As the season has gone on several things have stood out in regards to Swedish defence prospect Timothy Liljegren. There is no question that he is a natural, smooth skater, and that first and foremost is why scouts were so high on him going into the season. He also has good puck skills, and is able to dangle at the U18 level and without question he is one of the more skilled players in this draft.
What is disconcerting to me and many in the scouting community is his vision, sense, shot and decision-making, and they really lead me to wonder just how much offensive upside he will bring at the NHL level. I have a hard time envisioning him ever being a double digits goal scorer as he simply does not have the shot or instinct to find the open lanes to shoot at the opportune time. He takes wrist shots the majority of the time…I’m not sure how effective his slapshot is as it’s rarely utilized…and his shot lacks heavy velocity with rare exceptions
Equally as troubling are his passing skills in the offensive zone in particular…his overwhelming tendency is to shoot…the quicker the better. He rarely finds the best shooting location however…especially on the powerplay. If one wonders why Swedish U-18 coaches have stopped using him on the first powerplay in the past two tournaments…you have your answer, because he’s not creating offence with either his shot or his passes. Yesterday in one 40-second sequence versus Belarus Liljegren attempted six shots on goal, four which were blocked and two that were at least a foot wide. He has been one of the most frequent shooters in the tournament so far with 16 SOG, but that’s because he is ALWAYS looking to shoot even though his shot is often far from dangerous. I have no doubt that he leads all players in attempted shots in this tournament, almost all of them wrist shots from the blueline.
Another concern is when he has the puck in the defensive zone he invariably does one of two things..tries to carry it out of the zone or tries to make a two-line stretch pass. It is exceedingly rare to see Liljegren attempt a ten- or 20-foot pass or a dish laterally to his defence partner…and if you think he might ever consider reversing the puck or passing it backwards, you can forget it…his passes are going forward…and so are his rushes. One wonders if he needs to pull an Al Arbor and play with spectacles on….or at the very least convex mirrors on his faceshield, as it sure seems like he lacks peripheral vision.
He’s a half decent one-one-one defender thanks to a quick stick and excellent mobility..but when the puck starts getting passed around in his defensive zone he can get out of position and leave opponents open…once again because of his lack of vision and hockey sense. He is not being used by the Swedes on the penalty kill…and for a player who many still project to go in the top ten..if he’s not good/smart enough to play on the first PP or PK against fellow 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, what makes one think he’ll be able to do it at the NHL level? It’s no easy task teaching smarts and vision…they are pretty innate.
He’s not a big defender, so you aren’t looking at a player who is going to be a defensive bruiser that clears the front of the net and intimidates opponents. He competes okay, and he should become a reasonable defender one day if he can figure out how to read plays, cover the right opponent, and see the whole ice surface. A whole lot of maybes.
So it begs the question…just what will he be at the NHL level? If he doesn’t have the sense/vision//creativity/shot to be a ten-goal scorer or 45-point defenceman, and has enough question marks and lack of size to be a stalwart defender…you likely have a mobile puckhandler who at best might be a number three or four defenceman. That’s not top-ten material, and if you are worried about the mistakes, questionable passing and turnovers…may well not be enough to be a top-15 or even top-20 selection.
Liljegren still has a few games to make me change my mind in his upside, but he is quickly running out of time. I’d like nothing more than there to be another candidate for my final top-ten rankings…but after 20 or so disappointing viewings since the summer I’m not holding my breath.