The middle of the draft is where teams can often find European prospects that have played for the junior teams of some of the big clubs but haven't made the full time transition to playing with men in the top leagues. Kevin Stenlund of HV71 is one of these players. The playmaking center has shown some nice skill but injuries have interrupted his development and stunted his progression. Still there is a lot to like about this projected middle of the draft pick so let's take a close look at him.
Who is Kevin Stenlund?
Kevin Stenlund is a 6'3", 205 lbs. right handed center out of the HV71 system in Sweden. He was born on September 20, 1996 which makes him one of the older 18 year olds in the draft class. According to Elite Prospects, Stenlund started out it the IFK Tumba youth system, moved on to the Botkyrka HC organization, and finally found himself with one of Sweden's more well known clubs, HV71, the past few seasons. He's already captained their J20 team in the SuperElit league and has played 17 games for the first team in the SHL. As you will see in his stats table powered by Elite Prospects, he represented Sweden on the U19 level last year.
The first thing that jumps out at me is that he has already experienced SHL action at the age of 18. Stenlund only had a goal in 17 games but that's not too surprising given that he only averaged 6:41 of ice time per game. As you can see, he spent the majority of his season with HV71's J20 team where he was a point per game player and finished just behind fellow 2015 draft prospect, Filip Ahl, in scoring. Overall he finished tied for 33rd in scoring in the SuperElite league and ranked tied for 20th among U19 players in the league.
Stenlund is currently ranked as the 21st best European skater by Central Scouting and was ranked 182nd by Hockey Prospectus.
What Others Say About Kevin Stenlund
Curtis Joe of Elite Prospects had this to say about Stenlund:
An intelligent, big-bodied center with superb puckhandling ability. His greatest asset is his mature mindset: he thinks the game at a high level. Plays a simplified, complete game and doesn't make low-percentage plays. Uses his edges well at a level that suits his style of play - physical and hard to play against; that being said, there is still room for improvement in his skating and first three strides. Protects the puck well.
I get the vibe from that description that Stenlund has the qualities to be turn into a potential, bottom 6 role player in the NHL. It seems like he plays a safe, responsible game, and knows how to use his size to his advantage.
Bill Placzek of Draft Site also had praise for the big, playmaking center:
Big sized quick playmaker who moves well, has a quick release, soft hands, and shiftiness. Already has the height, range and growing muscle, and now must increase his acceleration and first step jump. Teams will expect him to use his size in both the defensive and attack zones more than he has displayed. Really good passer and deceptive shooter who will get consideration as longer developmental guy.
From the first two reports, it seems his main flaw is a slow first step and lack of acceleration. This is certainly something that he could improve with practice as he continues to physically mature.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that he isn't the most explosive skater as he has had two serious knee injuries over the past few years according to Hockey Sverige (google translated). The article also includes a few quotes from his junior coach, Anders Olsson:
On the plus include a well-developed hockey sense, says Anders Olsson.
- "He has a very good eye for the game and can often find good solutions on the ice. He has nice hands and compete whenever he is on the ice. That he has taken back this strong after all the setbacks are strong."
Once again his hockey IQ is being praised and this time it's coming straight from his coach which is excellent to see.
A Little Video
Unfortunately there isn't a lot of video out there on Stenlund besides two shootout goals and some interviews in Swedish. Here are those shootout goals below:
An Opinion of Sorts
There is a lot to like about Stenlund's game. He's captain of his team which shows his leadership capabilities and reflects on how highly HV71's coaches think about him. He already has NHL size and by all accounts is able to use it to protect the puck and maintain possession for his team. His hockey IQ has been praised and it seems that he doesn't take unnecessary risks that could put his team in a bad position. Plus, it seems he is an effective passer and playmaker which is where his offensive contribution will come from.
With that said there are a few things that would make me hesitant to select Stenlund. First, as Hockey Sverige noted above, he has had two serious knee injuries. Secondly, with a late September 1996 birthdate, he is one of the older players in the draft class and has spent the majority of his draft year as an 18 year old. His numbers are decent but I feel like their will be players with a higher offensive upside available in the 3rd and 4th rounds that would make more sense to take a chance on.
Now that you've read about Stenlund, how do you feel about him as a prospect? Would you want the Devils to select him in the middle of the draft? How much does his injury history concern you? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!