Trying to identify "sleepers" in a NHL draft is quite difficult. For starters, nearly all prospects are 17 or 18 years old and so they all have potential they have yet to hit. Those who can reasonably hit it and have high ceilings are touted as earlier picks. Yet, no one is guaranteed to meet their potential or even play in the NHL. Each prospect carries some kind of risk. Then there's the reality that it's difficult to be unknown as a prospect any more. If you're playing in a league and you're skilled, you will be sought out - and information will travel quickly all over the Internet about it. It's a little more difficult to "fly under the radar" these days. Still, such players do exist for one reason or another, and so such players will be drafted in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
That all said, I believe the subject of today's profile could be described as a "sleeper" pick: center Gustav Björklund.
Who is Gustav Björklund?
Gustav Björklund has come up through the system at Swedish hockey club Västerås (a.k.a. VIK). He's been quite busy. Last season alone, he's represented their under-18 team at both the J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan leagues, the VIK junior team (under-20s) playing in the U-20 SuperElit league (the top junior league in Sweden), and even some games with the senior team in the Allsvenskan (the league below the Elitserien). Don't be surprised if he's suiting up with the main club more often next season.
He also played for the Swedish national under-18 team at the Under-18 World Championships, winning a silver medal. His performance was a true breakout, with 5 goals and 3 assists. Björklund was tied with Mika Zibanejad, who is likely to go high in the first round, for the team lead in scoring. This summation of his stats for his various teams last year at Elite Prospects really speak for itself.
Reading that should also clue you in as to why he hasn't been all that noticeable until is U-18 WC performance. He's rather small. His official height is listed at 5'8" and official weight is listed as 152 pounds. See, I consider that to be small. All the same, his production and performances at the U-18 WCs have gotten him enough attention such that Central Scouting Services moved him up from 71 to 33 among European skaters.
One final note: According to this Google-translated article at Gurkburken, Björklund has apparently denied interest from MoDo Hockey and will remain with Västerås for the next two seasons. The signing was reported back on May 16 per this Google-translated article at VLT.se.
What Others Have Said About Björklund?
Not a whole lot, at least in English. And unless I'm missing a key word in Swedish, I'm not finding much in the way of an analysis of what Björklund does on the ice. The Under-18 World Championships have opened up opinions at least. Kirk Luedeke at Bruins 2011 Draft Watch has this short blurb on Bjorklund after the tournament ended.
Gustav Björklund, F Sweden- Small, but speedy winger shared the team lead in points with Mika Zibanejadwith eight. Darting, opportunistic little guy who displayed nice hockey sense and a nose for the net. Accurate shot with a quick release. We didn't even know who this kid was before the tourney, but we do now. His second period goal was nearly the game-winner for the Swedes.
Luedeke also mentioned Bjorklund in his write up on William Karlsson, also a forward on VIK; as the two have often lined up together. I wonder if that would partially explain why they both shot up in rankings and awareness as the season went on?
Still, reading that he's fast with a good shot and good offensive sense makes sense given his production and lack of size. He's going to have to keep working on that in order to mitigate the effect of lack of size in his game. Fortunately, he'll have the opportunity with VIK to do just that.
Björklund was also mentioned twice on Ryan Kennedy's Hot List series of articles at The Hockey News: first on March 22 and again on April 26. Not a whole lot there, as both entries note his stats and his smallness. Still, it's indicative that he's a prospect of some interest.
What Has Björklund Said About Himself?
In lieu of any video of Björklund doing work; here's this interview I found. Dan Sallows asked him quite a few questions with Björklund after the World Championships. It's a good interview as it touches on some of his personality. Here's how Bjorklund described his own game in the interview:
You aren’t overly big, but so crafty with the puck, what do you see being your best attributes as a player?
Gustav: I know that I’m not so very big, but I have the heart of a Lion, I’m a good goal scorer and I hate to losing. My all-round offensive skill set is pretty good, I have nice hands.
Is there an NHLer you mold your game after?
Gustav: My favourite player is T.J Oshie in St. Louis. I think that I play like him.
Interesting that his favorite player is also somewhat small (5'11", 195 lbs.) offensive forward. If he can follow what Oshie does, then he'll definitely turn some heads.
An Opinion of Sorts
I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that there's not a lot of outside opinion on a "sleeper" pick. If there was, then the prospect wouldn't be much of a sleeper. Anyway, the summary seems to be that he's got offensive skills, he's quick, and he's quite small. I doubt he'll get much bigger, though adding some muscle could really help him; so the question of whether his offensive skills can translate to higher levels of competition is key. If so, then he's got a real future beyond Sweden. If not, then probably not. The U-18 WC performance is a positive sign there might be something to it. The larger question of whether he would be as productive if he wasn't paired with William Karlsson still looms in my mind; but that's likely answered by those scouts who have seen him perform.
When digging up information on him, I will admit that I was more impressed by how VIK utilized him in this last year than seeing how much he scored at the World U-18s. He got 14 games with the senior level club in addition to 35 with the junior team (and finished 13th in total scoring in the junior league) and several more with their U-18 team. Clearly, his club likes what he does already and has risen through the ranks. It wouldn't surprise me if he plays more with the men than the juniors next season; which would be great for his development. I know it's not the SEL; buf he can still utilize his skills with VIK without being beaten up too much next season, then perhaps he could have a real future beyond Sweden. It's important that he gets to that the next level and sticks around. His recent contract re-signing will allow him to do just that.
When Tom did his Rounds 3-7 mock draft for New Jersey, he listed him a sixth rounder and took Peter McMullen ahead of him. Well, I would rather take a flyer on Björklund instead of McMullen - who I thought would be better as a seventh round pick. Don't misunderstand me. I know they are both long shots, there's a reason why both weren't ranked highly by CSS or anyone else. That said, Björklund will have the advantage of playing in a pro league instead of college or juniors for at least the next two seasons, not to mention the possibility of getting more international duty with Sweden, over a college-bound long-shot prospect or a Canadian junior long-shot prospect. I'd rather see the New Jersey Devils spend their sixth round pick on a prospect like Björklund - should he even be available then.
Now that you've learned a little about Gustav Björklund, I want to know what you think of him as a prospect. Despite the lack of general information, did his stats impress you to some degree? Do you also agree that he's worth a late pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? More importantly, did you see Björklund play or know other sources online who have? If so, then please share them so we can all learn more about Björklund. If it's in Swedish, please link to a Google translation of the article. Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Gustav Björklund in the comments. Thanks for reading.