Top 25 Under 25, no. 19: Mikael Wikstrand

The 19-year-old Swedish defenceman has moved up one spot since our last prospect ranking, but there are still a lot of questions about whether or not Mikael Wikstrand will be able to transition to North American pro hockey.

Mikael Wikstrand had a heck of a season in 2012-13: He put up 22P (8G, 14A) plus three shootout-winning goals in 45 games with Mora of Allsvenskan (the second-tier of pro hockey in Sweden), a huge improvement over his past offensive numbers (in 47GP in 2011-12, Wikstrand scored three points). He was tied for fifth in league scoring among defencemen and was his team's top-scoring defenceman, with 11 more points than the next guy. That level of production is very rare for young players in that league, and it reflects a pretty big level of responsibility for Wikstrand on his team--he says he's playing 25-30 minutes a night. It's definitely good for his development, and he's going to be playing in a similar role with Mora once again next season.

Of course, it didn't hurt that he played with Anze Kopitar (34P in 31GP) and Bobby Ryan (13P in 11GP) while the lockout was on. Only seven of his points directly involved those players (he's already assisted on two Bobby Ryan goals, which means instant chemistry!), so it wasn't a huge effect, but it would certainly have helped him out.

But despite having played with and against NHL-calibre players thanks to the lockout, HockeyAllsvenskan is a good distance away from NHL quality hockey. Few players are able to make the jump directly from SEL-2 to the NHL, so it's almost certain that Wikstrand will play at least one year in the AHL--and perhaps more--before getting a real shot at the Ottawa roster. That sets him up for 2015-16 season to truly make his push, unless his development continues at the pace it's keeping today.

Still, Wikstrand's 6'1" and 183 (-ish) pound frame give him the physical characteristics to at least keep up with NHL opponents. He's a mobile defender who is able to move the puck, which are both attributes that any coach (especially Paul MacLean) prize heavily in today's NHL. His offensive production may not translate to the NHL, but that's hard to predict.

If he can maintain and improve upon his play from last season, though, then he might end up looking like a real steal at 196 overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

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