Generally, the NHL Entry Draft is dominated by North American players. This shouldn't be such a surprise. Between the Canadian major junior and junior A leagues, the NCAA, the USHL, and even the U.S. high school level, there are just a lot of domestic players for the North American-based National Hockey League to choose from. European nations have been represented at the NHL Entry Draft, but usually to about 20-25% of the prospects in recent drafts after 70 were selected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. There are likely many reasons as to why this may be the case; but my own theory is that later in the draft, when teams just go for long-term project picks or straight up longshots, they tend to have more information available for Canadian and American based players as opposed to European based players. Therefore, the depth of the draft is largely made up of North American players. That only gets boosted when European players move to Canada or America to further their hockey development.
In each of those drafts since 2006, Sweden has been the most common European nation among prospects selected. It's even grown in the most recent drafts: 24 Swedish-based prospects were picked in 2009, and 20 were picked in 2010. I don't know if it'll be as high in 2011, but it's not going to be low either. Why is that? Well, there are top prospects who are based in Sweden like Adam Larsson and Mike Zibanejad that you may have heard of. But what boosts drafted-out-of-Sweden counts up are prospects like the subject of today's prospect profile: forward Johan Sundström of the Frölunda Indians. Prospects who aren't particularly enticing, but will develop into the players who does the work needed elsewhere in the roster that coaches appreciate and need to have done to succeed. Sundström and his ilk will be drafted, which will just add to the list of Swedish players picked in 2011.
Who is Johan Sundström?
According to Eliteprospects' profile, Johan Sundström is a 6'3", 196 pound center/right winger for the Frölunda Indians. He missed the cutoff of last year's draft due to being born on September 21, 1992; so he was 18 for most of his 2010-11 season. Fortunately, he's had a very busy season, playing with both the junior and senior Frölunda team along with some international duty. Here are his stats:
Needless to say, his production doesn't really suggest he's an offensive powerhouse outside of playing in the SuperElit junior league - where he helped Frölunda win the title in 2010-11. Then again, he was an 18-year old forward going up against men. What is notable is that he played a lot of games for that senior Frölunda team both in the SEL and in the European Tournament; and he performed well enough to be called on to represent Sweden at the World Junior Championships. As laudable as all that is, Central Scouting Services haven't been keen on Sundström. They ranked him 17th among European skaters at midterms and dropped him down to 24th in their final rankings per his NHL.com profile.
What Have Experts Said about Johan Sundström?
Eliteprospects' profile on Sundström has this short take on him which might be a bit old (2010?):
A forward with very good size, strength and speed. Has nice hands and hockey sense. Doesn't mind going into high-traffic areas. Is very well-rounded. Has tremendous reach. (EP 2010)
At 6'3" and 196 pounds, I can agree on the size and also the reach. I like that he's willing to get into difficult areas. From this alone, there doesn't seem to be much wrong. When Ryan Kennedy mentioned him in an edition of The Hot List for prospects at The Hockey News' site back in March, a similar take was given:
Frolunda rolled over Brynas in the first round of the under-20 playoffs and now Sundstrom and his crew take on Rogle. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds, Sundstrom is a lot to handle, particularly since he has great hands and doesn’t mind fighting through traffic. He has four points through two post-season games. Draft eligible in 2011.
As we know now, Sundström did tear it up in the SuperElit playoffs for Frölunda. However, not everyone is big on Sundström - especially not his hands. A Man Who Knows Things, Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2011 Draft Watch, didn't like what he saw from the forward at the World Junior Championships. Here's what Luedeke had to say about him after the tourney.
Johan Sundstrom, RW/C 6-3, 195 Frolunda (Sweden)-- Tall, lean player with a high center of gravity. Below average skater with slow initial quickness and rough footwork/lateral agility. Decent straight-line speed, but technique is lacking- needs to open up the stride. Will drive to the net. Works hard and displays intensity and good hockey sense/visions. Hands seem a bit stiff-- had trouble collecting passes. Seems to be more of a defensive grinder type than a scoring forward with upside.
Overview: Didn't do a lot to stand out, but seemed to get the ice time, so he's obviously a player the coaches trusted. A subtle guy who seems to have the passion and smarts, but may not have the feet and hands to be much of an NHL player down the road.
This definitely is a reality check compared to the earlier quoted praises. Luedeke doesn't think much of his hands or his skating. He does agree that he's gritty, he works hard, and he has good sense. That will help him, but the other issues hold him back in terms of a prospect. While he seemed down on his potential NHL future here, a few days earlier, Luedeke described Sunstrom as such in this post:
17th Johan Sundstrom, C Frolunda (SWE)-- Another member of Sweden's WJC Under-20 team, he brings nice size to the equation and was an effective checking presence for the Swedes. He's not flashy, though he is a long-strider and can cover a lot of ground. Played in traffic and initiated contact. Doesn't appear to have much in the way of hands or offensive instincts, but will be a draft pick who will be groomed for a checking/intangibles role in the NHL one day.
As I hinted at in the opening of this post, I can agree with the offensive instincts not being a strength. I don't think anyone will confuse Johan Sundström as an offensive wizard. Sure, he went up against men at age 18; and per the Frölunda website he averaged 4:25 per game. Still, 2 goals in 49 total appearances isn't a confidence booster even with limited minutes. Maybe it'll come out as he gets older, but I think how Luedeke describes him is what one should expect out of Sundström in the future - he's a checker, not a scorer.
Similarly, Scott Campbell and the Scouting Report come to a similar conclusion in their top 100 skater rankings for this coming draft. They don't mention his hands, but they note that his offensive upside is limited when they ranked him 84th on their list:
Big center who was a member of the Swedish U20 team in Buffalo this season. Doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside but works hard and has a bit of grit that could be used in a checking role. Will be given some time to develop at home and could translate into a solid bottom line player one day.
The key for Sundström is that he gets this development. While good enough to stick with the senior Frölunda team, he needs more minutes regularly to hone his own game. Hopefully, he'll get that in the next few seasons.
An Opinion of Sorts
While there's not a whole lot on Sundström, I kind of like the conclusion from Luedeke and TSR. This is the sort of player that's made for the middle of the draft. A prospect who has a significant drawback or two but can develop into a NHL player down the line who can contribute in a lesser role. No, they're not going to be major difference makers, but in a draft, it's important to hit on a few of these kinds of players to fill out depth in the future. These players in addition to the top prospects who have oodles of talent are coming out of Sweden are getting experience - albeit limited - with senior teams in both the Elitserien (SEL) and Allsvenskan (Sweden-2) and internationally with the U-20 and U-18 teams. Those experiences aren't just good for the player both personally and developmentally, but it gets attention from scouts. Hence, I can see why Sweden-based prospects have been more prolific than other European nations. That experience is also something I favor: limited minutes against mostly developed adults and practicing with the senior team can help more than crushing your age group.
Getting back to Sundström, I can live with the notion of Sundström only being a checking forward in the NHL if only because the NHL could be in his future. I do think he needs way more experience with his club team in Sweden before making any waves about jumping to North America. Maybe the hands will get better, and maybe the skating too. If he develops an offensive game in the process, great; but if he is just solid in a defensive role, that's fine from what I understand. That's going to be what gets him to the next level - which isn't going to happen for a few seasons anyway.
I get the sense that this would be a good selection somewhere in the third round, and would be a nice find if he falls into the fourth round. Whether that will happen is tricky for the New Jersey Devils, though. They may be reaching a bit by taking him at 75th overall; but they could be too late at 99th overall. I'd prefer the Devils to wait until the fourth round than reach, though. I don't think such a player is essential to get unless the Devils scouts absolutely loved what they saw from him. If he's there, great; if not, then I wouldn't be broken up about it. There are plenty of players who project out to be checkers in the third and fourth rounds, after all.
Now that you've read what is out there about Johan Sundström, I want to know what you think. Are you put off by those who project him to be a bottom six forward? Do you think he could have more upside if he gets more minutes in the next few seasons? Would you like him as a third rounder or a fourth rounder? Lastly, did you see Sundström play or know of any other good reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments along with other thoughts on Johan Sundström. Thanks for reading.