I was a little surprised to receive a text halfway through the Ivan Hlinka tournament from an NHL scout that suggested that Rasmus Dahlin may not even be the best defence prospect from his country, let alone the first overall pick in the draft. The more I studied Adam Boqvist, however, the more I realized that he cannot be discounted from the first-overall discussion at this early stage in the proceedings.
Most hockey pundits would find this outlandish – for six months now we have been reading that without a doubt Dahlin and Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov are the best draft prospects, and in recent months that Dahlin will be the top pick, but if history has taught us anything, it’s to not count your draft chickens before they are hatched, especially when it comes to Swedish defencemen.
In the summer of 2014, independent draft lists were all touting Oliver Kylington as a top-five lock and a very good bet to be the second or third pick in the draft. Yes…believe it or not…many had him ranked ahead of Eichel in the summer of 2015. Kylington would end up coming perilously close to sliding out of the top 60, being selected 59th overall by Calgary after scouts began taking a detailed look at him.
Last summer Timothy Liljegren was all the rage – list after list in August of 2016 had him anointed as the second-best prospect after Nolan Patrick, even after his mediocre performance at the Ivan Hlinka which made me wonder just what folks were thinking. He did not look like a top-ten prospect in that event, let alone a top two, yet he remained entrenched in the top two of countless lists until 2017.
All that said ; Dahlin looks very much to be an exception. He is a much safer bet to not be sliding out of the top five as he has already proven himself at the SHL and U-20 level, something Liljegren and Kylington had not achieved by the age of 17.
Dahlin didn’t play at the Ivan Hlinka this summer because he was good enough to compete in the World Junior Showcase, and he produced at close to a point-per-game level as a 16-year-old in Sweden’s top junior league in 2016-17, something no other Swedish defenceman has clome close to doing in the past two decades.
Dahlin is a pretty good bet to be a top-three pick in the draft given those accomplishments, and with the exception of Svechnikov and Boqvist, no one at this early part of the scouting year looks to have the upside to potentially surpass him over the next ten months.
I’ve seen gradings on Dahlin where he gets a perfect mark on his hockey sense. That for me, though, is the one issue in his game, and what may end up costing him billing as the top-overall prospect. Not coincidentally, it was defensive play/sense that caused Kylington and Liljegren to drop, and Dahlin is far from perfect in his own zone at this point, making risky decisions with and without the puck that cause chances for the other team.
As talented as Dahlin is offensively…even the great defenders don’t have the puck more than ten per cent of the time. To be truly great you need to be able to play away from the puck, especially in your own zone. Where Dahlin has an edge on Liljegren and Kylington is that he’s bigger and more physical…already 6-2 and will likely be a 215-pound defender, but poor decisions in the defensive zone will cost your team no matter how big you might happen to be.
Boqvist is not without offensive talent, mobility and puck-handling skills either – he was a human highlight reel at the Ivan Hlinka, beating opponents with speed, guile and soft hands on a regular basis while also looking after his own zone. Boqvist led all defencemen in scoring, but even more importantly showed off skating and puck skills that put him in a tier all by himself against his peers at the event.
Dahlin is bigger, more accomplished and may have an edge in offensive skills, but at this point Boqvist looks like the more complete defender thanks to superior hockey sense and less risk-taking. So…we shall see…but let’s not anoint Dahlin as a lock to be the first-overall pick just yet. History has taught us that things can change.
That does, however, give you an idea of just how good Sweden’s top two draft-eligible defencemen are if Dahlin ends up not being drafted ahead of Boqvist – we may ultimately be looking at the best pair of defencemen ever drafted from the same country in the same year when it’s all said and done.