If the Sens take a defender from Sweden in the 2016 Draft, who should it be?
With the exception of the 2010 draft, where the Senators only had four picks, the team has selected a defender or goaltender from Sweden in every year under Pierre Dorion's tutelage. Erik Karlsson in 2008, Robin Lehner in 2009, Fredrik Claesson in 2011, Mikael Wikstrand in 2012, Marcus Hogberg in 2013, Andreas Englund in 2014, and Christian Jaros in 2015. Who could they potentially pick in 2016?
With no Swedish player ranked highly in the first-round, the players that I'm going to be looking at are primarily defenders that are potential options for rounds 3-7. They've all been ranked in the top-50 by the NHL's Central Scouting Services, but the fun note is that none have received the attention of the main trio of Swedish defenders: Jacob Morevare, Lucas Carlsson, and Jacob Cederholm. Thus, these are potential diamonds in the rough! Let's get to it.
Filip Berglund (Skellefteå, RD) - NHL CSS: 33; 1997-05-10
One of just 11 players (and the second highest in the top-50) who wasn't ranked when CSS released their midterm rankings, Berglund is the oldest option on this list but perhaps the most attractive option offensively. His 41 points led all defenders in scoring in Sweden's top U20 junior league -- four more than Erik Karlsson's in his draft year (though Karlsson was younger). Many came on the powerplay, with his team having the best PP% in the league. IN terms of a scouting report, he seems to air on the side of being the first defender to jump into the rush or pinch to keep the puck in, leaving me to extrapolate that he's calm with the puck in the offensive zone but will have to learn to pick his spots as he starts to face more skilled talent. Despite his NHL size at 6'3, 209lbs (according to EliteProspects), no reports really comment on his physical play.
Skellefteå, the SHL's top regular season team, extended Berglund last month for another two seasons, citing that his skillful game with the puck fits in well with the way they play. As the second youngest player on the roster and the youngest defender by a full year, Skellefteå's confidence in him says a lot about Berglund's potential to grow next season with potential SHL time.
Why is he ranked so low? It may be due to his paltry numbers in 2013-14 and 2014-15, where Berglund did little to impress potential teams after starring in the annual TV-Pucken tournament a year prior. This article (in Swedish) lists Berglund as having a pretty nasty knee injury, which affected his play, but he appears to be healthy now. In fact, NHL teams have started to take notice, with Berglund saying that he's been in contact with a few NHL teams in the months leading up to the draft. Puck-moving right-handed defencemen are extremely hard to find, and despite the team having Christian Jaros, Kelly Summers, Macoy Erkhamps, and Cody Donaghey in the system, another option, especially one with this level of offensive ability, may help.
David Bernhardt (Djurgårdens, LD) - NHL CSS: 39; 1997-12-01
In CSS' Midterm rankings, Bernhardt was ranked as the second best Swedish defender, after Jacob Moverare (a likely second round pick who I'm not going to profile) and just ahead of the now higher ranked Lucas Carlsson and Jacob Cederholm. He holds the top spot in the only U20 SuperElit category that Filip Berglund doesn't hold: the most overall assists (28), with his 38 points three less than Berglund's 41. Bernhardt's play might be *more* impressive because he's 7 months younger -- a big difference in development terms -- and thus, he's a first-time draft eligible compared to this being Berglund's second time around. This has given Bernhardt some more attention from various scouting services, including McKeens and a mention in a THN piece back in November:
David Bernhardt, D - Djurgarden (Swe.): A big, mobile defenseman who gets very involved with the play, Bernhardt is the top-scoring blueliner in Sweden's under-20 North League with 18 points through 20 games. Consistency is on scouts' radars, but when he's on, he's on.
Signed for another year in Djurgårdens after being extended after the 2014-15 season, Bernhardt has some work to do in terms of using his 6'3, 200lb frame, much like Berglund. Over at HockeyProspect, scout Nik Funa was interviewed back in February and noted that he hasn't played much internationally for Sweden, partly because he needs to work a lot on his mobility. Now, this doesn't mean he can't improve, but he'd have to work a lot with the Sens staff to improve his skating, which will then give him better defensive positioning and ability to use his body consistently. His upside with a good point shot and production has gotten him noticed, but Funa states that he's a "classic case of a project pick where you're excited about his tools than what his game actually is at this level"
Being a left-defender, he's got more players ahead of him on the depth chart, but since he's likely 2-3 years away from even making a North American debut, it may not matter. Unlike Berglund, he's been unable to get games in at the SHL level yet on Djurgårdens already quite young defensive squad, so he may be held at the U20 level for another year.
Linus Nassen (Luleå, LD) - NHL CSS: 46; 1998-05-10
Ranked 32nd in the midterm rankings, Nassen slots in as the 7th highest ranked Swedish defender in this draft and the second youngest I'll be profiling today. Despite his age, Nassen actually featured in the most SHL games this season (10) and won a silver with Sweden's U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka alongside fellow draft eligible defenders Moverare, Cederholm, and Deutsch.
It's unclear whether he just signed a one-year or a two-year extension with Luleå back in April, but the team's hockey operations staff noted his strengths as his skating, overall mobility, and understanding of the game. He seems to be a bit more raw than Morevare and Carlsson, who are more complete players and prospects that will surely be taken higher, but he has a lot of tools to work with, a stronger offensive game than Jacob Cederholm, and a more reliable defensive game than the older Berglund and Bernhardt. He needs to add strength like most young defencemen, but could end up as a steal as he begins to play more minutes. He was Luleå's youngest defencemen by two years, with Sens prospect Christian Jaros the next closest in terms of age. Due to Jaros' presence, the Sens trio of European scouts probably saw him enough times in person to potentially advocate for his selection.
Perhaps I value offensive ability in defencemen a bit more than most, but I'd have Nassen ahead of the higher ranked Cederholm, Danielsson, and the two players profiled before him. An intriguing pick.
This ends my short profile of three potential Swedish defenders that could be taken with a mid/late round pick. There are some other intriguing names ranked in the 50-100 range by CSS for those of you who may want to do some more research, such as Hardy Häman Aktell, Jesper Mattila, Lukas Carlsson, Arvid Henrikson, and Kristians Rubins. However, I think the three profiled here and the big trio mentioned at the start of this article are the defenders most likely to be selected this weekend.