took a look at the long-term career projection of surprising seventh round pick from this past draft, Mikael Wikstrand. At the nineteenth spot on this list is Fredrik Claesson, a fifth round pick for the Senators in the previous draft. Claesson spent only one more season in Sweden after being drafted by Ottawa, leaving Djurgarden to start the year in North America. Interesting how Ottawa went from having two players in Djurgarden last year (Claesson, Zibanejad) to none this season, following their relegation and the development of some apparent bad blood between the two organizations. Interesting, that.
Claesson was about as heralded a draft pick as one can find late in the draft, with well-touted defensive skills and a smart, simple game in his own end. There was some loose comparisons made to our former object of much affection, Anton Volchenkov. Both possess smart defensive play, shot-blocking and physicality, although Claesson may not be as capable of dropping the shoulder to the same degree of devastation as our beloved A-Train.
Shortly after being drafted, Claesson reserved a permanent roster spot on Djurgarden's top team, having spent much of the previous season there between stints in their junior system. Claesson, by all accounts, had a fairly decent season on an underperforming roster and it proved to be enough to earn a role on the blueline of Sweden's World Junior Championship squad. There, Sens fans had their first opportunity to see him in actioni. It's easy to be underwhelmed by Claesson on sight- he doesn't make sizzling offensive plays, nor does he use speed and imaginative skating to evade the forecheck. Yet, if you watch him closely enough, you realize that going unnoticed is one of the best things you can ask from a player like Claesson. When he is doing his job well, you aren't hearing his name often. It is, oddly enough, the lack of negative things that often prove a positive for players like Claesson. I can almost see you making the Chris Phillips comparisons.
Unlike Wikstrand, Claesson does not seem to be hiding an offensive game. His six points through thirty-six games, all of which are assists, do not inspire much confidence in his ability on the attacking side of the ice. Instead, Claesson has been useful to Coach Luke Richardson on the penalty kill and can be relied upon to do a decent job containing some of the opposition's top forwards. Standing around at around 6"0 and hovering around two hundred pounds, Claesson gives a strong presence on the blueline, but not enough size to prohibit his mobility in the defensive end.
Claesson looks to spend another season or two playing with Binghamton and continuing his transition to the North American style of play. His eventual spot on the Ottawa blueline figures to be in a third pairing role. The elevation of Patrick Wiercioch, Andre Benoit and Mark Borowiecki to the Senators provides Claesson, for the time being, with an opportunity for increased involvement under Luke Richardson. On a blueline populated by Eric Gryba, Daniel New, Tyler Eckford, Chris Wideman and Ben Blood, Claesson will have opportunities to face some top match-ups.
Claesson has found a high spot on this list because of the likelihood that he makes the NHL. There is a relative dearth of dependable shutdown defenders in Ottawa's system and, so long as he continues to improve and grow stronger, Sens fans might have the opportunity to see him play for the team a few seasons down the road. The name-dropping of Anton Volchenkov as a comparable has led to Claesson being saddled with some weighty expectations. However, by the time Claesson is competing for a spot, Volchenkov will be well on the wrong side of 35 and Claesson will have an opportunity to earn his own identity.