The Elitserien, or Swedish Elite League, is a 12 team hockey league featuring the top club teams in Sweden. Like many North American leagues, they hold a playoff to determine the season's champion. Unlike North American leagues, they have a system of promotion and relegation not unlike other European leagues in other sports. Club teams are exactly that, they're not franchises of the league - making such a system possible. While the top 8 teams compete the playoffs, the 11th and 12 ranked teams have to play in a series of games (the Kvalserien) with the top four teams of the next lower level of Swedish hockey: the Allsvenskan. The top two teams in that series moves up (or stays) in the SEL, and the rest go back down.
I bring this up because several prospects coming out of Sweden aren't in SEL. This is not to say the player isn't good enough for the next level, or anything like that. Just that the player came up through the youth ranks of a club team, and it just so happens that the men's team is in the second best professional league. It doesn't have that much to do with the player itself. As the exposure of prospects has grown, more and more prospects in the Allsvenskan are scouted and like any prospect, some eventually become NHL players. While where a prospect plays can add a positive or negative light to their accomplishments and observed skills, I wouldn't discount Sweden's second best league all that much.
Magnus Hellberg falls into this category, as does today's prospect profile: defenseman Rasmus Bengtsson. He came up with Rögle, who was in the Allsvenskan last season and will remain there in 2011-12 as the team did not advance in the 2011 Kvalserien, finishing fourth. Let's learn more about the defender after the jump.
Who is Rasmus Bengtsson?
Based on his profile at Eliteprospects, Rasmus Bengtsson is a 6'2", 196 pound defender for Rögle BK, a team in the Allsvenskan; and he just turned 18 in this past month. He had a very busy 2010-11 campaign. After Bengtsson visited LA at CAA's camp in July (per this Ryan Kennedy article in the Hockey News); he suited up for 17 season games and 3 playoff games for their under-20 team in the SuperElit; 45 regular season games and all 6 Kvalserien games with the senior team; and represented Sweden at the under-18 level 12 times, including at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships, where he earned a silver medal. That's a lot of games for the young defenseman! No wonder he came into the NHL Combine and had the lowest body fat percentage of all tested (3.6%!), according to this post by Adam Kimelman at NHL.com.
While apparently built like a brick house, Bengtsson wasn't very productive in 2010-11, though. He put up 2 goals and 7 assists in his 45 regular season games with Rögle; 1 goal and 3 assists with the junior team; and 4 assists at the World U-18 tourney. Those aren't exactly indicators that he's an offensive defenseman of any sort.
All the same, those who have seen him have certainly taken a liking to him. At least Central Scouting Services definitely liked what they saw: they moved him up from 26th among European skaters in their midterm rankings to 10th in their final rankings according to his prospect card at NHL.com.
What Experts Have Said About Rasmus Bengtsson
The commentary by some of the experts who have made their opinions available certainly mesh well with the decision by CSS to move him up their own rankings so much. Let's start with Eldon MacDonald's profile of Bengtsson at The Hockey Spy, where he ranked him 64th in his list of top 120 prospects:
Rasmus has the nice size at 6’2, 196 lb., the strong skating and passing expected of a Swedish defender, the "you’d better get out of the way" booming shot from the point and the good hockey sense necessary to be a top notch defender. Sure, like most Swedish defensemen, he is going to need to get a little more physical and a little stronger and to improve some other facets to his game when he crosses over to this side of the pond but those are just refinements - the essentials are already in place.
Where will he go? Central Scouting and I have him in the early third but he is just as likely to go in the second. Those expecting him to steal him in the fourth can forget it - he is only likely to go up in rounds.
Clearly, MacDonald is also a fan, and why not? He does have "the nice size" for a defenseman, he likes his skating, and he likes his hockey sense. That MacDonald feels his weaknesses can be addressed is also a compliment in a way. With these traits together, of course he's going to go higher in the draft.
What's curious is that he mentions his shot. Bengtsson hasn't lit up the boxscore in his time with Rögle at any age level. If his shot is a positive, then how come he only got 2 goals with Rögle last season? Perhaps he just needs to improve it to be more than just "booming" (entirely possible, he did just turn 18 recently)? Perhaps Bengtsson needs to use it more often? Perhaps he just had some bad puck luck in 10-11? Perhaps it is what it is: just a booming shot, not necessarily a good shot? I don't know.
Fortunately, Kirk Luedeke's opinion of Bengtsson shines some additional light on his shot among other aspects. Here's what Luedeke wrote about Bengtsson just after the preliminary rounds ended at the World U-18 tournament over at Bruins 2011 Draft Watch:
Rasmus Bengtsson, D- Started the year slowly, but really came on in the second half after he got his bearings in the Allsvenskan. He's a strong skater with good four-way mobility and the kind of agility that allows him to smoothly transition/open up the hips for fluid chances of direction. He also has a pretty big point shot- just needs to refine a few things on his release and accuracy. He's been making smart decisions with the puck and hitting on his passes. He's a strong puck mover who plays an intelligent game and has no real glaring weaknesses in any aspect of what he brings to the mix. We're hearing that a lot of teams are hoping to steal Bengtsson later on in the draft, but after his solid four-assist performance and effective defensive play, that's probably not happening.
That Luedeke noticed that his shot needs additional refinement certainly answers my earlier question. It shouldn't be such a surprise since the guy did just turn 18. I really like what Luedeke had to say about the defender with respect to his mobility and his with-puck decisions. That's so important for a defenseman and if he doesn't have anything seriously wrong with it now, then that bodes well for the future. I can agree with MacDonald and Luedeke that this is not a guy that's going late in the draft.
Bengtsson really came on during the second half of the season and is a player with tremendous upside which should justify a draft selection within the top three rounds. Part of what could be a pretty solid crop of Swedish defensemen in 2011, Bengtsson plays a responsible defensive game while also being a very smart player with good offensive instincts. He’s going to need some time to develop, but he’s a player who could be a very nice pick-up for any team willing to step up and take him.
I suppose those offensive instincts have to be developed further, but again, this is all very good for Bengtsson and for whoever gets to draft him. Besides, if his defensive work can translate to North America, then he'll be just fine in the future. Given his late birthdate, having him play a few more years in Sweden would make sense.
The praise continues over at Hockey Prospectus. Corey Pronman is their "prospect guy" and like with anyone else at HP, when they have something to say, it's worth listening to. Pronman has been releasing his top 100 prospects for this draft (check out the introduction for an explanation of his reasoning behind the rankings) and he has Bengtsson higher than anyone I've publicly seen so far. He's got him at 48th with the following take:
Rasmus Bengtsson has been a prospect I've had my eye on for a while since he impressed at the Under-17's last season. A defenseman with above-average hockey sense, Bengtsson displays a quiet game that controls the possession game well and he rarely makes an error defensively. He uses his stick and body to effectively close on players in one-on-one situations and keeps the play in front of him and to the outside well. He has decent hands for a pro-sized defenseman, although while he can look a little uncoordinated at times, his hands move quick which allow him to be a decent stick-handler. He's also an effective passer and has been a fixture on the power play the last two years for Sweden. He doesn't assert himself in the offensive zone by jumping up and has a conservative feel to his game. His fringe skating makes that necessary to his game, but he can still be a player that could put up decent counting numbers. Bengtsson is a moderately advanced defenseman who may very well end up on a second pairing at the highest level if he just improves his skating a bit.
This is my favorite opinion on Bengtsson in that it's very reasonable in it's details. That Pronman thinks well of his possession game definitely appeals to me, as I believe the best teams tend to get the puck going in the right direction more often than not. Having skaters who are good in that regard regardless of position and role is definitely something to strive for. However, Pronman's notes on his hands and offensive instincts helps explain why his projection isn't all that high despite his draft stock soaring. Curiously, he specifically notes that Bengtsson's skating needs work in order to improve his chances. That's not a bad area of focus - improvement in skating tends to lead to improvements elsewhere. Perhaps his offense will be better along the way?
A Little Video
There's not a lot for Rasmus Bengtsson, the hockey player; though there is for Rasmus Bengtsson, the soccer player. Anyway, here's a short clip of Bengtsson getting the primary assist on an Oscar Klefbom goal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament last August with Sweden.
It's not much as Bengtsson doesn't do a whole lot but hang out at the point and then makes a D-to-D pass, but it's better than nothing.
An Opinion of Sorts
With all of the expert opinion I could find, it's quite clear that Rasmus Bengtsson is an intriguing prospect to say the least. There's a lot to like defensively, he's got good size, his passing is good, and he's still quite young as he just recently turned 18. In my view, it makes what he accomplished both domestically and internationally more impressive. His faults are also clear: his offensive game isn't all that good, he hasn't been productive, and his skating could use some additional work. I'm confident that he'll get every opportunity to improve that as he continues to play with men in Sweden. Sure, it's not the SEL, but the important thing is that he's going up against professional players, most of whom are fully developed. Given that he shown he can handle the Allsvenskan, another season or two can only help his development as a defenseman.
It's also quite clear that this guy could easily be a second round draft pick. As MacDonald, Luedeke, and Campbell noted, he's not going to fall past the third round. Since the Devils don't have a second round pick and the league petulantly made them forfeit the third round pick they originally had, so I doubt New Jersey will be able to select him in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. If he somehow falls to 75th overall, then I would love it if he's selected by the New Jersey Devils. He may not turn into a top end defenseman, but if he can become even a defensive defenseman at the NHL level with some mobility and strengthen the team's depth, then that would be a successful pick.
Now that you've read what little is available about Rasmus Bengtsson, I want to know what you think. Are you impressed with all of the praise coming out of what experts have said? Would you be fine with a potential defensive defenseman in the third round? Do you think he'll be that much better in future seasons due to his late birthdate? Do you think he'll even fall to the Devils at 75th overall? Lastly, did you see Bengtsson play or know of any other good reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments along with other thoughts on Bengtsson. Thanks for reading.