Sweden Stock Watch: A pair of Vegas Golden Knights prospects lead the way
We're nearing the halfway mark of the Swedish hockey season, and the competition is starting to heat up.
The SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan are teeming with drafted and draft-eligible talent, all trying to earn bigger roles with their respective teams. The stakes are especially high right now with the 2024 World Juniors set to take place in Gothenburg later this month, and many a roster spot still up for grabs.
This article is mostly going to focus on a handful of those players, five of whom went in last year's draft.
Stock Rising 📈
David Edstrom, C, Frölunda HC (Vegas Golden Knights)
David Edstrom hasn't had any problems translating his game to the SHL level. His brand of hockey, which is about being smart with the puck and dangerous around the net, is tailormade to professional hockey. You can see that in how high his average xG per shot is right now, enough so that he probably deserves an extra two or three goals on top of the four he's already tallied.
Unfortunately, his skating looks about the same as last year, which is less than ideal. He doesn't achieve perfect technical form, but Edstrom makes up for that by taking smart routes and being explosive in spurts. He can keep up at the SHL level. Naturally, for a player his age, he also needs to get stronger in board battles.
His game should translate well in North America, too, and he looks to become an NHL player within the next few seasons.
Carl Lindbom, G, Färjestads BK (Vegas Golden Knights)
There's a developing trend that's seeing more and more Swedish goalies establish themselves in the NHL, and Carl Lindbom might be part of that sooner than later. He earned Goalie of the Year honours in HockeyAllsvenskan last year, and he's built on that with an excellent start to the 2023-24 SHL season, already setting his mark as one of the league's best goalies.
Lindbom's strong play earned him a chance to put on the Tre Kronor at the Euro Hockey Tour, too. Lindbom doesn't have traditional NHL size in the crease, but he reads and reacts to the play well. His positioning is key to his success, and it has to be because he doesn't have as much range as most goalies. He's a quick skater, competitive, and plays with a lot of composure.
He's cooled down maybe slightly in November after a scorching hot start, but the long-term trajectory has NHL written all over it. Yeah, that's still rising stock for a former seventh-round pick.
Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skellefteå AIK (Detroit Red Wings)
Axel Sandin Pellikka is off to a strong start to the season, leading Skellefteå with eight goals through 23 contests. What's even more impressive is that Skellefteå is struggling to find the back of the net as a team, yet here he is lighting the lamp as a defenceman.
He's most dangerous from the top of the circles with his wrist shot, but Sandin Pellikka also brings value in transition, playing the puck well on breakouts and using his edges to avoid forecheckers.
When play turns to defence, Sandin Pellikka reads opposing rushers well and is competitive in board battles. I think he'll do well defending on the smaller ice surfaces in North America, too.
With the way he's playing on a night-in, night-out basis in the SHL, Sandin Pellikka looks well on his way to developing into a top-four defenceman at the NHL level.
Stock Steady ↔️
Anton Wahlberg, F, Malmö Redhawks (Buffalo Sabres)
Anton Wahlberg's game looks better calibrated to the senior level this season after looking like such a raw player last year. He's much more structured and playing with more planning than just sheer instincts.
Still, his skating hasn't taken the step I'd like to see. The SHL doesn't have a lot of room for straight-line speed bursts and that's the only time Wahlberg looks like a speedy skater. Because he's often behind the pace of the game, he can look invisible for stretches.
He's been a streaky scorer, but he can find some success burying pucks in the back of the net at this age. He has a quick-release wrist shot that's a legitimate weapon.
If Wahlberg can generate more speed in his crossovers and learn how to get more consistent results in his off puck game, there can be a player here long term.
Stock Falling 📉
Otto Stenberg, F, Frölunda HC (St. Louis Blues)
Frölunda hasn't been shy about integrating Otto Stenberg into their main squad. He even gets power play time these days. I'm not seeing a lot of growth in his game, though.
Stenberg's a strong player, hard on the puck, and he's even put up a decent amount of offence. He's still skilled enough to create chances for himself, but his off-puck game remains stagnant, and his supporting instincts don't really shine. It's not like he's adding much value in the defensive zone either.
He's still a player who needs the puck on his stick to be effective, and that doesn't always translate to the next level. Luckily, he's really very skilled and there's a lot of runway in front of him to figure out the other parts of the game. Still, I wouldn't be thrilled with where his game's at right now for a former first-round pick.
Felix Nilsson, F, Rögle BK (Nashville Predators)
I was really high on Felix Nilsson last year, drawn to his strong off-puck game at the professional level and the way he leveraged it to put up points.
The problem is that he looks almost exactly the same in his draft-plus-one. He plays well defensively and contributes to retrievals and breakouts, but he's just not creating much with the puck when play shifts to the offensive zone. He's yet to score this season and only has 0.3 expected goals, according to our partners at InStat Hockey.
Lately, Simon Zether (2024) has gotten more time with the SHL team than Nilsson. The Predators' draft pick has continued to put up points in the J20 but needs to start translating that part of his game to the senior level, too. He needs to show more patience and awareness with the puck in tight situations. Maybe a loan to Allsvenskan would serve his development.