Top 25 Under 25, no. 23: Fredrik Claesson
The Top 25 Under 25 series continues with its first segment looking at a Swedish player. I don't happen to think I'm giving away too much by saying that Fredrik will not be the only Swede on the countdown. Coming into the 2011 NHL Draft, the Senators had effectively eight defensive prospects, not including Erik Karlsson, nor Jared Cowen and David Rundblad, who were going to be fighting for spots with the NHL club. Of those eight, four were positioned to play for the Binghamton Senators and another four were playing for American colleges.
In the later rounds of the draft, Bryan Murray and co. saw fit to start plugging some holes in the depth chart. In the fifth round, with the 126th overall pick, they settled on stay-at-home defenseman Fredrik Claesson. As the pick popped up online, there was a flurry of typing across Ottawa, as fans hustled over to hockeydb to learn a few rudimentary talking points about the kid. It brought about a few realizations:
- Claesson played most of the season for Djurgarden IF, the club of the Senators' first round selection Mika Zibanejad.
- Claesson's Swedish!
- We don't know much about this Claesson guy.
- Ottawa picked a Swede in the later rounds once in the mid '90s and it really worked out. We like him. Let's talk about him more.
The next few months would give Sens fans more of an opportunity to get perspective on Claesson and what kind of player he is. As a prominent fixture on the Swedish blueline throughout the World Junior Championships, the fifth round pick came across as a diligent defensive player, reasonably physical and a shot-blocker.
A full product of Djurgarden, Claesson passed through their junior program before the 35 games he played up with the big club last season. The defenseman has proven to have staying power in the SEL, as he has been up with the team for their 41 games so far this year and averages over 17 minutes per game. His offensive ouput will never be a big part of his game, but he does have seven points so far this year. At the very least, it's indicative of the fact that the team is putting him out there in more situations.
With the many different levels of development for Swedish players, what does it mean to have a nineteen year old playing important minutes with the big club? With Djurgarden, perhaps not too much. Claesson is the fourth youngest player on the team's roster and one of four defensemen born in 1990 or later. Still, playing a top role in one of the world's better leagues is without question a terrific experience and opportunity for growth for the teenager. Besides, did anybody expect Claesson to be one of Ottawa's top players at the World Juniors? (We also likely didn't foresee Stefan Noesen/Shane Prince being jilted from the American team, or Matt Puempel's injuries holding him back from the Canadian squad. I digress)
"Claesson is almost exclusively a stay-at-home defenseman. While not overly physical, he plays a sound positional game and is very good at preventing scoring opportunities and blocking shots and passes."
Claesson has few years to go before he can figure himself into a serious part of the conversation, and who knows what Ottawa's blue line might look like come that time. Ottawa's hoping that Jared Cowen and Erik Karlsson will be the two top defencemen for the foreseeable future, but that shouldn't concern Claesson--he is likely never going to be a top-pairing player in the NHL. His sound defensive game will hopefully translate into a strong bottom-pairing defenceman who can play tough minutes in a shutdown role and on the penalty kill, likely more skilled but less physical than Matt Carkner. In that regard, he has some company. Even before considering Ottawa's aforementioned presence around college bluelines, Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba are further along in their development and aiming to claim several unspoken-for openings in the near future. If Claesson's going to break into Ottawa's defence corps in the coming seasons, he's going to have to outplay some other more experienced defensive defencemen in order to do so.