Goodbye, North America! With just over a month remaining until draft day, we’re heading overseas to take a look at the talented players applying their trade in Europe.
It’s an interesting time. While there are still question marks around the start dates and schedules for many hockey leagues in North America, many leagues in Europe — including the SHL — are on track to start a new season this month. Scouts might get an extra few looks at some of the players profiled here to see how an extra summer of development translates into on-ice play, however modified it might be.
While we’ve profiled Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, those two top-10 picks — along with likely first rounder Noel Gunler — are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a few intriguing names to profile in Sweden, ranging from high-end skilled playmakers, to big forwards with a straight-line game, to some mid- or late-round choices that are trending up. Let’s take a look!
Zion Nybeck (LW/RW)
|21 - 61
I know, I know, another profile, another “small” forward. Nybeck, though, has pedigree and electrifying skill in a dynamic offensive toolkit, and despite his size, is still expected to go somewhere in the second-round on draft day next month.
A top-20 prospect at the start of the season, Nybeck had a 2018-19 season that put him squarely in the conversation with Raymond, Holtz, and Gunler. His 1.23 points per game in the SuperElit was clearly in range of the other top forwards — miles ahead of Oskar Magnusson’s 0.50 — and he was a key contributor to a bronze medal at the U17s (6GP, 3G) and a gold medal at the U18s (7GP, 2G, 3A).
This past season, HV71 went with a veteran-heavy roster, leaving players like Nybeck, Emil Andrae, and Anton Johannesson to spend a majority of their time in the SuperElit instead of receiving SHL time like their peers. That might be part of the reason why Nybeck “fell” in rankings relative to his peers, but if we’re just looking at elements that he can control — Nybeck was a star. In fact, Nybeck was just five points shy of breaking the SuperElit’s all-time record in points scored, and his P/GP rate is the second-best from a draft-eligible in the last decade.
At the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Nybeck — an assistant captain — helped lead Sweden to a bronze medal with four points in five games. That he was able to produce internationally in every tournament he’s played in is a key counter-argument for those who may have thought that his size would limit the effectiveness of his game against rougher opponents in a best-on-best format.
Here’s what we like about Nybeck. He’s a skilled, offensive winger with high escapability, fantastic hockey sense, and a balanced set of tools he can use to score or set-up his teammates. My favourite trait of his is the way he forechecks, and specifically, how he tracks with his body and his stick to steal pucks. His bread and butter is to combine that skill with his vision, where he’ll utilize smooth hands and a gentle passing delivery to send pucks exactly to the stick of his teammates for a high-danger chance. Unlike some of the other passers we’ve profiled, Nybeck has a good wrist shot and a bomb of a slap shot — this diversity is what allows him to be creative almost every time he has the puck.
While his size is obviously a limitation, Nybeck is used to proving himself and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas, like he did here for his first SHL goal. His quickness is less about top speed and more about agility when moving in the offensive zone, or escapability when opposing players are attacking him. The fact that he doesn’t have a high-end top gear at his size is worrying scouts, but I have more faith that he could add that to his toolkit than some other players in his range adding the creative offensive talent that Nybeck possesses.
“He’s actually pretty strong with the puck. There’s a little trouble against big D, but he’s skilled and he can handle the puck in tight situations. He just needs to work on his skating a little bit. We don’t run around hitting guys nowadays. It’s more about angles, working with your stick and your skating abilities. And that symbolizes his game, plus he has the work ethic,” Rahm said.
As a team with four second-round picks, the Senators can afford to potentially swing for the fences with a high-upside winger who has first-round skill like Nybeck, and hope that it’s enough to work out his size limitations at the next level.
Theodor Niederbach (C)
|Frölunda HC J20
|37 - 80
Missing an entire season can really take a toll on a prospect, and for Theodor Niederbach that setback came in the 2018-19 with a gradual recovery throughout the past year. He was touted as one of the top Swedish talents for this draft class back in 2017-18, but after missing the following 15 months with an injury, it’s been a road back to normalcy for the Frölunda centreman.
It wouldn’t seem like he missed a beat looking at the scoresheet, as his 48 points in 40 SuperElit games was third on his team and fourth among draft-eligible players. His usage was pretty odd for a top scorer, often being relegated to Frölunda’s third line while being their go-to guy on the power play.
I’ve seen a fair amount of concern around the fact that the majority of his points came with the man advantage — 60.4% to be exact, ranking second in the SuperElit among forwards with at least 10 points. But that shouldn’t discount his effectiveness at even strength, as with limited minutes he ended up scoring 3.64 primary points per estimated 60 minutes, from Pick224. That places him fourth in the entire SuperElit last season, and second among first-time draft eligibles behind Emil Heineman. For comparison, last year’s 23rd overall pick Simon Holmström scored an estimated 3.12 P1/60.
In terms of what Niederbach brings to the ice, he’s one of the more nifty playmakers to come out of this draft class. He’s best when the puck is on his stick, with fantastic vision of the offensive zone to spot teammates and set up high-danger chances. His puck skills are all there — smooth hands, accurate passing, and even a quick release on his shot. But as a playmaker who can dish the puck, he has all the right tools to make himself effective at even strength while also being able to quarterback a power play from the half-wall.
There have been a couple points of contention with Niederbach’s game in scouting circles which have made him varied in rankings, and the first is his skating. He’s an agile player, but his straight line speed was particularly a concern at the beginning of the season, although was something that improved as he got more games under his belt. He can really fly through the neutral zone, although there’s still some questions whether he was just inconsistent last season, or if it was part of his recovery after not playing for an entire year. I tend to lean towards the latter, although it adds an extra layer of uncertainty to evaluating his season.
The other common drawback, which was brought up on an episode of Draft Debaters, was his lacklustre defensive play. His relative GF% at even strength was -4.70, meaning his team was being outscored more when he was on the ice compared to off. His strong offensive play driving couldn’t compensate, so like many prospects it’s something he’ll have to improve going forward. But also remember that his last hockey before his injury was in a U16 league, jumping almost directly into playing against U20 competition. The missed season makes him one of the trickier prospects to evaluate in this draft class.
All together, you can still count me as a fan of Niederbach because of the raw high-end tools he brings to the game. There’s a strong chance he’ll be available outside the second round, and if you can find a fantastic playmaker who can quarterback a power play at that stage, I count that as a win. The drafting team will need to be patient, but the potential reward is fantastic.
Niederbach videos are a bit tough to come by, but Jokke Nevalainen’s video feed on Twitter has us covered. We appreciate you Jokke!
Daniel Torgersson (LW/RW)
|Frölunda HC J20
|35 - 88
A 6-foot-3 goal-scorer? In this draft? You bet. Coming up through the Frölunda junior system, Daniel Torgersson plays the kind of straight-line hockey that coaches love, and maximizes his frame with a powerful skating stride and a heavy shot.
A player who wasn’t on Frölunda’s radar until he scored his way onto it at age 14, Torgersson played for a youth club in Skärgårdens SK that has produced no NHLers over its history. Torgersson scored 52 goals and had 74 points in 25 games at the “division 2” level of U16 hockey for the club, and then added another 24 goals in 17 games at the U18 level. That was enough to get the attention of the powers that be, and in 2017-18, Torgersson proved that he could score at the highest U16 level with Frölunda (16GP, 18G, 29P) to finally be placed among his peers at the U18 level.
As you can see in the clip above, Torgersson has good hockey sense that allows him to follow the puck and get to dangerous areas of the ice to unleash his shot. He’s a reliable two-way player, filling his duties as a winger effectively, and backchecking through the neutral zone as expected.
In a piece for NBCSports, Flyers AGM Brent Flahr said this about Torgersson’s game:
“Big body, strong down low on the walls, can shoot it,” Flahr said last week. “He is a winger, for sure, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg with him. Eventually he’s going to hopefully dominate using his size and ability to get to the net and shoot the puck. On the national teams and certainly on the junior teams, he complements skilled centers pretty well and obviously he has unique size.”
Despite Torgersson’s size, he doesn’t play a “power forward” game in the way that he could, where he’d use his size to be a dominant presence in the crease or to drive the net as often as he could. He’s got great foundational skill that’s complemented by his size and hockey sense, but no standout trait that screams a “can’t miss, top-six forward”. Torgersson’s a player who’s a safe bet to “make it”, especially in a top-nine role at even-strength, a net-front role on the powerplay, and potentially a regular shift on the penalty kill.
When contrasted with Nybeck, you get the sense that Torgersson’s size potentially allowed him to score as much as he did, and when he moves to North America where players with his frame are more common, you’re wondering, “what’s left?” That’s the key question that Torgersson will have to try and answer.
Emil Heineman (LW)
|Leksands IF J20
|36 - 88
In a year filled with surprises for draft-eligible players, there may have been no bigger surprise than the breakout season from Emil Heineman. The Swedish winger had never come close to being a point-per-game player at any level prior to this season, with zero games at the international level and a mere five points in 27 games for Leksands’ U20 team in 2018-19.
But fast forward a year, and Heineman has completely transformed his game to the level where he could be picked as soon as the early second round. He was a near goal-per-game player in the SuperElit with 26 goals and 41 points in 29 games. And because so few of those were secondary assists, his 1.28 primary points per game is the highest for a draft-eligible player in the SuperElit since... well, I’m not sure, because it’s the highest in the entire Pick224 database which only goes back to 2007-08. There’s definitely some inflation to account for as his shots went in the net 30% of the time, which is definitely not sustainable. But that shouldn’t completely mask all the growth Heineman saw in his game this past season.
First, and most obviously, Heineman’s a natural goal scorer who works well as both a one-timer option in the slot and a fighter in front of the net. He’s fantastic at finding space for himself, anticipating plays ahead of their development. His physical tools have certainly helped him too as a sturdy 6’1” player, which could potentially help him play full time in the SHL as soon as next season. He’s a strong skater with great speed in the neutral zone, which combined with his laser-quick wrist shot can make him an unpredictably lethal player.
My biggest concern with Heineman is whether he’ll have to rely on other players at higher levels as a passenger, or whether he’ll be able to continue generating chances on his own. He was surrounded by some fantastic talent on Leksands — overage centre Nils Åman was one of the league’s best playmakers last year, for starters. His defensive play often lacked the same pace of play too, although he’s far from unique in that regard. Heineman has plenty of raw tools to be an excellent complimentary player down the road, so it’ll be up to the drafting team to decide how they’ll want to manage his development.
Between his gaudy scoring totals, a fantastic shot and overall high-end goal-scoring instincts, it’s been a lot of fun following Heineman turn into the player he currently is. Where he’s drafted could be anyone’s guess, but keep an eye out in the second and third round.
|Malmö Redhawks J20
|71 - 104
|Linköping HC J20
|102 - 150
|101 - 175
|145 - 147
|Malmö Redhawks J20
|161 - 163
- A versatile player who scored more than both Niederbach and Torgersson this season in the SuperElit, Malmö’s Oskar Magnusson is a projected third-round pick in this year’s draft. He’s a great skater with hands to match, and is deceptive with the puck. When you’re sometimes the lone offensive weapon for your team, you have to develop a toolkit that allows you to score in multiple ways, and Magnusson had to be that for a poor Redhawks team this season. That hockey sense allowed him to play top minutes on the powerplay and get a regular shift on the penalty kill, and getting an all-situations forward with his skillset at this point in the draft is usually good value.
- A 5-foot-9 pivot like the one we’re seeing rip it up for the Islanders, Elliot Ekmark is a shifty centre who has shown tremendous improvement over the last 12 months. A smart, two-way player who can score (0.84 points-per-game) and provide shutdown minutes, Ekmark even played four games in the SHL this year as a reward for his play. As a projected late-round pick if he’s even taken at all, Ekmark is a player who could exceed his draft slot if given the time to develop slowly in Linköping.
- One of this draft’s bigger sleeper picks, Oliver Tärnström is a zippy forward who seems to be able to think the game at a similar speed. His 34 points in 41 games isn’t exactly standout, but he was the strongest play driver on one of the SuperElit’s weakest teams, elevating play of those around him. He’s also one of the draft’s youngest players as a late August birthday. Peep the highlight reel and scouting report from friend of the blog Ashley Glover — Tärnström likely wouldn’t have been in this section without his hype. But if there’s any candidate in this piece to have a huge breakout year, it’s Tärnström.
- There are two overagers I’d like to point out, the first being Linus Öberg. This is his third year of eligibility and was a decent contributor for Örebro HK in the SHL. I’m not exactly convinced of his skillset, which survives on his net front presence while often being sluggish in other areas. But he has the exposure of playing for Sweden at the World Juniors, and with Sens European scout Anders Östberg previously being Örebro’s director of scouting at the time they recruited Öberg, he’s the ultimate candidate to be this year’s Viktor Lodin 2.0.
- As for an overager that I’m more a fan of, Eric Engstrand is also in his third year of eligibility and was third in SuperElit points per game behind Nybeck and Canucks prospect Arvid Costmar. He posted a relative GF% of +14.42, and is physically imposing as a strong 6’4” winger. That was certainly helpful when dominating players 2-3 years younger than him, but he has some potential as a tall and mobile late bloomer./
More Draft Coverage
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|First Round Forwards
|First Round Defencemen
|Next week: Finnish Forwards