June 15, 2012

2012 NHL Draft Profile: Oscar Dansk

By Kirk Luedeke

The Boston Bruins have not had great luck with goaltenders in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, but could the team roll the dice on Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk in Pittsburgh on June 22 or 23? 

Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk (Getty Images)

Dansk, 18, currently plays for the Brynäs junior (under 20) squad and turned heads this season as another prototype netminder with size, athletic ability and the smarts to develop into a potential NHL starter one day.  Of course, history is not on Dansk’s side if his future is to consist of black and gold spoked-B.

The last time the B’s drafted a goalie in the opening round was exactly 10 years ago, when the team tabbed Finn Hannu Toivonen with the 29th overall selection in 2002. Like Evgeni Ryabchikov before him in 1994, the only other time the B’s used a first-round choice on a puckstopper in the current draft format going back to 1969, Toivonen was unable to realize his NHL promise. Of course, whereas Ryabchikov proved himself to be a barely adequate ECHL goaltender, at least Toivonen reached the show even if his success was modest and short-lived.

That lack of success that the Bruins have had as an organization in terms of drafting and developing goalies makes Dansk such an interesting topic of discussion. The highest the team has taken a goalie in recent years is 77th overall in 2008, when they grabbed Michael Hutchinson. After passing on the position in 2009, the B’s grabbed USHL top goalie Zane Gothberg and Norwegian project Lars Volden each in the sixth round in back-to-back years.

However, the Bruins were also rumored to have been ready to pounce on Tuukka Rask with their top selection in 2005 (22nd) until Toronto beat them to the punch and scooped Boston’s current No. 1 just one spot before. Luckily for Boston, then-Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. gifted Rask to the B’s a year later.

Which brings us full-circle back to Dansk, who played high school hockey at the storied Faribault, Minnesota prospect factory called Shattuck St. Mary’s. Returning to Sweden in 2010 to play junior hockey for Brynäs, Dansk’s senior team was backstopped by none other than new B’s prospect Niklas Svedberg en route to the 2012 SEL championship. With Svedberg likely to play in North America next season for Boston’s Providence AHL affiliate, Dansk will get his chance to see action in his country’s top pro league.

“You could see Dansk get a chance to prove himself in the SEL next year with Brynäs,” said a European-based scout with a Western Conference NHL club recently. “He put up good numbers with his junior team and I do not believe he has anything left to prove at that level. I cannot say whether he is ready to start, but I do believe he can play in the SEL in a backup capacity.”

Dansk was a well-established player to watch coming into the 2011-12 hockey season, but his star quickly ascended in early November at the World Jr. A Challenge. There, he made 44 saves in a thrilling 1-0 win over Team USA (with Gothberg in net for the Americans) in what has been called by several NHL scouts the best game of the year. With the winning goal scored by Sweden with just six seconds left in regulation, the duel waged between Dansk and Gothberg was a memorable one.

“He’s an athletic tender with very good reflexes,” said one NHL scout familiar with Dansk. “He competes hard and gives his team a chance.”

Dansk’s time in the U.S. gives him outstanding command of the English language. In fact, if you were to hear him speak without knowing his background, he might pass for a kid out of Lakeville, Minn. as opposed to his native Stockholm.  His poise, confidence and the experience of having played high-level hockey in North American rinks as a Shattuck schoolboy have set him up for success as an NHL prospect.

“I really enjoy it,” Dansk told HockeyByNorthWest during the World Jr. A Challenge. “I enjoy playing on smaller rinks and just the environment around here since I was in Minnesota two years ago.”

Whether the Bruins like Dansk enough to take him as high as 24th overall remains to be seen. Although his solid 2.82 GAA and .910 save percentage in 28 games with Brynas are just the beginning of what could be some much stingier numbers to come, some observers point to flaws in his game such as playing too deep in his net at times and a tendency to run hot or cold as key factors that could push him to the second round.

Given Boston’s penchant for seeing better results for goaltenders in the second round or later, might the B’s consider trading down from the 24th spot if their target player is not there and take Dansk somewhere after 30?

“That makes more sense there,” the scout said. “Dansk comes with some risk, but he has a high payoff, too.”

When you factor in that the last legitimate starting NHL goalie not named Andrew Raycroft that the B’s drafted and groomed (but who didn’t actually do his best work for them) was Bill Ranford all the way back in 1985, the thought of the team spending such a high pick on Dansk gives reason for pause.

At the same time, New England Hockey Journal confirmed that Dansk was one of several players brought to Boston for a visit and extra workout last week, so interest appears to be there.  If Dansk can deliver on what appears to be an impressive ceiling, whichever team drafts him could have its next big star between the pipes.

Dansk did not help his case with one of his worst outings in the World Under-18 Championship’s gold medal game against Team USA. He was pulled after allowing several soft goals in a game the Americans blew open. However, Dansk’s larger body of work appears to be sound and there is some promising raw material to work with.

The B’s won’t deviate from their best player available philosophy when it comes to top picks, but if Dansk is near the top of their board, don’t be surprised if the team goes against the grain.  Drafting a goaltender and player who could one day be the heir apparent to Rask, just as the 25-year-old Finn patiently worked behind Tim Thomas, has to appeal to Boston, but it will all come down to value.

You can’t spell the word ‘skill’ without the ‘s’ and the ‘k’—the same holds true for the proven Rask and the intriguing Dansk.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.