Sweden has produced several prospects that were taken in the NHL Entry Draft. Last season, ten picks led by Hampus Lindholm and Filip Forsberg came from the SEL and two others came from Swedish professional clubs and their junior teams. The 2011 draft was filled with top Swedish-based talent with four in the top twenty - Adam Larsson, Mika Zibanejad, Jonas Brodin, and Oscar Klefbom - and another 16 prospects from organizations based in Sweden's top league and four from second division clubs. 2010 wasn't as bountiful in terms of top talent, but NHL teams selected four from the SEL and 14 from junior teams associated with SEL clubs. Basically, any European-based scout in the NHL keeps their eye on Sweden every year whether it's for top talent, mid-draft hopefuls, and late round shots in the dark. I wouldn't expect 2013 to be any different. Similar to the last two drafts, this year's group of prospects coming out of Sweden will be led by an expected top-ten pick: Brynäs IF forward Elias Lindholm.
Who is Elias Lindholm?
Elias Lindholm is an 18-year old forward from Boden, Sweden and has developed entirely in the Brynäs system. In fact, here's a gigantic list of his stats from Elite Prospects showing his extensive time with the various youth teams within his current club and his international work with Sweden's youth teams:
His profile at Elite Prospects notes that he's not particularly large at 6'0" and 192 pounds; but that's not too small either. He's got plenty of accolades as Brynäs won the SEL championship in 2011-12, silver medals with Sweden from the 2012 World U-18 Championship and the 2013 World Junior Championship, and nominated for rookie of the year in the Elitserien. He's got hockey in his bloodlines as his dad Mikael played quite a lot in Sweden, his brother Oliver has been in the same system, and his cousin is current teammate and Detroit prospect Calle Järnkrock.
Lindholm's 2012-13 season was his first full season with the senior team. While Brynäs went from SEL champions to barely making the playoffs and getting swept by eventual champions Skellefteå, Lindholm had a big season. Based on his stats at the SEL website, his 30 points led all junior-aged players. To put that in a larger prospective, look at this explanation by Jonathan Willis as to why Aleksander Barkov is getting so much hype. Given that Lindholm also turned 18 last season - his birthday is December 2, 1994 - I decided to run the same equivalencies. Gabe Desjardens has 0.78 for the Elitserien so provided I didn't mess anything up, Lindholm's NHL equivalency from this past season is approximately 40 points (39.975 to be exact). That's right there with Barkov and the likes of Henrik Sedin and Markus Naslund. That's some fantastic company to be around.
A closer look at the basic stats kept by the SEL reveals that Lindholm wasn't just a young forward being productive in his first year the club. No, he was an important player. Lindholm averaged 16:17 per game, the fourth most per game among junior players and the second most among junior forwards. On his own team, he was sixth among forwards which suggests he was in their top six. Within Brynäs, Lindholm was third on the team in points, he led the team in power play goals with eight, he only took one minor penalty all season (!), managed to average a hit per game, and he was eighth on the team with 77 shots on net. That must mean that Lindholm was a significant part of Brynäs' power play, Lindholm himself got hot (I'm assuming shooting over 14% is hot), and he just played quite a bit on their team. While Brynäs got steamrolled in the playoffs, Lindholm saw his ice time average jump up to 18:36. I'm sure he wished he did more, but that suggests his responsibilities improved over the season. Playing in a professional league at age 17-18 is one thing, but to be an important part of a team speaks volumes of where he is as a talent.
Incidentally, Lindholm didn't take a lot of faceoffs with Brynäs. He wasn't even close to the top four faceoff takers; so I presume was used more as a wing with his club. However, he did line up at center at the international level with Sweden. I'm not really concerned on whether he ends up as a center or a wing. Where he ends up may dictate that regardless.
Central Scouting Services did rank Lindholm quite highly among European skaters. He is only third to Barkov and Valeri Nichushkin, both projected for the top five in this draft. It's still a high ranking. Essentially, Lindholm has been a stand out player at every level in this past season, and early indications point to being a sure-fire top ten draft pick.
What Experts Have Said About Elias Lindholm
Since draft coverage really hasn't begun in earnest just yet, most opinions and viewpoints of the Swedish forward are based on what they saw during the season. All the same, there's a lot of praise for Lindholm. After the 2013 WJCs ended, Ryan Kennedy explained that Lindholm's draft stock rose from the short tourney at The Hockey News. Here's the important bit, including a quote from Lindholm himself.
The Swedes went young at the world juniors (necessity played a part) and earned a surprising silver medal. With the tourney coming home to Malmo next year, don’t be shocked if Lindholm helps lead the Tre Kronor one spot higher on the podium. A two-way threat who showcased his savvy play at both ends of the rink in Ufa, Lindholm has been excellent playing against men back home this season, notching six goals and 21 points in 32 games, best among junior-aged players.
"You must be strong on the puck in the elite league," he said. "All the 'D,' all the players are strong so you need to protect the puck a lot and that has helped me a lot."
Sunaya Sapurji had a very good article on Lindholm back in January for Yahoo!, where she noted that Lindholm was getting compared to Peter Forsberg of all players. As Sapurji said, that's a rather unfair comparison to make. At the same time, your average youth player doesn't get compared to national heroes. Anyway, Sapurji's article is worth reading if only to read how Sweden's U-20 coach Roger Ronnberg praised both his "smartness" and "grit" for the game. The article also notes how Lindholm has been playing on a line with his cousin, who is a center. That's worth noting for the future.
Over at The Scouting Report, their March top 60 rankings had Lindholm fifth overall. The ranking came in just as Lindholm's season ended so their statement of being "a very effective player in all three zones" took his whole season into account more than just the WJCs. Those who put together the blurb on Lindholm noted that he's a good playmaker but his shot could use some work. I suspect that when the final rankings come out, not much will change about their description of Lindholm but he may go down a spot or two due to other prospects possibly rising up.
Prospect site Future Considerations has a summary of Lindholm's traits in their free profile. I'm not sure who the author is, but the profile does give insight into some aspects that may have been overlooked in quick profiles about the player. Lindholm's "agile" but "does not possess elite speed." While he's not big, he apparently can protect the puck well and he's displayed his intelligence in making plays at both ends. The profile notes that his shot isn't particularly heavy but he "shoots 'smart.'"
Lastly, here's an rather eyebrow raising quote from NHL Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb in this NHL.com article:
"Lindholm played for a struggling team [in Brynas] and didn't play as well as expected," Stubb said. "It was tough for a young player to carry the struggling ex-champions, but he's still a guy with a lot of high-end talent. He's got all the tools needed to become really good."
Stubb saw a lot more of Lindholm than I have, but if 30 points in 48 games is struggling along with significant ice time per game, then I'd love to know what the expectations were. It looks to me like Lindholm did very well regardless of Brynäs' scraping into the playoffs before they got removed by the eventual champs.
A Little Video
The most readily available video of Lindholm as of this writing is this highlight video of his performance at the 2013 World Junior Championships. He's #19 for the yellow and blue. I really enjoy how user bigwhite06 put this together (I assume it's him/her) because it's not just his four points. It includes good passes and shots he made that didn't necessarily turn into scores, a few hits, some forechecking, and even some actual defense.
You never want to put too much stock into a short tournament like the World Junior Championships, but it's hard to not be at least a little impressed with Lindholm after watching this really good highlight video. It appears he has the ability to do a bit of everything pretty well.
Here's a highlight video of Brynäs playing Timrå in an outdoor game. Lindholm created the second goal, displaying his wraparound potential (Lindholm-around?)
One more game highlight clip. The following is from Brynäs' 4-3 comeback shootout win against Växjö uploaded by the same user, BrynasKanalen. Lindholm set up the first goal from behind the goal line on a power play. He scored the second goal for his club with a one-timer in the slot.
An Opinion of Sorts
It's no secret that the Devils are thin at forward in their system of prospects. They don't have several forwards with a bright future at the next level. Stefan Matteau will likely be a NHL player, but beyond him, hoping Reid Boucher has more than a shot, and hoping Blake Pietila can be a bottom-six guy at the next level there's not much there. Therefore, a prospect like Elias Lindholm would be absolutely wonderful for the Devils. He's not just a high-end prospect, but he would fill an organizational need at forward. I don't think it matter if he was really a winger as he was for Brynäs or a center like was for Sweden. The Devils just need offensive forwards in their pipeline.
From what I've read and gathered from his stats is that it's not a question of if he'll be an NHL player, but when. Most available opinions on Lindholm praise his intelligence and his ability to play well at both ends of the rink. He's definitely not short on talent as a forward. After all, he's played significant minutes in a professional European league against men and not only led in scoring among players his age but was one of his team's top scorers. His scoring numbers from 2012-13 could be the equivalent of 40 points in the NHL, which puts him in some great company like Barkov. There's really not a lot of criticism out there other than that he's not Peter Forsberg, which is absolutely fine with me. Basically, who wouldn't want an offensive player who has a great mind, doesn't seem to have any big issues with skating or physical play (good to know given his average size), and already understands the importance of defense? It seems to me that he would be a good fit in addition to addressing a need in the system.
According to the official Brynäs website, Lindholm is under contract through the 2013-14 season. I'm not familiar with transfer agreements off the top of my head, but it wouldn't the worst thing in the world to let Lindholm play out his current contract. I think that would be just fine. It would at least give him a chance to show he can grow as a player possibly without Calle Järnkrok or at least get more shots on net before throwing him into the NHL. That's what I want to see, at least. Of course, he could do both by coming to North America early and play in the AHL or even in the NHL right away should his eventual NHL team goes that route.
However, all of what I read makes me feel that the Devils won't get him. How can prospect this good fall all the way to #9? How would Carolina, Calgary, Edmonton (yeah, they need defensemen but their management has proven to be quite stupid), and Buffalo all pass up on Lindholm? I would think the top Swede in the draft would help out any of them. Is there something I'm missing? Is there's something negative about Lindholm's game that's going to be brought up rather soon? I don't know, so I think he's only going to fall to #9 if those teams feel other prospects are better. For all I know, I'm over-thinking this and that might be the case. So if he's still somehow available, then I half-expect the Devils to run to the podium to take him. Again, I may feel a bit differently in late June as more opinions and observations come out about Lindholm and others. I would likely still think Lindholm would be a fantastic selection if he's available that late in the first round.
I'd like to know your take on Elias Lindholm as a prospect given all that you read. Perhaps you know more. Did you see him play? Do you know more about what his strengths and weaknesses may be? If so, please feel free to share it with the rest of us so we all can learn more. Otherwise, please leave your thoughts about Lindholm as a prospect and the (remote) possibility of the Devils of picking him in the comments. Thank you for reading.