Sweden had an inconsistent showing at the U-18 tournament that peaked with a 7-3 quarter-final win over Canada. On the whole the Swedes had a disappointing group of forwards in this event in comparison to most seasons…as there is a possibility that none of them are selected in the first two rounds with the possible exception of Lucas Elvenes. Their strength was on the blueline, with two players expected to go in the first round. Here is a look at some of their more notable prospects:
Emil Bemstrom – RW
Bemstrom was leading the entire J20 SuperElit circuit in goals (21) before he missed two months of action. He returned part way through the playoffs, where he was just okay (understandably), but it’s tough to ignore his 0.75 goals-per-game rate this season. At the U18s, he started off quite well, but grew increasingly quiet as the tournament progressed.
First and foremost, Bemstrom is a shooter. He averaged over three shots on goal per game, and two posts. His release and power are top-notch, and he constantly changes the shooting angle with quick lateral moves. A compact, deceptively explosive stride enables him to dart into open spaces, particularly around the net, which how he scores most of his goals.
Bemstrom didn’t provide much in defensive zone coverage or playmaking. He thrived around the blue paint through his movement, but while he showed no hesitation, struggled in board battles.
Overall, a unidimensional prospect, but that one dimension is quite good. Given this, Bemstrom could be a worthwhile long-term project if he expands his game a bit.
Erik Brannstrom – LD
Brannstrom capped off a tremendous season with a good U18 showing. Brannstrom recorded the highest point-per-game (1.21) by a 17-year-old defender in J20 SuperElit history, and he dominated the playoffs. He appeared in 36 SHL games, seeing over 18 minutes of ice time a handful of times.
Brannstrom was dynamic and a play driver for a Swedish offence that struggled. He’s a silky smooth skater with rather graceful edge work. He has a nice balance between passing and rushing from his own zone, making him unpredictable. Patient and aware, Brannstrom is rarely forced into decisions, and always seems to be ahead of the play.
Once gaining the offensive zone, Brannstrom doesn’t peel off—he continues to attack. His ability to handle the puck in awkward positions, like in his feet or while off-balance, makes him difficult to stop in all three zones. A tremendous stickhandler with an arsenal of fakes and jukes, Brannstrom creates lanes with ease. He’s just as likely to wind up a powerful slapshot as he is to fire a seeing-eye wrister toward goals. In this tournament, he was overwhelmingly shoot-first, but otherwise he has a nice balance of shooting and passing.
Brannstrom had issues with slot protection, mostly positioning-related, and around-the-net puck management in this tournament. His one-on-one defending was quite strong, as he takes an aggressive gap usually starting in the neutral zone complemented with an active stick. Brannstrom was great in battles, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given his ability to win battles in the SHL at the age of 17. He’s strong and powerful, and he’s also smart, showing awareness to pin opponents to the boards and trap their feet (thereby preventing escape) to wait for support.
Here’s a great example of this, versus top 2018 prospect Andrei Svechnikov:
Lucas Elvenes – RW
Apart from two games (vs. Canada and Russia), Elvenes never reached the level that he played at in the J20 SuperElit. There were flashes of tantalizing skill and speed, but generally he played like a secondary scoring option.
Elvenes is gifted with separation speed, soft hands, and a slick playmaking skills. He showcased all three versus Canada, where he pounced on loose pucks, created chances in bunches, and put on a stickhandling clinic. He’s best when constantly moving, using his first-step quickness to explode into seams (particularly around the net, where he scores most of his goals). But for much of the tournament he was uncharacteristically stationary.
In the defensive zone, he was too passive attacking the points, but also demonstrated a knack for disrupting the puck carrier on the backcheck.
Rickard Hugg – C/LW
After Fabian Zetterlund, Hugg was likely the Swedes’ most consistent forward this tournament. Using his combination of skill and smarts, Hugg consistently created chances for both himself and his linemates.
Hugg is similarly skilled to Elvenes, but stands two inches shorter and lacks Elvenes’ separation gear and flash. However, Hugg’s style and smarts made him more effective.
Hugg is a deft playmaker, feathering tape-to-tape passes into the slot with ease. He lacks a bit in the shooting department, but constantly shifts around in the offensive zone looking for quiet ice.
With a low-centre of gravity, smart body positioning, and soft hands, Hugg is strong along the boards and net. He actively seeks out physical contact, so he can draw attention to himself to create space for his linemates. He made this play multiple times in every game – battle for the puck, draw two (or more) defenders to him, then escape and fire a pass to an open teammate.
It’s this ability to create space that makes Hugg—this year’s winner of the J20 SuperElit Top Forward—so effective.
In my eyes, Hugg is a decent NHL prospect with upside as a scorer and 200-foot player. He might be undervalued because of his 5-10 stature and lack of dynamic skating, but I believe he could become a scorer in the Allsvenskan as soon as next season.
Timothy Liljegren – RD
For the most part, Timothy Liljegren was solid this tournament. He made some dazzling rushes, and got better as the tournament wore on.
Defensively, Liljegren was solid. He did a great job protecting the slot, and winning the ensuing battles along the wall. There were more than a few instances of passive gap control through the neutral and high defensive zones, but it never seemed to cost him. He pivots were a bit slow sometimes, but his explosive acceleration allowed him to stay with the play.
The execution—not the physical skills—remains the problem for Liljegren. While he racked up controlled exits with his long, explosive stride and soft hands, he was far less successful at controlled entries, typically doing one of two things: (1) Closing the space he just gained for himself by skating directly into the defender’s stick, or (2) trying a lateral pass just after gaining the blue line. But it is worth mentioning, when he did gain the zone, generally he created a scoring chance or pressure. He’s a patient player in the offensive zone, but while in transition he seems reluctant to go anywhere but straight ahead, even if a reversal or D-to-D pass would buy him more time and space.
However, once in the offensive zone Liljegren played well, apart from his tendency in the first two games to throw weak shots toward goal despite having better passing options. Further complicating this decision is the fact that Liljegren’s wristshot is powerful with a deceptive, quick release. Liljegren did a better job locating his teammates in the offensive zone as the tournament wore on. His elite edge work, soft hands, and patience give him the ability to create passing and shooting lanes. He moves around the high offensive zone with ease, although sometimes without much purpose.
Liljegren will enter the draft as a conundrum. On one hand, the package of physical tools are elite. On the other hand, both his decision-making and execution are worrisome. And he had mononucleosis at the beginning of the season—the effects can last for months. At the J20 and SHL levels this year, he never improved over last season’s performances; while at the U-18s he was less impactful than he was a year ago, as a 16-year-old.
Jacob Peterson – C
Peterson was a depth player for Sweden at this tournament, usually playing a similar role to the one he has with Frolunda’s J20 SuperElit team. His all-around skill set was evident throughout the tournament. His tools are all slightly above-average, with smooth stride, quick hands, an accurate shot, and good vision. Deceptively strong and capable in battles, Peterson is a valuable support player. He brings defensive awareness and a knack for disrupting every play within a stick’s reach.
However, just as he does in the SuperElit, Peterson glued himself to the perimeter. Instead of trying to beat defenders, he will peel off and staple himself along the boards. He showed quick hands in those scenarios, but doesn’t have the instinct or creativity to take the space that he creates and turn it into a chance. Instead, he will cycle and grind until he loses possession. Simply put, for all the skill, the play dies on his stick a ton.
Filip Westerlund – RD
Westerlund was Sweden’s most steady defenceman. He establishes his gap control noticeably earlier than his peers, constantly engages with his stick, and has tremendous hand-eye coordination. Not only is he a tough defender to beat one-on-one, attackers rarely have the opportunity to make a decision before he’s in their face. He’s as sure as they come on the PK, too. Westerlund is solid in battles, but his clumsy first few steps hinder his ability to escape.
Although Westerlund had just seven points in 23 J20 SuperElit games this season, he’s a fairly skilled player. He won’t create shooting or passing lanes like Brannstrom or Liljegren, but given the space he’ll connect with a clever pass or snap a hard shot on goal. He also makes a crisp, hard breakout pass. All of these traits were evident throughout the U18s.
Westerlund was quite active jumping down into the offensive zone. He scored a goal this way against USA, and also created a few other opportunities. His stickhandling and edge work are a bit stiff, so he’s not going to beat players while activating. But, he makes smart, timely pinches that usually maintain possession and the zone.
Fabian Zetterlund – RW/C
Zetterlund led Sweden in goals (3) and points (5), and was arguably their best forward. He demonstrated a high-end shot numerous times, consisting of a quick release, plenty of power, and pinpoint accuracy. While he lacks one-on-one moves, his reaches top-speed quickly, and uses his body effectively. He connected with a handful of difficult passes, but otherwise was constantly looking to shoot.
In the defensive zone, Zetterlund isn’t much of a battler. He flies the zone often, which generated a handful of opportunities, also resulted in him being out position. He’s also a straight-line forechecker with a dash of physicality. He’s not the most purely skilled player on the team, but does enough well that he could be a nice gamble in the mid rounds come draft day.