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2022 NHL Draft - First-round profiles: Swedish Hockey League forwards

We continue our look at potential first-rounders in the league that gave us the team’s two longest-tenured captains

Marco Kasper throws his helmet to the ice in disgust at not being able to join Team Sweden despite playing in the Swedish Hockey League
Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

The Swedish Hockey League (SHL), formerly the Swedish Elite League (SEL), is a 14-team league that is generally viewed as the fourth-best league in the world. You have people argue between the KHL and the AHL as the second-best, and then the SHL is firmly entrenched behind those two. Fans of the Ottawa Senators are very familiar with SHL prospects, as recent picks such as Viktor Lodin (94th overall, 2019) and Eric Engstrand (155th overall, 2020) have come out of there, as well as some former team leaders named Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. Last year, six first-round picks came out of the SHL, including 6th- and 7th-overall picks Simon Edvinsson and William Eklund. Way back in 2015, Rob Vollman (then of Dobber Hockey) gave the SHL a translation factor of 0.60, meaning a player would be expected to put up a points-per-game value of 60% in the NHL compared to how they did in the SHL. This value has pretty well held steady since (2017, 2018, 2021). When evaluating young players, however, it’s important to recognize that they are children playing against full-grown adults, so their point totals don’t translate as well. Erik Karlsson, as an example, scored one goal in seven games before being drafted. He did also have 37 points in 38 J20 JuniorElite games, so this helped to show he was a budding star. Mika Zibanejad had nine points (five goals, four assists) in 26 games prior to being drafted sixth overall, and has turned into a bona fide first-line NHL centre. That gives us a bit of a context for examining these players.


Jonathan Lekkerimäki

Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW

C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
RW Djurgårdens IF SHL 5'11" 172 lbs July 4, 2004 #11

Background

Lekkerimäki enters the draft having spent this past season in the Djurgårdens organization, with time both with the big club (seven goals, two assists in nine games) and with the J20 team (20 goals, 15 assists in 26 games). He comes by his Cy Young-worthy goal-scoring ratio naturally, having put up 12 goals (!!) and four assists in eight games in the J18 league the previous year. His excellent scoring through the first 26 games of the year in the J20 league earned him a permanent call-up to the big team, probably assisted by the fact that Djurgårdens finished second-last in the league this past season.

Lekkerimäki is committed to Djurgårdens this coming season, which means he’ll be playing with the relegated club in the Allsvenskan. Considering the lower level of competition, as well as the seven of the ten players who finished ahead of him in scoring are leaving next season, he projects to play big minutes for a team chasing promotion back to the SHL.

Scouting Report

Unsurprisingly for a player with significantly more goals than assists, his biggest asset is his shot. His one-timer, his slap shot, his wrist shot are all considered very good. On the powerplay in particular, he has an Ovechkinesque knack for getting open for his wicked one-timer. His ability to recognize soft spots and get open for a pass is the strongest part of his hockey IQ. Despite his high goal totals, he is known as a strong passer, with the ability to find the open man on the rush. He’s unafraid to take on opposing players, using his deft stickhandling to deke through and open up a better scoring chance.

The biggest knock against him is typical for a 17-year-old playing among men, in that he isn’t strong enough to protect the puck against the big hit, and can be outmuscled. Though he’s good agile and adept at tight corners on his skates, he still lacks a bit of coordination and strength. On the bright side, lots of teenagers struggle in this area, and he doesn’t seem to slow down with the puck on his stick, a sign that as his strength improves, his game with and without the puck will continue to improve. He can keep up on the backcheck in the SHL, and is good at anticipating the back, but needs to improve the reach on his stick to truly defend effectively. Overall, he’s a low-risk, modest-to-high-reward pick, who will only improve in value if he transitions to centre, though at this point it seems less likely.

Data

Among SHL players eligible for this year’s draft, Lekkerimäki is head and shoulders above the rest stats-wise. He is top in points-per-game, even strength points-per-game, powerplay points-per-game, and shooting percentage (min. 8 shots). Comparing to the past two drafts, only William Eklund, Alexander Holtz, and Noel Gunler have performed better offensively. Notably, 2021-22 NHL standout Lucas Raymond trailed behind Lekkerimäki in all primary points categories (even-strength, powerplay, all situations) in his draft-year season. This promises well for his jump to the NHL in 2-3 seasons, especially considering Raymond was four months older when making his pro jump.

Fit with Ottawa

Ottawa has four players who look to be fixtures in their top six for the foreseeable future, maybe even the next decade. There’s an opening at each wing, and Lekkerimäki could slot into one of those wings. If he develops like Raymond, he could be there in a two seasons. Of course, that’s a best-case scenario, and what’s more likely is that he could be there in five years. Ottawa’s core forwards will still mostly be in their prime, and having Josh Norris as one trigger-man, and Lekkerimäki as Tim Stützle’s trigger-man is a nice prospect.

Further reading, watching, and listening

We aren’t the scouts, so for more, check out some other resources on the web. McKeen’s breaks down lots of video, while Smaht and 1st Ohio Hockey give some in-depth profiles. I’d suggest you take a deeper look and get as excited as I have to see this guy in the NHL.


Marco Kasper

Marco Kasper, C

C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C Rögle BK SHL 6'1" 187 lbs April 8, 2004 #18

Background

Kasper is an Austrian player in the SHL, playing for Rögle BK. Rögle is not one of the most famous SHL teams, but they finished top of the table last season, losing in the playoff semifinals to Färjestad BK in six games. (They’re also the team that’s given us Moritz Seider and Nils Höglander in recent years.) Given Rögle’s great season (led by Belleville Senators legend Adam Tambellini), it’s impressive Kasper forced his way into 46 regular season games, scoring seven goals and six assists, and all 13 playoff games, totaling three goals and three assists. After making his SHL debut at just 16 years old, he proved this season he deserved to be in the big leagues, and earned the right to be Austria’s captain at the postponed World Juniors.

Kasper will return to Rögle BK next season, with the expectation of taking on a bigger role with a team that has expectations of winning it all. He will be in the team’s middle six, with regular powerplay minutes, and potential penalty kill duties as well. After a full season as a winger, coach Cam Abbott has hinted he will try Kasper at centre this coming season.

Scouting Report

The temptation is to compare Rossi to another Austrian Marco, namely, Marco Rossi. The thing is, they couldn’t be more different. First, Kasper is four inches taller. While Rossi was an offensive dynamo, with a league-leading 120 points in 56 OHL games, Kasper is better known for his two-way play. He’s as prototypical of a power forward as you can find in a just-turned-18-year-old. He tends to carry the puck up the ice, and is great at using his strength and stick along the boards to retrieve the puck and maintain the cycle. He has excellent hand-eye coordination, and gets many of his chances on deflections right in front of the net. His gap control, especially as a forward, has been highly-praised. On defence, he is equally praised for his ability to retrieve the puck down low, and to anticipate and intercept passes when defending a little higher.

Kasper does have room to grow generally. His weight transfer in shooting needs refinement, and though he’s good at retrieving the puck and pivoting off the boards, his first stride is too slow to do this effectively. Once at top speed, he can maintain it effectively and turn swiftly. Due to his strength, speed, and smarts, many say he could make an NHL impact as soon as 2023-24 in a bottom-six role.

Data

Kasper put up very similar draft-year stats to Nils Höglander. However, what’s more impressive is his possession metrics. He led all Rögle players these playoffs with 53.1% of 5v5 shot attempts (Corsi), highly impressive for a 17-year-old in an adult league at the highest-stakes time of year. It was a noted improvement from the 46.4% he put up during the regular season. You can also see his power forward promise in his hits, being eighth on the team with 34 despite being 17th in ice time per game (among players with >25 GP). Similarly, he was 8th in shots among players to play at least as many games as him despite his low time-on-ice. Clearly he was unafraid to go to the dirty areas, get pucks on net, all the hockey clichés that apply on the rare occasion.

Fit with Ottawa

A power forward centre? Isn’t this what the Sens already have with Ridly Greig, Mark Kastelic, and others? Probably no one’s actually thinking this, but the question still bears asking. The truth is, few prospects reach their potential. With Greig having no NHL experience, Kastelic having a handful of games, and Parker Kelly likely not a centre, the Sens could easily make room for a player like this. If he can really discover his offensive flair, and become more of a third-line centre/second-line winger, as well as powerplay net-front presence, he could be a real steal this draft.

Further reading, watching, and listening

Again, I suggest looking up other profiles. I was again impressed by Smaht’s in-depth breakdown. Last Word On Sports does the time-consuming work for you, compiling all the tweets of his highlights into one handy post.


So, if the Sens return to the proverbial Swedish well, would you rather the see them take the skilled winger or the gritty centre?