By DraftPro staff.
Inevitably Toronto Maple Leaf great Borje Salming and Detroit Red Wings legend Nicklas Lidstrom come to mind when the topic of best Swedish defenders to play in the NHL comes up. And rightfully so. Both are Hall of Famers and considered two of the best to ever play the position.
But the question is, how did such a small nation like Sweden become such a powerhouse at turning out all-world caliber defensemen?
A country that boasts about ten million souls, and whose sports pecking order runs something like soccer/football, handball and then ice hockey, it is hard to see how so many high-end NHL defenders came and continue to come from this background.
One likely possibility is the way they train their prospects from a young age. Focusing on individual skills first before moving into the nuances of playing the position. Skating, puck skills, puck moving and management, etc. all are baseline skills taught and encouraged long before learning how to control gaps and take proper angles on opponents.
Sweden produces the third most players, regardless of position, currently in the NHL, just under 14%, after Canada, 65%, and the United States, 33%. Both Canada and the U.S. have a combined population of just under 370 million people which makes the Swedish numbers even more mind blowing.
Today some of the top defenders in the NHL also call Sweden home, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, Vancouver’s Alexander Edler, Dallas’ John Klingberg, Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and most recently Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin are all arguably their teams top defenders.
Prospects such as Arizona’s Victor Soderstrom, New York Rangers Nils Lundkvist, Ottawa’s Erik Brannstrom, Chicago’s Adam Boqvist, Edmonton’s Philip Broberg and Toronto’s Rasmus Sandin among others are on their way to being high-end NHLers.
Draft Prospects Hockey has twelve Swedish born and developed defensemen ranked inside our final Top 217 for the 2020 NHL Draft. A handful of whom we feel have high-end NHL upside, which is almost becoming an automatic in every draft for a Swedish defender or two to shine. Will this crop produce the next potential Karlsson or Kilngberg?
Here are some of our regional evaluators quotes from this season on the crop of talented Swedish defenders available.
Emil Andrae, LD, HV71 J20 (SuperElit), 5’9”, 183, DOB 2/23/2002
“A top prospect. The best point producer among the defenseman in the J20-Superelit. Elite hockey sense and great maneuverability. Ultra-creative and calm under pressure with the puck. Fights hard and doesn’t back down.” – Joel Lander
“Probably the most confident player in every game he steps out too. He processes the game so fast and can control the pace. His skills are something special. He can dangle in his own zone, on the blueline, he has such good control of the puck. A strong skater, but not fantastic. Phenomenal lateral movement. Creative. Tough in the defensive zone, even if he is smaller. Tough to compete against.“ – Jon Ahlstedt
“Skating Ability is a big strength for Andrae. Movement is slippery and he can use his skating ability to get past his opponent. Great ability to maintain possession of the puck at high speed and protect the puck well in tight against opponents. Creative passing ability. His shot finds its way to the net for either a rebound or a goal chance. Good velocity and accuracy, quick release and can disguise his release point.” – Anton Johansson
William Wallinder, LD, MODO Hockey J20 (SuperElit), 6’4″, 192, DOB 7/28/2002
“Big and strong, can make life difficult for opponents. But also, a puck mover. Excellent maneuverability especially for his size. Will join the rush, jumping into the play, and even go coast to coast with the puck himself. Needs to continue to work on his play without the puck.” – Joel Lander
“An effortless skater and his hands are very good; he can dangle through a defense himself and delivers some crazy passing. He loves to join the rush and is strong when facing an opponent 1on1 where he can steer them off or play an effective stick game. But his defensive positioning needs some work, he is everywhere in his own zone. No structure whatsoever. The sky-high potential is there. Will he be able to put it together?” – Jon Ahlstedt
Helge Grans, RD, Malmo Redhawks J20 (SuperElit), 6’3″, 192, DOB 5/10/2002
“Impressive size but more so great skating and mobility. A puck rusher with a heavy shot, that he uses often. Solid defensively. Depending if he was playing in the SHL, where he plays safe, or in the J20 league, where he was more dynamic, when you saw him you could come away with two different ideas of who this player was. Decision making can be inconsistent.” – Joel Lander
“Playing in the SHL is of course a completely different thing than playing in Superelit. He’s really good at bringing the puck up ice but he should work more on keeping square to the players that he’s facing in his own zone, it often feels like he’s on his heels there. He has some trouble with the pace of the SHL. He should use more of his strength and size. But that should come in time for this strong puck mover.” – Jon Ahlstedt
Anton Johannesson, LD, HV71 J20 (SuperElit), 5’9”, 154, DOB 3/26/2002
“A bit under the radar due to injury keeping him from playing back to back full seasons. Impressed me every time I have watch him, on the top D-pair with fellow draft eligible Andrae. Smooth skater, has elite puck skills and is very smart. He sees the ice very well and delivers precise passes.” – Joel Lander
“Johannesson is very much like Andrae – his partner in crime. They both are considered the high risk-high reward variety. a smooth skating defender with offensive skills. There is something majestic about his skating, he isn’t the fastest skater, but it looks very smooth. Transports the puck coast to coast with fluid lateral movement and a quick processor. Make stretch passes that open up the game completely. Injuries worry. There is a lot of work to do with him before he would be ready, but the upside is really big.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“Skating ability is high level. Plays a well all-round game for HV71 and showed of some really nice high-level passes. Can be easily knocked around due to size. Modern offensive defender when moving the puck, creative. Biggest strength is his puck distribution, sees the ice in front of him well, accurate and well-timed passes. Great wrist shot with high velocity and accuracy. Quick release. Quick and smart decisions. High level hockey sense. Doesn’t get into gritty areas that much.” – Anton Johansson
Axel Kumlin, RD, Frolunda HC J20 (SuperElit), 6’0”, 174, DOB 2/23/2002
“Smooth skating, quick change of direction to create space. Great first pass. Starts the transition to offense. Loves to shoot the puck. Not overly flashy but just a solid two-way defender.” – Joel Lander
“Good skater, passer. Strong in his possession with the puck. Impressive lateral movement. Can play far too nice of a game, standing down physically when he should use his body. Need to work on his play in the defensive zone.” – Anton Johansson
Samuel Johannesson, RD, Rogle BK (SHL), 5’11”, 176, DOB 12/27/2000
“His game is about smartness. He’s not quick by any means but he compensates with a fantastic reading of the game. When you look at Johannesson everything he does looks so effortless. He’s got really smooth hands and delivers his passes with accuracy. Not physical at all and has some troubles in the corners. I don’t think his ceiling is that high because of his lack of speed but he’s going to become an NHLer.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“Strong offensive defenseman. Solid at the blueline with his wrist shot, good at maintain possession of the puck against the wall. Plays a strong positionally sound defensive game. Played well and did not look out of place in the SHL this year.” – Anton Johansson
Lucas Ramberg, LD, Lulea HF J20 (SuperElit), 6’0”, 176, DOB 6/30/2002
“Had a successful start to the season. Debuting and playing 3 SHL games with Luleå is nothing short but excellent for this smooth skating two-way defensemen. Footwork is excellent, his feet move like drumsticks when he gets going. Distributes the puck well and knows what to do with it before it’s on his stick. His shot right now is too weak right now to challenge goalies. Not particularly physical, he rather goes for the puck than the guy.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“Ramberg isn’t that type of defender with a “wow” factor, but he plays a solid game. Engages on the offensive side of the game, jumps into the attack. Makes accurate passes. Position game in the defensive zone is solid. Uses his active stick well to breakup attacks. Has moments of indecisiveness, in his own zone. Must continue to work on his acceleration, especially on the first step.” – Joel Lander
Hugo Styf, LD, MODO Hockey J20 (SuperElit), 6’1”, 190, DOB 8/25/2002
“A good skater and a great puck carrier, he has a good first pass. A strong shot. Plays a tough, physical. Hasn’t got offensive tools like a stretch pass that can open up the play. Not much offensive awareness or creativity. Tends to misread a lot of situations defensively.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“An up and down performer. Start the attacks for Modo with a good first pass. Plays a tight, physical game in the neutral zone and defensive zone where he doesn’t let the opponent have much time or space. Has times where he plays sloppy with the puck, makes bad decisions and rushes in to dead-end situations.” – Joel Lander
Viktor Persson, RD, Brynas IF J20 (SuperElit), 6’2”, 192, DOB 11/7/2001
“Smooth skater, uses edges well, not a speedster by any means, need to improve footspeed. His passing is very good and he transitions in and out of the zone very effectively. He can handle the puck. Somewhat weak in his own zone, especially in front of the goal.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“Smooth-skating, more fluid than fast. Solid edge work. Intelligent. Handles the puck well. His passing game is solid, and he transitions in and out of the zone very effectively. Needs to continue to refine his defensive play and add strength.” – Anton Johansson
Theo Nordlund, LD, Frolunda HC J20 (SuperElit), 6’0”, 179, DOB 7/20/2002
“Smooth skating defenseman with tons of upside who doesn’t seem to know how talented he can be. He could be more of puck transporter than he is, his skating allows it and his puck skill as well. His hands are fantastic. The tools are there, he often flashes them, but nothing happens. Big upside if he puts it all together.” – Jon Ahlstedt
“He reads the play well. He plays an aggressive defensive style all over the ice attacking players by using his speed, movability and stickwork to close gaps. Can really handle the puck. Doesn’t have high difficulty on the passes but makes the simple ones easily. Shot velocity isn’t great neither is his shots accuracy.” – Joel Lander
Mans Forsfjall, LD, Skelleftea AIK J20 (SuperElit), 5’10”, 168, DOB 7/30/2002
“Two-way defenseman who can play in many situations on the ice. A reliable player, a player that coaches trust. Uses his edges well and moves smoothly in all directions. He knows when to support his players in the corners and has great awareness of his surroundings.” – Jon Ahlstedt
Speedy, offensively creative defender. Solid hands with the puck. Use his stick well to protect it from defenders. Not so much of a player that go in to gritty areas and doesn’t play with his body. Doesn’t enjoy rough stuff. Understands his personal defensive responsibility and pick-up his check, cover for teammates if they make mistakes and reacts accordingly. Good team guy, builds up his teammates.” – Anton Johansson
Adam Wilsby, LD, Sodertalje SK (Allsvenskan), 6’0”, 183, DOB 8/7/2000
“Impressive speed and skating ability. Excellent vision and passing skills. Impressive timing and sharpness on his passes. Needs to focus on his own zone and improve defensive coverage. Watches the puck and tends to look lost. Last year he is eligible.” – Anton Johansson
Leo Loof, LD, Farjestad BK J20 (SuperElit), 6’1”, 179, DOB 5/10/2002
“Defensive minded player who lacks creativity. His skating is strong, he moves smoothly, especially laterally and when he’s forced to use his edges. He always tries to break up the play early and keeps his gaps tight. Nothing fancy. A physical presence, good along the boards, he gets there, crushes his opponent, gets the puck and short passes it to a teammate on the go. Still trying to figure it out.” – Jon Ahlstedt
Albert Lyckasen, RD, Linkoping HC J20 (SuperElit), 5’11”, 187, DOB 7/28/2001
“Skates well with and without the puck, doesn’t lose speed. Not easily knocked around by his opponent. Movement is fluid, good laterally. Could improve those puck skills. Ability to see the ice in front of him and anticipate lanes before they open. Timing and sharpness are solid. Has a really good shot. Good two-way defender.” – Anton Johansson
Pontus Johansson, LD, Djurgardens IF J20 (SuperElit), 6’0”, 168, DOB 10/23/2001
“Plays in Djurgårdens 1st pairing. Solid puck skills. His skating is ok, overall mobility was good but his stride and top speed aren’t really there. Quick feet though. Defensively he gets caught out of position sometimes, he watches puck too much. Has a terrible shot, you could see from miles away when he was about to release it, weak and not accurate at all.” – Jon Ahlstedt
Victor Mancini, RD, Frolunda HC J20 (SuperElit), 6-3, 201, DOB 5/26/2002
“Very balanced on his feet and not easily knocked around, movements is fluid but his feet look a little heavy, and he really loses some speed when skating with the puck. Not so creative hands with the puck but protects it well. Solid passer. Heavy point shot. Willing to use his size in the defensive zone.” – Anton Johansson
Follow Anton Johansson on Twitter: @antonj85
Follow Jon Ahlstedt on Twitter: @JonAhlstedt
Follow Joel Lander on Twitter: @JoelLander1891