No. 23: Filip Ahl (Reader rank: 22, Last year: N/A)
Ranked as the 9th European skater and consistently in the third or early fourth round in his draft year, Filip Ahl slid a bit to the Ottawa Senators. Sens Chief European Scout, Vaclav Burda, was thrilled, noting that Ahl had skill and a great shot to match his larger 6'3, 211lb frame.
Given all of the father-son connections from this past NHL draft, it would've been fitting if Ahl was born a few months later and taken in 2016 -- his dad, Boo, (what a name!) was a goaltender for HV71 and works with the team's junior program as an equipment manager. Thus, Ahl's decision to apply for the CHL Import Draft despite having a year left in Sweden with his dad's former club shows Ahl's commitment to believing that North America was the best place for his continued development. He's hoping it pays off like it did for ex-Sens 4th rounder Tobias Lindberg, who must've been in the heads of Sens management when they were convincing Ahl to make this decision. Lindberg ended up in the best case scenario: an older team, ready to compete for a Memorial Cup, with a pro hockey ready coach in D.J. Smith (now with, ta-da! the Leafs). As you know, Lindberg won, and then was traded to the Leafs as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.
Selected by the Regina Pats with the 31st pick, ex-Sens bench boss and current Pats GM and head coach John Paddock is optimistic about Ahl. After all, he has a credible source in Sens Chief Amateur Scout, Bob Lowes, who used to work with the Regina organization and still lives there. With the CHL Import Draft, teams have to weigh whether the player will actually commit to the organization in addition to just selecting the best player available. We'd heard that Ahl was interested in the CHL, so the fact that Lowes knew this more in-depth gave Paddock the confidence he needed to select Ahl. He's confident that he made the right decision.
"We believe he's a pretty good player, has lots of stuff going for him," said Paddock, a former Senators' coach. "He fits the criteria we wanted. He's a drafted guy. We were interested in going that direction. (Getting) an older player this year didn't bother us at all. We're not looking to be a younger team. If it works out for him to play over here, we're hopeful it's going to be a successful year for him and us."
Sounds similar to Lindberg's situation, no? Why the CHL? One reason could be consistency.
"(He's) a big guy with some scoring ability," said Paddock. "From what I understand, he needs some more pace to his game so that'll be up to us to help develop that, if that's the case. There's going to be adjustments (to the WHL) but he's a big body and played at a high level, played some men's hockey over there. He had 18 goals in 18 games at his own age level. He's played against good competition and he has been able to have some success. We would like to try and enhance that some more and help ourselves as well."
Ahl could find himself on one of the most dynamic lines in the league, anchored by the WHL's leading scorer in 2015-16 and 2016 Leafs 4th round pick, Adam Brooks, and Anaheim Ducks 1st round pick (30th overall), Sam Steel. Just having a consistent head coach for an entire season could make a world of difference for Ahl, and it's helpful that Paddock has NHL experience and ties to the Sens organization as well. If you count the Sweden U19 and U20 teams, Ahl played for a ridiculous 7 different head coaches last year and 5 during his draft year.
Statistically, Ahl has shown that he can excel against his age group in Sweden. He was one of the 19 twenty-goal scorers in the SuperElit in his draft year and led the league in points-per-game this year (min. 10 GP) with 1.72 before he was promoted to HV71 for 17 games. Although he didn't have a point in those 17 games, Ahl only played 2:36 (you read that right) a game. Could you get a point only playing three shifts a night? The only U20s to feature in more games than Ahl for HV71 were 96 born C Kevin Stenlund and top 2017 draft pick, Lias Andersson. Despite having an older team, HV71 barely qualified for the SHL playoffs (seeded 9 of 10 spots). Despite being part of HV71 history as the youngest player to ever appear with them in the SHL back in his age 16 season (2013-14), it's easy to see why both he, and the Senators, thought that staying another year might be detrimental for his development.
What can we expect from Ahl?
From Future Considerations:
"A big, hulking winger...skates well especially for his size...possesses a long powerful stride with good balance...not the fastest player, but he uses his strength and fluid movements to carry the puck...has a wide wing span and long reach which aids his puck protection and defensive coverage...has solid vision and makes strong passes...goes to the dirty areas continuously and is dangerous around the oppositions net...plays a physical game...fights for space and pucks, owning the boards...uses his body to make space...can lay some strong checks...not overly creative but effective in the straight forward role he plays. (December 2014)"
From Uffe Bodin - HockeySverige.se
"Big and skilled forward who is good on his skates. His biggest asset is that he's hard to knock off the puck. He shields the puck very well and uses his frame physically to hold off opposing players. Even if he doesn't become a big scorer, I wouldn't be surprised if he could fill a role as a checking forward on a third or fourth line."
"Hulking pro-sized wing with an explosive shot that jumps off his blade. Just starting to develop a strong stride and with it much better acceleration. Regardless he is very strong on his skates and a soft passer and playmaker. Still needs to keep his feet moving at both ends, is good on the cycle and stick handles out nicely to get loose and let that big shot go. He beats defenseman with surprising East-West agility. You do want to see a bit more intensity more urgency away from the puck in his end, and use of that big body on the wall with more edginess, but there's lots to like as he develops his all-around game."
Scouting reports can be hit/miss, so I generally like to look at what's similar across the board in order to tease out the take-aways. In Ahl's case, scouts agree that he definitely seems to succeed when he uses his size effectively to either protect the puck offensively or to use his frame and long reach defensively. His lateral movement seems to be great, as is his shot. Thus, it's no surprise that he could thrive playing the cycle game on a strong forechecking team, especially with the smaller North American ice that he'll see in the WHL, AHL, and NHL. To get there, he'll have to compete hard every shift and try to use his size to "play physical" as much as possible -- not just in terms of hitting opponents but also to use his body along the boards to keep plays alive. Working on his straight line acceleration, something that most bigger players have to work on, will obviously help Ahl, and hopefully following a consistent training schedule improve these aspects of his game now that his routine should settle down. His statistics are strong, but his inconsistencies that kept him off of the main Sweden World Juniors team likely means that he's a reach to be a top-six forward. A top-nine forward in the mould of a Zack Smith (LWer) is likely what Ahl becomes if he's a regular NHLer. I'm excited to see if he can put it all together.
Thanks for reading!