BLOG: Grans, Andrae and Olausson standouts for Sweden at U17 tournament
I’m back for another update!
Last week there was a U17 5-Nations tournament held in Tranås, a town south of my home city of Linköping. Naturally I spent much of last week going back and forth to catch as many games as I possibly could. The teams that participated were Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and USA. My main focus was set on Team Sweden, they went undefeated through the tournament with their only point loss was in their shootout win against Russia. In this update I will name the players that I think performed the best for Team Sweden and go a bit more in depth on how I think they played and what I liked about their game.
Helge Grans, D, IF Malmö Redhawks J20, 6’2, 183 lbs, DOB 05.20.02
Helge Grans has had a good season so far in J20 SuperElit where he has been one of Malmlö’s most notable players. When he stepped down to play against other U17-players he got a chance to really shine and show off his brilliance with the puck in his possession. It was a chance that he took, not to play overly flashy or to make high-risk plays but instead he continued to play the way that he always does. He looked calm with the puck, didn’t rush his decisions, made mature and smart plays when it was needed and made quick, hard, well-timed and precise breakout passes that helped Sweden start their transition from defense to offense while their forwards could maintain their speed. Grans’s passing game was one of the main components in Sweden’s success in this tournament. With his smartness and composure with the puck Grans could often solve the forechecking from his opponents by himself, he could hold and puck and wait for the perfect opportunity to send the puck towards a team mate, or simply make a turn with the puck and use his body to protect it before quickly making a pass.
The combination of fantastic hockey sense and great passing abilities turned Grans into one of Sweden’s main offensive threats, even when he had the puck in the defensive or neutral zone. When he didn’t find his team mates directly with his hard, long-range, tape-to-tape passes he would instead find open areas to which he could send the puck to, from where his team mates could pick it up and enter the offensive zone with high speed. Grans also showed that he is an excellent puck carrier. He doesn’t have the highest top speed, but his skating can look almost majestic at times, with long powerful strides and great balance, and he utilizes his body well to protect the puck when he carries it zone-to-zone.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 14, 2019
Even if Grans game in his own zone stood out as exceptional in this tournament, I would rate his play on the offensive blue line as, at least, equally good. When he was left with the slightest of time and space, he would either carry the puck along the blue line or forward, towards the slot, before either setting up a team mate or unleashing his shot. Grans’s mobility and lateral movement with the puck along the blue line is really impressive, even when comparing to top defenders in J20 SuperElit. He makes it very hard for the forward to follow him and to be able block a shot or intercept a pass. When Grans was pressured or challenged by a forward on the blue line, he would simply make a good, smart play before getting into trouble. What I liked most about how he solved being pressured with the puck on the blue line was that even when he had to make a fast decision and quickly pass the puck his passes were still high quality that made it possible for the pass receiver to continue attacking without having to handle the puck first. Grans’s ability to consistently put his team mates in favorable situations with high quality passes, no matter where they are on the ice or no matter what kind of situation he is in himself, is very impressive for his age. With his vision and passing abilities he made everyone around him better, and gave his team mates the chance to play to their own strengths when they received the puck.
Defensively Grans had an almost perfect tournament, he wasn’t on the ice for a single goal against in the four games Sweden played. He made close to no mistakes in his play without the puck in his own end and seemed very confident how he handled his opponents while defending. He continually read the game well, managed gap control in a smart and calm way before trying to poke check or pinning his opponent up against the boards. He had a very active stick and combined it with his great mobility so that he could catch opponents before they managed to make a play or while they were handling the puck. Just like his game with the puck, Grans’s smartness was also notable when he didn’t have the puck. It’s also one of the reasons why he rarely gets beat in 1-on-1-situations.
Grans has been looking like the top Swedish defender for the 2020 NHL-Draft so far, and with his performance in this tournament he did nothing but solidified that spot.
Emil Andrae, D, Hv71 J20/J18, 5’9, 183lbs, DOB 02.23.02
Emil Andrae, who was also team captain, played together with Helge Grans on Team Sweden’s top pairing in this tournament. Together with Grans I would say that Andrae was the best player in the tournament, Andrae was also awarded with the “best defender of the tournament”-award.
Andrae is an offensive-minded defender and in this tournament he was consistently looking to make high-reward plays when he had the puck in his possession. He often succeeded in what he tried to accomplish, which then resulted in a goal scoring opportunity for either himself or a team mate. His high-risk/high-reward plays combined with his flashy style turned him into one of the most, if not the most, entertaining players to follow in this tournament. He is a good stickhandler – the way he handled the puck or deked past opponents made him at times look more like a forward than a defenseman. He also showed that he can handle the puck at high speed, and that he doesn’t have to slow down to be able to stickhandle his way past an opponent. Andrae’s skating looked great in this tournament, his top is above average for his age, but it doesn’t stand out in the same way as other parts of his skating. He is very elusive when he has the puck, he has quick footwork, he is very agile, and he can make abrupt turns and change direction as he handles the puck to surprise his opponents. His balance is superb and makes it hard to knock him off the puck, even when clearly bigger and stronger opponents tried to challenge him physically, he could keep his balance and protect the puck. He showed that he has many of the tools you would like in a puck-moving defenseman, and to top it off he combined his skill it with a lot of creativity.
Andrae’s passing abilities were also very impressive, he has a strong first pass and he was often looking to make quick plays from his own zone to create odd-man rushes for his team. At times he made quite risky plays with the puck from his own zone, but he seemed confident in his search for high-reward plays and they did often pay off. It wasn’t only his long-range passes that were good, in the offensive zone Andrae set up his team mates with quick one-time passes and always seemed to find a way to make a nifty pass. He is very quick in his thought process and seemed to always have a play in mind when he received the puck while Sweden had the puck under control in the offensive zone, it was especially notable while playing on the powerplay and how Andrae’s quick and accurate passes helped to drive the overall passing pace up.
His passing abilities also contributed to what I believe is currently Andrae’s biggest strength – his play on the offensive blue line. Just like his play at the rest of the ice a lot of Andrae’s game with the puck in his possession along the offensive blue line revolves around making high reward plays. He doesn’t hesitate to bring out a dangle to get past his forward and he is also very good at challenging the forwards to make them come closer to him, to create open ice for his team mates before sending the puck away with a pass, often with very narrow margins. But with his quick hands and puck skills this was a way that Andrae could play in this tournament, and it helped Sweden to create scoring chances in the offensive zone. The way he could find different kind of solutions to get away from the opposing forward on the blue line also made room for Andrae to show off his shot more than once. Just like many of his other offensive qualities his shooting is very well developed for his age. His wrist shot is highly accurate but also quite powerful and it was an immediate threat as soon as he had the slightest chance to shoot, and he did not hesitate to use it from any angle he could. With his willingness to shoot, it was no surprise that he was the team leader in shots on goal for Sweden in this tournament.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 6, 2019
Andrae’s play without the puck in the offensive zone was another thing that I liked about his game; he used his mobility and agility to move around in the offensive zone. He either moved around the blue line, to get away from his forward and become available for a pass, or deeper into the zone, to create odd man advantages or to open up ice for his team mates. He was very active and alert and made it tough for his opponents to keep track on exactly where he was, but he also made it in a smart way and seemed to be very aware of when he could go deeper into the zone and when he should stay close to the blue line to prevent odd man rushes against his team.
Defensively Andrae’s overall play might have been a slight notch below how well he played with the puck, but it was far from bad. He was almost equally active in the defensive zone as he was in the offensive zone. Even though he rarely had a size advantage against his opponents Andrae liked to play quite physical, and threw a few good hits this tournament. He was also surprisingly effective along the boards and used both his stick and body in a smart way to either win the puck or pin his opponents or the puck up against the boards. His defensive work rate was very high, and he tried to work a lot with his stick to put pressure or control how his opponents could handle the puck. Sometimes he was a little bit too eager to check, or put pressure, against his opponents and left open ice behind him but overall his defensive play was more than decent.
Andrae is a player I have liked in earlier views as well, but throughout this tournament he consistently played at another level compared to what I have seen before. He is one of many Swedish prospects to be excited about that are eligible for the 2020 NHL-Draft.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 6, 2019
Oskar Olausson, LW/RW, Hv71 J18, 6’0, 165lbs, DOB 11,10,02
Oskar Olausson has been one of J18 Allsvenskan’s best players so far this year and he continued to play equally well in this 5-Nations tournament for Sweden. Just as in J18 Allsvenskan Olausson’s game in this tournament revolved a lot around speed and mobility. He is a fantastic skater, with very high top speed, quick first steps and elite acceleration and he can handle the puck both while maintaining top speed and while accelerating.
A major aspect I really liked about Olausson was that it was more to his game than just skating fast, he took advantage of his strengths and seemed very aware of how and where to skate when he did not have the puck to be able to receive a pass without having to slow down. He kept looking for ways to make it easy for his team mates to set him up so that he could enter the zone while maintaining top speed or accelerating towards it shortly after receiving a pass. He was often looking for open ice on the other side from where the puck was, so that he could sneak up on the side of the defender and then go around on the outside to challenge the net.
Olausson has decent hands and he doesn’t hesitate to try a dangle in 1-on-1 situations as he tries to either enter the offensive zone or to head towards the net. Sometimes he looked a bit careless when he tried to pull a move with the puck and instead lost it, when it would have been better to simply dump it to not risk causing a turnover. But with the mix or speed, decent hands and his will to drive to the net Olausson was a dangerous threat for the opposing team and as soon as he had a chance to enter the offensive zone with a bit of room and he would create scoring chances on his own if there wasn’t a defender that could keep up with his pace.
Olausson’s shot was another thing that I really liked about him, he has an excellent release on his heavy wrist shot and even while under pressure he has the ability to get a quick and decent shot off to cause trouble for the opposing goaltender. When he was is given the slightest of time to aim or move in towards the slot, he would put the puck up high to either force a good save or score a goal. Especially on the powerplay he couldn’t be left with any open ice to walk into or he would instantly challenge the goalkeeper with his wrist shot.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 6, 2019
Even though Olausson is mainly a goal scorer he showed an impressively strong two-way game in this tournament. His defensive awareness was always on point, he kept turning his head to look how his opponents moved around him so he could either position himself accordingly or intercept a potential pass. He used his stick actively while defending and worked hard to cut off angles for his opponents when they were trying to set up a play. This also made Olausson very efficient for Sweden when they were trying to kill penalties, he even scored a shorthanded goal against the Czwch Republic. First, he read and intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, he then went on a counterattack to get the puck deep and won the puck back as the Czechs were trying to set up the play, then headed straight towards the net before scoring the goal to complete a fantastic shift.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 9, 2019
Olausson has a late 2002-birthday, so he’s not eligible to be drafted in 2020 like most of the other players on this team are. Instead he will be a first-time eligible player in the 2021 NHL-Draft, and with the offensive skillset that he already has shown he is one of the players that you should keep more than one eye on until then.
There were quite a few players on Team Sweden that had good performances in this tournament as well, but these three players were the ones that I thought consistently were the best and showed the most upside to their game.
That’s all for me, I wish you all the best!