Sweden Stock Watch: Felix Unger Sörum, Anton Johansson soaring with Leksands IF
Sweden's most prominent hockey leagues are a cool 15-20 games into their seasons, and many prospects have already got off to really good starts. I could've chosen from more than a dozen players for the Stock Rising section alone, but instead we'll go with a cool three who've really separated from the pack.
As always, we have to look at players on the opposite side of that spectrum too, and there's a few highly regarded players in the Stock Steady section who've struggled to build on their wildly successful draft-plus-one seasons to this point in the campaign, along with a surprise first-round pick who isn't rewarding his team's faith just yet in the Stock Falling section.
Let's get to it.
Stock Rising 📈
Felix Unger Sörum, F, Leksands IF (Carolina Hurricanes)
At the close of Felix Unger Sörum's draft year, I thought of him as a player destined for a successful SHL career rather than an NHL one. Even if I thought he was the smartest player on Sweden's top line at the U18s last spring.
Then at the World Junior Summer Showcase, I started to see things differently. He was the most impressive Swede in many of those games, and again, the smartest forward wearing the Tre Kronor. Unger Sörum controlled the pace of the game and was a constant manipulator and playmaker. Then he followed that up with a strong training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes and has since taken off since returning to the SHL.
Unger Sörum who just turned 18 in September has been one of Leksands' best offensive weapons in the SHL, making smart plays and generating some exciting assists. He plays with such a swagger and standout vision. Still, much of his best work occurs from the perimeter, but the playmaking and hockey sense are so good that an NHL career is starting to look probable for the last pick of the second round this past summer.
Anton Johansson, D, Leksands IF (Detroit Red Wings)
Leksands ran into injury trouble on their blue line early, and that opened the door for Anton Johansson. He's seized the opportunity, playing in all situations and taking on high-leverage deployments.
Johansson is a mobile, 6-foot-4 defender who takes advantage of his massive wingspan at both ends of the ice. Mostly, he's an offensive defenceman who drives play from the blue line, where his four-way mobility and a knack for managing space well make him effective. On top of that, Johansson sees the ice well and has the passing skill to string plays together. There's also a little bit of an edge to Johansson's game.
There's also just this advanced situational awareness in Johansson's game that is uncommon at his age. To say his development since his draft year has been impressive would be an understatement. He's well ahead of the curve for a fourth-round pick, and looks like someone with a legitimate chance to play in the NHL, maybe as a No. 4 defenceman if things break right.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki, F, Örebro HK (Vancouver Canucks)
The good news is that Lekkerimäki's puck skills stand out at the professional level in much the same way they did in the J20. He's one among only a handful of SHL players who can credibly threaten from the perimeter with their shot, even beating goalies who get a clean look at his release. The way he moves the puck ahead of each release contributes to his shot's potency, so it's not all pure skill either.
In Örebro he has been given a role to play to his strengths and he's made the most of it. The highlights, goals, and points have come with rising confidence. He still needs a better off-puck game, but it is progressing as well. Lekkerimäki is showing the top-six forward promise that first drew the Canucks to him when they drafted him in 2022.
Stock Steady ↔️
Noah Östlund, C, Växjö Lakers (Buffalo Sabres)
Noah Östlund's first full season of SHL action has started off with enough promise. He looks comfortable playing in Sweden's top men's league and generates value for Växjö at every corner of the ice, playing all-situations minutes and bringing the same hard work and diligence that's been a part of his game at every stop prior.
Östlund looks fast in the SHL, always in motion and taking smart lanes. He checks hard and supports plays to get the puck, and once he's secured possession, quickly goes on the attack with skill and deception. Everything he does, he does at a high pace.
It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Östlund is playing in the NHL as a second- or third-line centre in a year or two. His solid defensive play, play-driving ability, and puck support game should make the transition relatively easy. His understanding of how to play the right way will translate well to the highest level. For now, though, his stock is steady, as there's nothing really new on that front and he isn't exactly lighting up the scoresheet.
Filip Bystedt, C, Linköpings HC (San José Sharks)
Filip Bystedt hasn't taken much of a step forward with his game to this point in the season, a bit of a downer after last year's draft-plus-one leap.
The driving force behind the San Jose Sharks' first-rounder's success last year was his skating and handling working in harmony and allowing him to generate offence. They haven't been quite as effective this year though.
Still, he's a tough player to line up against because of his size and speed. He checks hard, covers the puck well, and drives play in his team's favour. Because of that and his NHL-ready build, it's not hard to imagine him cracking the Sharks' lineup sooner than later – doesn't hurt that the competition isn't that steep right now either.
The reason his stock remains steady is that he hasn't added any new offensive elements to his game since last year. He still lacks the offensive instincts and skill to project as an elite offensive player. He isn’t consistent in creating space for himself or others with his hands and lacks manipulating skills. He will always need a good supporting cast to be a producing player, like when he got to play with Leo Carlsson in last year’s World Juniors.
Stock Falling 📉
Theo Lindstein, D, Brynäs IF (St. Louis Blues)
Theo Lindstein was a surprise first-round pick last summer, but he hasn't really taken any steps forward in his development to start the season. Not yet anyway.
Brynäs is now playing in HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden's second-tier men's league, and they're the best team in that league. As such, Lindstein's struggled to establish himself as one of their six best defencemen and his ice time has been up and down all year. The Brynäs coaching staff just doesn't seem to trust him in high-leverage situations or even spot duty on special teams.
Lindstein is still an effective straight-line skater, and he moves the puck reasonably well from the back end with a desire to drive play. His offensive game gets increasingly limited as he closes on the opposition goal though, the result of a lack of skill and less-than-ideal decision-making from the offensive blue line. He's also not much of an activator.
He's at best when the game is in transition. If Lindstein fails to add any high-end elements to his game over time on either side of the ice, there is a risk he will not become an NHL player. He is of course only 18-years-old and it’s still early in the season, which is critical context.