Top 25 under 25, no. 3: Jakob Silfverberg
After a quick detour around this choice last weekend, here we are at the Senators' third-best player under 25 years of age: Jakob Silfverberg.
Of all the entry drafts in Ottawa Senators history, the 2009 one might end up as the team's most important. You've already seen three players from that draft class on this Top 25 list (Mike Hoffman, Robin Lehner, and Jared Cowen), and Silfverberg, selected in the second round (39 overall) of that draft, makes it an even four. And though he has less North American pro experience than any of the others, expectations on Silfverberg are about as high as they've been for a forward prospect in a long time.
It's easy to see why expectations for Silfverberg are so high. His career in the Swedish Elite League progressed steadily to this season, in which Silfverberg finished second in league scoring, was named the regular season MVP, the playoff MVP, and set a new league record for playoff scoring with 13 goals (surpassing Daniel Alfredsson's previous record of 12) while leading his Brynäs IF squad to the league championship title. Suffice to describe it as a good season for the young winger.
Aside from two games late last month, Silfverberg has spent his entire pro career with the Brynäs IF squad in the Swedish Elite League. His numbers really took off in the 2008-09 season, where he scored 38P (14G, 24A) in 30GP with the J20 SuperElit squad and also played a few games with the Brynäs pro squad. That season, Brynäs won the Anton Cup--the SuperElit title--thanks in part to Silfverberg's play. That summer he was drafted by the Sens, and the next year he started with the Brynäs Elitserien squad. He did well in 2009-10, his first full SEL season, but took a real big step forward the following season. Then he left his peers behind in 2011-12, as was described above.
We caught a glimpse of the future towards the end of Ottawa's playoff run this past season, but it will begin in earnest this September for Silfverberg. He's a virtual lock for the Sens' top six next year, and he's shown that he's got what it takes to fit in well in that role. He plays a good two-way game, he's got good size (although he'll likely bulk up even more this off-season), and he has a heck of a wicked shot. Although he doesn't seek physical play, he doesn't shy from it, either.
It's always difficult to project what a player can do in the NHL based on his SEL totals, but the excitement level Swedes feel about Silfverberg is higher that it's been for any player since Nicklas Backstrom, so that might tell you something. The two players employ different styles, but Backstrom is a darn good player, so if Silfverberg comes close to that level of success, the Sens will be very happy.
Still, caution is a good idea when forming expectations about Silfverberg for next season, and an example fresh in the minds of Sens fans to underline this is the case of David Rundblad. After a breakout season last year, Rundblad struggled to adjust to the North American game this season and was shipped out of town because of it. He could still be a very good player in this league, but there are very real challenges in the transition from European hockey to the North American style, and it won't be an easy field for Silfverberg to plough. Next year will have its challenges.