Devils at the 2009 NHL Draft: A Tim Erixon Overview

That SBN Mock Draft is heating up; you should check it out as tomorrow completes the top 10 and starts on the next 10.  Exciting.  What will I do for the Devils pick?  I can't really poll it because it's all contingent on who gets taken next.  Hopefully, with these overviews, I can make a proper decision.  Fortunately for all of us, it has no contingent on what David Conte and the Devils will do at the draft.

Anyway, speaking of mock drafts, in their third mock drafts, NHL.com's Adam Kimelman and Brad Holland have Tim Erixon going to New Jersey at 23rd overall.   He's a good of choice as any for the subject of today's overview.

Tim Erixon - Defenseman - 6'2" - 190 lbs. - Hometown: Skelleftea, Sweden
2008-09 Team: Skellefta AIK - 45 GP - 2 G - 5 A - 7 PTS - 14 PIM (source)

Erixon has been busy last season.  He played for Skellefta AIK's top team and U-20 team for a total of  54 season games and 15 playoff games, he was loaned at one point to Malmo for 3 games, and he represented his country both at the U-18 level and at the U-20 level at the World Junior Championships.  He's got a NHL connection through his dad, Jan Erixon, a defensive forward for the Rangers in the 1980s.  Hence, he was born in Portsmouth, New York, yet raised in Sweden. According to CSS, he is the 5th best European skater available.  Incidentally, notice how many of the top European players are Swedish.   If you're interested in an overview between the Swedish and Russian draft classes, Iain Fyffe has an interesting article about that at Puck Prospectus.  But for the purposes of this overview, let's focus on what is out there about Tim Erixon.

Before I begin, I will say that I'm already interested in this player due to the level of competition he has played in this past season.  I noticed Dylan Olsen because of that despite he was in Junior A, he was playing for Canada's national U-18 team. He played a lot of games in the Swedish Elite League, including playoff games, against players older, better developed, and more experienced than him.    That's an advantage over junior hockey, in my opinion.  Then there's his international experience, he wasn't just selected for Sweden's U-18 team at the Four Nations or World U-18 Tournament; but he was selected for Sweden's World Junior Championship roster.  Getting named to a WJC roster and playing before even being drafted is a solid accomplishment in of itself - especially when that team earned the Silver medal.

Now, NHL.com has plenty on Erixon, starting with this general article about Erixon.  It goes over his father's time with the Rangers and how it impacted Tim's game as a defender.   However, what I found most interesting are these words of support from teammate, colleague, and fellow defenseman prospect, David Rundblad:

"On the ice we are competitors; but off the ice, we are good friends," Rundblad told NHL.com. "It's great to have a friend my own age (on the team). We can talk to each other about all kinds of things."

And Rundblad is one of Erixon's biggest boosters. "He is very good with the puck, great eyes, good on both offense and defense," Rundblad said, offering an impromptu scouting report.

In an unguarded moment, the more offensive-minded Rundblad admitted he wished he had more of Erixon's defensive-zone acumen. "The way he reads the play in the defensive zone, he never makes a mistake there," Rundblad says.

Now, I wouldn't read too much into this, Rundblad is his teammate and given how they are friends, he's going to be more positive. Still, that Rundblad admitted that he would like to be more like Erixon in his own zone is a bit telling.  And I would think it tells us something good, as he thinks he's at least better than him in his own zone.

Continuing from NHL.com, there's this profile video on Erixon with some highlights and words from the player.  E.J. McGuire of Central Scouting had this quote about Erixon:

NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

"Tim Erixon brings to his Swedish Elite League club team, the same kind of elite hockey skills that perhaps his dad, Jan Erixon, did for over 500 games in the NHL. A smart defenseman who can either lead a rush or support the rush from behind, he was on display at the World Junior Championship in helping bring his team to the final game."

So there is also support for Erixon being a contributor on offense.  Don't let his statistics fool you, being able to lead a rush is a skill in of itself regardless of whether it leads to assists or goals.   Look at the Devils, who on the defense can consistently bring the puck up so well?  Martin or Oduya, on a good night, perhaps.  My point is that it is a skill.   And it hasn't gone unnoticed.  At Eliteprospects, a site focusing on prospects all over the world, had this to say about Erixon:

An offensive minded defenseman with good size and moblity. Erixon has first-class hockey sense and passes the puck well. Moves the puck with confidence and likes to join the rush when he gets the chance to. Could use some work with his defensive game.

It's a summary of what he is as a player, and there it is - he can move the puck with confidence.   I'm a little troubled in reading that he could use some work with his defensive game. And a little confused since the information on him at NHL.com, even by his teammate, seems to praise his defensive game.   Hmm.

Anyway, Holly Gunning at Hockey's Future had a feature on the defenseman in advance of the IIHF World U-18 tournament, including an interview. Here's a choice quote from Sweden's U-18 coach Stephan Lundh, from the article:

Team Sweden U18 coach Stephan Lundh had all good things to say about Erixon.

"He's very mature and took a big step forward this year. He wasn't with us last year for the U18."

Lundh compared the 6'2, 190-pound Erixon to the thinner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is also rated highly for the draft.

"They're pretty close to the same," Lundh said. "Tim is better on defense because he's a little bit bigger and has a good reach. They have the same skills offensively, are very good at the blue line and have a good shot too."

Interesting.   So if Erixon needs work on his defensive game, I guess it stands to reason that so does Oliver Ekman-Larsson?  In a way, this actually is more praise for Erixon than you might think it is.  If he wasn't even on the U-18 team last year, and this year he made it to both the U-18 and Sweden's WJC (U-20) rosters; then Erixon must have made a massive improvement in his game.  Always a good thing to read about a possible draft pick!

The interview HF did with Erixon is even more interesting, and not just because 12 NHL teams have talked to him at the time of the interview!  Here's what Erixon thinks of his own strengths and weaknesses:

HF: Do you think your best feature is your shot or your skating?
TE: I would say my hockey sense is my best skill.

HF: And what do you need to work on?
TE: Get more explosive I think in my first few strokes skating.

Skating, a seemingly common problem among draft picks.  If I had a nickel for every draft preview in THN in past years where I read that skating was an issue with a player, I'd have about $6.   But this doesn't seem to be too bad, explosiveness, I suppose, can be improved upon with strength training.  It's interesting he brings this up, as it seems to coincide with Western College Hockey Blog's analysis of the player prior to the World U-18 tournament starting proper:

Tim Erixon(5)-He's got kind of a weird skating style. He's very hunched over, but it seems to work for him. He's a very offensive-minded player that loves to jump up into the play and is never afraid to fire the puck from the point. For an offensive defenseman, I wasn't overly impressed with his puck-handling ability.

OK, on second thought, maybe his skating could be an issue.

The World U-18 tournament, I have come to learn, is a point of contention over Erixon, and it could be why some mock drafts see him going in the final third of the first round instead of the middle.  On one hand, you could say Erixon had an awesome tournament.  Check out all the stats at the IIHF's site for the tournament.  While Sweden finished fifth overall, Erixon put up 3 goals and 6 assists in 6 games.  He led all defensemen at the tournament in scoring, he was named one of the best players on Sweden by the coaching staff, and only Magnus Paajavri-Svensson put up more points on Sweden.   If you're looking at him as an offensive defenseman, how could you not like what he had done?

Well, quite easily based on he played, apparently.  Erixon was the subject of an article by Kirk Luedeke at the New England Hockey Journal.  The article comes with the Bruins' perspective, and it starts off very positive with this quote from a "talent evaluator."

"Erixon is an excellent passer who reads the play very well," said one talent evaluator with an Eastern Conference NHL team. "He’s definitely a high-ender, and I don’t know that he’ll be there at the end of the first round -- he’ll probably go somewhere in the late teens -- but he’d be excellent value for any team picking late in the round."

But then he had this from Kyle Woodlief of the Red Line Report about Erixon, including his performance at the World U-18 tournament:

"His skill level is undeniable," Red Line’s chief scout Kyle Woodlief told hockeyjournal.com about Erixon. "But, he was uneven at the World Under-18s (played in Fargo, N.D., in April), so there are a pretty wide range of grades for him in terms of where he could go in the draft. He didn’t help himself a lot in his last look for the scouts, so he could end up falling to a team who didn’t think he’d be in their range."

Uneven at the World U-18s?  Luedeke spells it out for those, like me, who thought by stats and coaches' favor, he sparkled.  All that glitters isn't gold though:

Interestingly enough, just by looking at the stats, one would think that Erixon’s 3-6-9 line in six games at the Under-18 championship tourney would have cemented his status as a surefire top-20 pick. But Erixon was forced into making bad turnovers under forechecking pressure and struggled with his decision making at crucial times, despite the tremendous offensive output from the blue line. His overall defensive game needs work, but Erixon has shown strong coachability and the willingness to work.
Well, that certainly puts the Eliteprospects' note about working on his defense into perspective!  Fortunately, he states that Erixon is willing to improve his game.  I wonder what people had to say about how he did at the WJCs, a tournament with older and probably more skilled players than the U-18s.  It could be he just had a rough time dropping back at this tournament.   While it certainly doesn't look good, it could be the reason why he may be available at 23rd overall.

Honestly, reading that a defenseman needs to work on his defense isn't exactly reassuring.  However, defense is a position that favors the experienced and perhaps this is just your proverbial "bump in the road." And if any team is going to help a player out with their defense, it's New Jersey.  Similar to Calvin de Haan, I get the impression that Erixon is a two-way, offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman and the Devils don't have too many of those in their system.  And again because he did so much in 2008-09, I think he would make a very interesting choice should he be available.   Given that 12 NHL teams have talked to him (and I'm sure many more teams have done so since) and he's already been profiled at On the Forecheck, he may not be there.   But if he is, he could very well be that proverbial best player available.

It's time to have your say.  Are you more interested in Erixon as a result of this overview?  Are you impressed he did so much 2008-09, or do you think it doesn't matter when he gets to the NHL?  Do you think he'll be available?  Or do you think the Devils should hope David Rundblad is available instead?  Leave all your Erixon comments below.

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