By Kirk Luedeke
The last time the Boston Bruins took a Swedish player in the first round, things did not turn out too well for player and club, but could another Swede be in the running for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft?
|Ludvig Bystrom (Photo: Modo Hockey)|
As was the case 12 years ago, a defenseman or forward out of Sweden could be the top option for Boston if Ludvig Byström or Pontus Åberg are on the board when the team picks in Pittsburgh on June 22.
The Bruins and their fans would most likely prefer to forget not just the one first-round pick from Sweden in defenseman Lars Jonsson, who went seventh overall in 2000, but countryman Martin Samuelsson, who was the 27thselection by the Bruins with Colorado’s pick as part of the Ray Bourque trade. However, the Scandinavian hockey factory has produced its share of stars over the years, a talent pipeline the B’s have not tapped with any success since missing on both Jonsson and Samuelsson.
Byström has good size at 6-foot-1 and about 200 pounds and is pretty mobile, with the ability to advance the puck. His real strengths lie in his skill at getting back quickly to retrieve the puck and then transition back on offense. A crisp passer, Byström also shows the patience and poise that all effective puck-movers possess.
A blueliner with MoDo’s J20 and senior teams, Byström has enough of an upside (29 points in 34 J20 games) to warrant a close look in the opening round. Although he isn’t flashy, he’s smart and effective in all zones.
Unfortunately for Byström, his season may have peaked over the summer, when he was one of the best players in the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia. He struggles at times to play effective positional defense and needs to guard against trying to do too much.
“I really liked him last August and I give him credit for making the elite league roster,” said an NHL scout with an Eastern Conference team. “He was just okay for me during the season, but I think when you look at his smooth skating and complete body of work, he could turn out to be a solid No. 2 or 3 someday.”
With Boston picking later in the draft, a player like Byström could be the right kind of project to take on. One scout likened him to a faster version of B’s stalwart Dennis Seidenberg, but with a higher offensive ceiling. However, the talent hound did qualify that opinion by saying that Byström lacks Seidenberg’s strength and edge right now, but with the right coaching, could develop into a similar kind of player.
Byström is one option for the B’s, and forward Pontus Pontus Åberg could be another.
Although a shade under 6-foot and a solid 194 pounds, his size isn’t going to wow teams, but he has a quick stick and natural goal-scoring ability. He’s an enthusiastic player who impressed observers almost two years ago at the Ivan Hlinka, and he’s been a steady performer amongst his peers internationally since.
“I believe there is some more to him,” a Europe-based NHL scout told New England Hockey Journal. “He had some injuries this year, so some might question that. But when you look at his shooting skills and hockey sense, he is one player to watch.”
Åberg missed the cutoff for the 2011 NHL draft by a little over a week, so he is one of the older draft eligibles this time around. In 47 games with Djurgården of the Swedish Elite League or Elitserien, he scored eight goals and 15 points.
Although he lacks explosiveness and a dynamic element to his skating, Åberg’s quickness and anticipation help to push his grade up.
“He’s a natural,” said another scout when asked about Åberg. “The skating is nothing to write home about, but he’s always around the puck, making plays and generating scoring chances.”
Although the injury issues could pose a mild concern that could drop him, any fall by Åberg should not be all that far from late first to the middle of the second round.
With only one forgettable exception since the Swedish draft fiasco of 2000 (Anton Hedman- 2004), the B’s have largely stayed away from the Tre Kronor at the draft (although the team was ready to take Nicklas Backstrom in 2006 with their first pick). With the recent signing of undrafted goaltender Niklas Svedberg, perhaps the team will keep the trend of adding Swedish players going.
Based on Boston’s organizational strengths and needs, a puck-moving defender with size and skill as well as a winger with the ability to snipe and create offense is certainly in the B’s wheelhouse.
Bystrom and Åberg fit that description.