Adam Thilander (or Tilander) is a good-sized Swedish defenseman. Coming in to the draft rated 6’0” and 190 pounds, he has some quality height already to go along with a frame that will help him increase his weight as he ages. He will not be undersized for NHL play should he make it there one day. Adam played most of his junior career in his home country, skating in Skelleftea AIK’s minor league system. He was playing for their J20 team as early as 2014-15, as a 15-16 year old, so he has some quality experience playing against older players. He only ever played one game for their major club, but assuming he had stayed there through this season, most likely he would have seen a good chunk of time this season in Sweden’s highest professional league, the SHL.
Instead, however, Adam decided to do what many other Europeans have done, like Pavel Zacha for instance, and play his draft year in North America. There are those that feel that showcasing your skills in the North American game helps your draft status, and I guess Adam agreed with them. He came over to the OHL where he played this past season for the North Bay Battalion, having himself a very quality season. In 64 games, he produced 35 points, 29 of them coming as assists. As a defenseman, that 0.55 points per game is nothing to scoff at. It gives him a quality shot to be drafted come June.
Who is Adam Thilander?
This past season, Thilander was the highest scoring defenseman on North Bay, and the 4th highest scoring skater on the team with 35 points in 64 games. Perhaps a good thing for the Devils, he shot 125 times over the course of the season, which comes out to 1.95 per game. For a team that is starved for offense like New Jersey is, getting someone who is not afraid to shoot and who has put up points in his career would certainly be a bonus.
However, it is also worth noting that North Bay was a particularly bad team this year. Of the 20 teams in the OHL, a whopping 16 make the playoffs. The Battalion? Nope, missed out. They ended up 9th in the Eastern Division, with a 24-38-4-2 record. They had a -69 goal differential, with 192 goals for and 261 goals against. So while Thilander was producing quality points, he was doing so on a team that was regularly getting beat, so the points he produced were not necessarily gotten in pressure-packed situations.
Back in Sweden, Adam was playing in their top junior league, the SuperElit, as far back as 2014-15, so he was pushed through their system pretty fast, showcasing that he was able to dominate the lesser talent that Sweden had to offer. He was a quality player in the SuperElit as well. In 53 games spanning two seasons, he had 19 points and a +7 rating to go along with 2 points in 6 playoff appearances. That experience certainly led to his successes he saw this year in the OHL.
What is also of note is that Adam has a fair amount of experience playing for Sweden on the international stage. In 2014-15, he was an assistant captain for Sweden’s U17 team at the WHC and the International Juniors. Combined, he played in 23 games that year in international play, racking up 3 goals and 5 assists in those games. In 2015-16, he was playing for the U18 team, again producing solid numbers. In 31 international games that year, spanning the International Juniors, the World Juniors, and the Hlinka Memorial, he had 13 points for the Three Crowns, finishing with a +3 rating as well. Overall, those are fairly good numbers in international play. Perhaps most importantly is that he simply has all of that experience, and the experience was not of him being awful. It shows teams that he has something that can be built upon, and it could entice a team to take him.
Where is Thilander Ranked?
Because of his move to North America this past year, he was ranked by Central Scouting with other North American skaters, not with the Europeans. At the midterm, Central Scouting was quite high on Thilander, ranking him as the 59th best NA skater heading into this draft. However, they clearly did not like what they saw in the second half of the season, as his final ranking by CSS is as the 96th ranked North American skater. If this ranking holds true on June 23rd, he will most likely be taken in the middle-to-later rounds, perhaps in the 5th or 6th round. However, given his high midterm ranking, there is a chance to see him go somewhat higher than that, although probably not considerably higher.
Elsewhere, the results are all over the place. The Draft Analyst has him as their 255th best player in this draft, which is not a great ranking. Heck, it is essentially an undrafted ranking, as last season the draft ended at pick 211 and this season I do not think it goes considerably higher, even with a 31st team. On the flip side, Future Considerations put out a list of the top 100 players ranked for this draft, and Thilander makes the list at #75! That is a third round selection, and about as different from #255 as you could probably imagine. So it is clear that analysts are all over the place on this guy.
What Others Have Said About Thilander
Back in February, the OHL writers wrote a blurb about Thilander being selected in the OHL import draft, and describing his game and potential. The writer, Dominic Tiano, had these positives to say about Adam:
“defensively, Thilander plays with an awareness you can’t teach. He knows where everyone is on the ice and rarely does he let the offense to the inside. He’s a good skater, strong on his feet and is very good directionally.”
On the negative side, however, he wrote
“he lacks the speed – both first step and overall – to be able to close gaps and doesn’t have the long stick to make up for it. He lacks size and will need to add some strength to be able to physically handle players at the NHL level.”
I am not as worried about his size like Dominic is, as I think because of his young age, he has time to bulk up, and standing at 6 foot is a solid starting point. Also, other people who have profiled Adam have actually cited his size as a strength. And regardless of size, having that defensive awareness is important. You can be taught defensive skills, but if you’re never in the right place on the ice, you’ll never make it far.
In the end, Dominic says that there is no doubt that Thilander will be chosen, as he has serious potential despite some initial flaws. He notes that he missed last year’s draft age cutoff by only three days, so had he been draft eligible last year things may have gone worse. But now that he has had another year, things should be more positive for him come June. We shall see.
Over at the Draft Site, which gives a yearly mock draft of all the rounds, they have Thilander going in the 5th round at pick 126, which at this point belongs to Edmonton, a team that could arguably use another defenseman. In the blurb about the player, they wrote:
“Strong anchored skater with good strength and balance. Passes the puck well on the offensive touches. Plays a rugged style using is thickness to make contact in front and in the corners. Has a strong heavy shot from the point. Not the finished product but a solid prospect. He needs to work on his agility to defend better and also handle the forecheck pressure when transitioning a bit better. Still a work in progress in his own end, with his puck-handling and as he learns positioning and acquires a better awareness of reading the opponent's attack.”
They provide both positives and negatives to his game, which I like. The positives seem enticing enough. Good size and strength is important in the NHL game, especially as a D-man. Being able to pass the puck effectively, which leads to smooth zone exits, is absolutely vital as Ryan has let us know many times on this site. And his shot is something the Devils absolutely could use. However, he falls to the later rounds because he has trouble handling forecheck pressure, one of the major jobs of a NHL defenseman. If he cannot learn to handle an opponent’s rush in his own end, he will never get far, and all of those positives mentioned will be irrelevant. He needs to become a better defender, period.
Hockey Now has been doing some draft profiles, and on April 16th they showcased Adam Thilander amongst a couple others. Some positives they note:
“Smart playmaking defenceman with no panic in his game. Makes smart decisions and doesn't rush with the puck…Keeps his feet moving at all times and has a heavy point shot. He likes to shoot on the power play.” Then, some negatives: “Really needs to work on shutting down chances in his own end. His defensive positioning needs improvement and sometimes allows his opponents a clear look at the net and good scoring chance.”
With all three of those profiles I listed, I felt like each one had more positives to say than negatives. Each one had certain things to note as issues, especially positioning and allowing some grade-A chances for the opposition on occasion, but overall there are a lot of positives to note. He has a heavy shot and is not afraid to shoot, especially on the power play. However, he also generally plays smart and does not take too many risks that lead to odd man rushes the other way. He also is a quality passer and knows how to make a strong first pass that leads to a zone exit, something that is absolutely vital. These are all aspects that teams will be excited about, and if they feel that their coaches can improve his defensive game, he will get drafted.
A Little Video
Here is a highlight film from his 2015-16 season with Skelleftea AIK:
Here is a goal and an assist this year with North Bay in a game in February against Sarnia. The goal is a nice play to look at, showcasing his offensive abilities and his ability to pinch when the opportunity arises.
Here is an assist and a shootout goal against Barrie on 11/20/16. The shootout goal, while not a sick move, is a positive to see as it showcases a pretty quick release on a wrister with some good velocity. Also, the ability as a defenseman to perform well in shootouts is something the Devils do not have, at all.
Thilander seems to have many positives to write home about. He has a good frame that will lead to a solid size in the NHL. He has a heavy shot that he is not afraid to use from the point, especially when in the power play. Even with that shot, he still is not a huge risk taker, and will think defensively when needed to. And perhaps most importantly for his defensive game, he has the ability to make quality first passes that lead to zone exits. These are all qualities that any NHL team could use in a defenseman. The Devils could absolutely use most of these, if not all of them. Granted, defensemen take longer on average to develop than forwards, so by the time Thilander is ready for NHL action New Jersey’s blue line will probably look considerably different. However, there is always a need for quality d-men, and given those qualities, it seems like Thilander has a chance to become one.
Of course, as I mentioned above, it all hinges on one thing: his ability to play defensively sound hockey in the defensive zone. The fact that he can generate zone exits through passing is great, but that only comes about after the opposition loses the puck. Thilander will need to become a better defender in his own zone, anticipating the play and locking down players to prevent grade-A chances going against his own goaltender. The fact that I read this from more than one source is not a great indicator of what people think of his defensive game overall. The Devils do not need another Eric Gelinas with a strong shot but no ability to actually play the defensive position. Thilander does not sound like he will become another Gelinas, but it is worth keeping an eye on should he be drafted.
In the end, I would have no issues at all with Ray Shero taking a player like Adam Thilander in the mid-to-later rounds. A round 5 selection on a prospect like this is never a bad one, if for no other reason than because it is not a wasted pick on an enforcer-type who clearly does not have the skill to succeed. Anyone taken around the 5th round is going to have some flaws in their game, but the idea is to decide if those flaws can be ironed out, and if the positives in his game make up for those flaws at this time. For Thilander, I think they could. Might he fall to the 6th? Yeah, possibly. But Future Considerations also has him as the #75 ranked prospect, so there are some out there who think much more highly of him than that. If he is there in round 5, I would definitely consider snatching him up.
Given what you have seen now about Adam Thilander, what do you think? From what you have read about his game and style of play, does he sound like someone that you would want with a mid-to-later round selection? What do his stats and what do the profiles from analysts make you think about him? Do you think his game could make it to the NHL one day? Please leave your comments and insights about him below, and thank you for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!