Searching for players – scouting the Euro leagues (SWEDISH EDITION)

Can NHL team's uncover more hidden gems like Viktor Fasth this year? Image courtesy of jkp-jokke.blogspot.com.

Can NHL team’s uncover more hidden gems like Viktor Fasth this year? Image courtesy of jkp-jokke.blogspot.com.

With the end of the regular season coming up, and being an Edmonton fan once again humiliated, I am already looking towards next season.  With most of the European hockey leagues having finished their seasons already, now is an opportune time to “scout” those leagues for potential NHL players.  Free Agency in the NHL begins this year on July 5th, so not for a while yet, but you can guarantee that NHL teams have already been searching the globe for the next Viktor Fasth, Brian Rafalski or Damien Brunner.

Here are some of the top players in the Swedish Elitserien whom I believe have the possibility of signing a deal with an NHL team.

ELITSERIEN (SWEDEN)

BUD HOLLOWAY – LW – 25 YEARS OLD

2012/13 STATS: 55 GM – 20G 51A 71P

Bud Holloway celebrates scoring a goal with Skelleftea.  Image courtesy of hockeyligan.se.

Bud Holloway celebrates scoring a goal with Skelleftea. Image courtesy of hockeyligan.se.

Holloway was originally drafted by the LA Kings in 2006, but despite some good post-draft seasons never got a sniff of the big leagues.  He was a quality junior hockey player, had a slow start in his pro career which resulted in some ECHL time, but came back in 09/10 as a decent AHL player, posting 47 points in 75 games for Manchester.  He improved even more in 10/11 with 61 points in 78 games, leading the team in scoring.  However, for whatever reason the Kings opted to part ways with Holloway, though I believe they retain his rights until July 5th 2013, and he found himself in Skellefteå, Sweden in 2011/12.

He made an immediate impact, scoring 21 goals and 49 points in 55 games to find himself amongst the league scoring leaders at the age of 24, and this season saw an incredible increase which saw him lead the entire league in scoring, 11 points ahead of the next scorer Carl Soderberg.  This is also a record for non-Swedish players in the league, the all-time assist record, and a new Skellefteå record for points.

Hockey’s Future describes Holloway as follows:

A solid leader with a good work ethic, Holloway brings a well-rounded game to his team.  Able to bury the puck and defensively aware, Holloway is the type of player that can pressed into duty at any point in the game and under any circumstances.  A valuable commodity on a third line and on the penalty kill.

Elite Prospects also describes him in a similar vein, calling him well-rounded and with a powerful shot and good passing ability.  I can’t see any reason why he hasn’t yet found his way into the NHL for at least a cup of coffee, but the Kings were becoming a deep team in his last year there.  Perhaps his skating isn’t up to scratch; I haven’t seen any mentions of his skating ability, positive or negative, but that suggests it likely isn’t an issue.

The possibility of him signing with LA remains, but I would expect the more likely outcome is he becomes a UFA and will have the pick of quite a few teams looking to shore up their depth.  I doubt he gets a one-way deal, and may have to play in the AHL again, but it will be for a significantly higher salary (he’s a proven top-minor leaguer) and will look for some sort of verbal guarantee of NHL time.

MATTIAS KARLSSON – D – 28 YEARS OLD

2012/13 STATS: 55GM – 9G 20A 29P

Mattias Karlsson of HV71.  Image courtesy of hockeyligan.se.

Mattias Karlsson of HV71. Image courtesy of hockeyligan.se.

This 6’3″, 230lb defenceman certainly isn’t on the young side for a potential NHL signing, but he’s proven over time to be a very good hockey player in basically every league he’s played in.  He’s played the last 3 seasons with HV71, and can perhaps be best described as a two-way player, not outstanding in any one area but a good all-rounder.  Originally drafted by Ottawa in 2003, Karlsson has had two stints in North America – the first in 07/08 where he played 2 games in the AHL, and the second in 08/09 where he played 73 AHL games and put up 9 goals and 51 points, great totals for any defenceman.

Again, like Holloway, I’m not sure why he didn’t catch on with the team that drafted him, but he seems like a good player.  Elite Prospects describes him as follows:

A tall round [defenceman]. Karlsson is mobile, has good passing and a hard shot. He uses his size well and does not hesitate to tackle. Needs to be a little faster and evaluate situations on the ice a little better. High work ethic.

So, skating an game-processing might be minor issues, but there are plenty of NHL defenceman with that problem.  Hockey’s Future suggests the same deficiencies, but believes he has good two-way skill and a physical game.

He sounds to me like a good enough player to take a gamble on – I also like that he’s played several times for his country the last few years – if of course he’s willing to come to North America.  He’d more likely be on a one-way NHL deal for under $1m for one year, like Jan Hejda when he first came to North America – also an older prospect when he first got here.  Teams needing some depth on defence but who can afford to gamble might like him.

CHRISTIAN ENGSTRAND – G – 24 YEARS OLD

2012/13 STATS: 34 GM – 1.89 GAA – .936 SV%

Goalie Christian Engstrand of Linkoping.  Image courtesy of hockeysverige.se.

Goalie Christian Engstrand of Linkoping. Image courtesy of hockeysverige.se.

Playing his first full SEL season for Linköping, the young goalie Engstrand performed extremely well, ranking second in the league in save percentage and 5th in goals against average, whilst being 6th in overall wins.  At 6’0″, he doesn’t fit the popular mould of a big goalie, but according to Elite Prospects that doesn’t hold him back due to his style:

A butterfly goalie that still stands up more than your average modern style goaltender. Is a very consistent netminder with few weaknesses. Has good confidence, attitude and is very calm in net. Hockey sense is very good, he is fairly good with the stick and has quick reflexes.

A 24 year old goalie with good stats in a top European league and a history of success.  Sounds pretty good in my opinion.  There isn’t a whole lot of information on him, so I don’t know why he was never drafted, and projecting goalies is witch-craft, but I’d be willing to offer him a two-way contract to come and prove his stuff in the AHL with an eye to potential NHL back-up work depending on his success.  I believe he does have a contract with Linköping for next season, and he may wish to stay in Sweden for one more year to further prove himself, but his contract likely does have an out clause should he sign with an NHL team.

Sweden is producing a lot of good goalies these days, and you’re just as likely to pick up a decent one from Europe than from drafting, perhaps more so, and as they’re already further along in their development you’re more likely to know what you have than with an 18 year old.

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