Just yesterday, the New Jersey Devils signed 2016 sixth round draft pick, Jesper Bratt, to a three year, entry level contract. Bratt was a late selection last year, noted for his young age, his speed, and his production with AIK in Sweden’s Allsvenskan (their second best league). I liked the pick then and I’m encouraged that he was signed to an ELC just one season after his selection. Bratt also represents something else. He was the first Devils draft pick to have played in Sweden in his draft year since Adam Larsson in 2011. That’s right. In 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, the Devils’ players have all been drafted out of North American leagues. The selections of Bratt, along with Mikhail Maltsev and Yegor Rykov, in 2016 broke a streak of not selecting European-based prospects. I’m certain they always were looking but the picks were the picks.
To that end, I’m hopeful that the Devils continue to be aware of and scout the players coming out of Sweden. If they are, then they’re likely familiar with the subject of today’s profile: Rickard Hugg.
Who is Rickard Hugg?
According to Elite Prospects, Rickard Hugg is a center and left wing who plays for the Leksands IF organization. He was born on January 18, 1999 and he officially stands at 5’10” and 183 pounds. He spent most of last season with Leksand’s J20 team, an under-20 team as part of Leksands’ set up. Hugg made 32 appearances for the U-20 team, put up 13 goals and 25 points, and was named the best forward of the 2016-17 J20 SuperElit season. Hugg did so well that he did play in eleven games with the main Leksands roster, who plays in the Swedish Hockey League. However, his usage was extremely limited with an average ice time of 5:24 per game. Hugg contributed two shots on net, one minor penalty, and one assist for his first SHL point. EP lists that he has a contract through 2018-19, so I would expect Hugg to get more of a shot with the top Leksands team next season.
As far as SuperElit goes, there are two competitions to look at: the SuperElit Norra and the SuperElit Top 10. I’m going to guess that the best teams in Norra and Sodra combine for a top ten league that leads to a playoff to decide a champion. In the Norra portion of the season, Hugg only appeared in fourteen games. He still put up twenty-one points (five goals, sixteen assists) to finish fifth on the team in scoring with 32 shots on net. In the Top 10 portion of the season, Hugg turned it up a notch. Hugg led Leksands IF in scoring with seventeen points (eight goals, nine assists) in eighteen games and 62 shots on net. The seventeen points put him tied for seventh among all players in the competition. He took over a hundred faceoffs in each competition, which meant he was used quite a bit as a center. Leskands did make the playoffs but were bounced in the quarterfinals by AIK’s junior team. That Hugg was named the best forward in the SuperElit speaks to how well he played even if he wasn’t the dominant scorer in each competition.
Hugg has been a fixture of Sweden’s international teams. Hugg has previously been a member of Sweden’s U-16 and U-17 teams and he made Sweden’s under-18 team last season in addition to this season. In fact, Hugg was an assistant captain at the 2016 World U-18 Junior Championships and the captain of Sweden’s team in this year’s tourney. While his four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games on its own don’t jump out, Hugg finished fourth in Swedish scoring in this year’s tourney - the three Swedes ahead of him each had five points. That Hugg was put in a leadership role in consecutive tourneys suggests to me that Swedish hockey thinks highly of him. I would expect him to make the U-20 team for the World Juniors next year.
Where is Hugg Ranked?
Since Hugg primarily played in the under-20 league in 2016-17, I don’t think he’s received a lot of attention outside of his international play. Nonetheless, he’s been ranked by a number of organizations:
- NHL Central Scouting Services (Final): European - 24
- The Draft Analyst (May): 84
- Future Considerations (Spring): 92
- Craig Button - TSN (March): 94
There are not a lot of Top 100 lists - and only Steve Kournianos has a Top 500 - but in the few that are publicly available, Hugg is just inside of them. Only Kournianos’ came out after the World U-18 tourney, so it remains to be seen how his performance in this year’s tourney is regarded. At the least, there’s a reason to be confident that he’ll be drafted and perhaps within the first four rounds.
What Others Say About Rickard Hugg
Given his pedigree and where he’s played, opinions on Hugg are a bit scarce. That said, we can put at least a little bit of a picture together about the kind of player he is. First, from August of last year, Dennis Schellenberg at Hockey Prospectus reviewed the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. This is an under-18 international tournament that often starts the season for many draft eligible players. Hugg was at the tournament representing Sweden. Here’s what Schellenberg wrote about Hugg:
Sweden had an average tournament so it is hard to name any standouts. Center Rickard Hugg definitely impressed me with his strong understanding of the game and play around the net. He was great on puck deflections and showed strong skating balance as he was hard to jostle around in front of the net.
Being a standout amid a not-so-standout team performance is always positive.
On February 21, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News noted Hugg in his regular prospect column. Here’s the short blurb on the Leksands forward:
Rickard Hugg, C – Leksand Stars (Swe.): A two-way center who can also slide seamlessly to the wing, Hugg captained Sweden’s Five Nations squad recently and has been very reliable wearing the blue and gold. Locally, he had three points in his most recent win with Leksand’s junior squad, one of the best in the league.
It’s not much but that this came after the Five Nations tournament is further evidence that most know Hugg from his international play. It at least further states that he is a versatile player.
Earlier in this month, Mitch Brown at Recrutes put together a report summarizing Sweden’s NHL prospects at the 2017 World U-18 tournament. Hugg is one of the prospect Brown covers. Here’s what he had to say:
After Fabian Zetterlund, Hugg was likely the Swedes’ most consistent forward this tournament. Using his combination of skill and smarts, Hugg consistently created chances for both himself and his linemates.
Hugg is a deft playmaker, feathering tape-to-tape passes into the slot with ease. He lacks a bit in the shooting department, but constantly shifts around in the offensive zone looking for quiet ice.
With a low-centre of gravity, smart body positioning, and soft hands, Hugg is strong along the boards and net. He actively seeks out physical contact, so he can draw attention to himself to create space for his linemates. He made this play multiple times in every game – battle for the puck, draw two (or more) defenders to him, then escape and fire a pass to an open teammate.
This is all good stuff; it’s another international event where Sweden may not have sparkled but Hugg found away to get some attention. Given what Brown identified with his game, it appears that Hugg is more or less a playmaker. Looking to find space for his teammates to make a play definitely fits that mold. I also like reading that he sought out physical contact. While 5’10” and 183 pounds isn’t really small, it’s not big either. That he is willing to get into battles lessens any concerns in my eyes about how he handles that aspect of the game.
That said, I’m a little concerned about his shot; sometimes the best play is to just fire it. Perhaps that needs work. Brown concludes that he’s a NHL prospect, but mentions his skating being an issue in passing. I’m more concerned about that and I wish Brown went more into that. Being able to skate is crucial for all players. That could be another reason why he’s not touted any more.
Lastly, I will defer to a FanPost at Winging it in Motown by a user named DrDangles13. The user definitely has a lot to say about Rickard Hugg and goes into depth as to how Hugg plays. Here’s what Dr. Dangles had to say about Hugg’s skating:
While he is strong on the puck, his skating abilities are not as good as you'd like to see for a player of his size. That's not to say he isn't a good skater. His top speed is great, in fact, but his first step lacks explosiveness, and he will need to develop an extra gear before he can take his first step into the NHL, as he will need to be able to create time and separation quicker than he is currently able to. He also needs to work on his balance, as there are times where he seems a bit clumsy on his skates. I think one of the first things he'll need to do after being drafted is put work in the gym to improve his lower body strength, which should help him with his balance, improve the explosiveness of his stride, and make him more difficult to knock off of the puck.
As negative as that reads, Dangles does think the skating issues are workable. I do agree that strengthening his lower body can only help his issues. Dangles also notes that Hugg could stand to have more of an edge in his game. That may be something to work on too; I’m not so sure. But Dangles does think well of Hugg, praising how smart Hugg is on the ice, how well he plays in both ends of the rink, and his leadership. Like Brown, Dangles does think Hugg is a NHL prospect.
A Little Video
There’s a good amount of video available on YouTube about Rickard Hugg thanks to YouTube user NHL Prospects. The user first put together a highlight video of Hugg’s 2015-16 season, when he first broke out in the SuperElit. He wears #88 for Leksand and #15 for Sweden:
One of my favorites in that video is his assist at 4:03, where he draws two defenders and feeds an open teammate down low for a score. It’s a very difficult play and Hugg made it look easy.
NHL Prospects also has a short video of Hugg contributing his first ever SHL point, a primary assist. He’s wearing #21 in this clip:
He chased down that dump-in effectively and made a quick pass to his teammate, who also gained the zone at the right time. Again, it’s a difficult play because he’s backhanding the puck to the center and hoping it eludes the defender. But Hugg made it look easy.
As far as SuperElit highlights, NHL Prospects singled out a couple of multiple-point games by Hugg. Here’s a video of a February 19 game against Frolunda’s under-20 team where Hugg scored twice and earned a secondary assist. That second goal shows some very good hands, where Hugg collected the puck, adjusted in a tight space, and beat the goalie high. His secondary assist is an example of how he doesn’t shy from pressure. He waits until the defender comes close to him to make an otherwise simple pass to the point. This at least took one player out of the way for what would happen.
Lastly, from Prospect Videos (thanks to Brown at Recrutes where I first saw it), here’s a short highlight video of what Hugg did at the recent World U-18 Championships. It even includes some non-offense and non-scoring highlights, which is always appreciated.
I think my favorite part of this for Hugg comes at 1:32. Hugg first receives a pass in the neutral zone and then protects the puck as he takes on a defenseman. He gets around the defender and moves into the left circle, looking for an option. He found a teammate in the slot for a shot. The shot is blocked away (or goes wide) and Hugg immediately pursues the play. At 1:39, he takes a swing to deny a pass up the boards. Canada only gets a zone exit because a teammate followed the player Hugg stripped the puck from. It’s a sequence that shows his playmaking, his puck control, and his mindset on the ice. I will say that his backcheck - seen in the thumbnail, starts at 1:05 - shows some those skating issues mentioned, but he was able to make up enough ground to make a play.
An Opinion of Sorts
I agree what Brown and Dangles wrote about Hugg, he’s a NHL prospect and I think he will be drafted. What word is out there is that he’s a leader, he’s a smart player, he can contribute off the puck, and he works hard. Those are all good things. So is being named the best forward in his league on top of captaining the Swedish U-18 team at the World U-18 Championships. If that’s not enough, there’s a statistical argument for his selection. Ryan Biech of Canucks Army notes that about 51% of Swedish players with a 0.09 point per game rate in their draft year become NHL players for at least a number of season. It may be coincidental, but Hugg makes that mark too.
That said, I do agree that he won’t be selected until the middle or even late part of the draft. I understand the issues with his skating and how his offense projects and translates to the next level does hurt his cause. While he definitely shot the puck more often as the SuperElit season went on, that his shot is lacking is an issue of sorts. Again, while a playmaker label tends to be given to players who primarily pass the puck or create plays, sometimes the best play is to just fire the puck. It also doesn’t help that Hugg primarily played in the SuperElit. Don’t misunderstand me; Hugg did very well there. It’s not his fault Leksands played him so infrequently at the SHL level. But it means that most are going to be more familiar with his international work than anything else. I’d like to think the NHL scouts do scout the SuperElit league in Sweden, but perhaps not to the same level as the SHL or Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second league). What that means is Hugg is a bit of a wildcard. A diamond in the rough at best; a depth forward for the prospect pool at worst.
This is a Devils site, so let’s consider the obvious question. Would I want the Devils draft him? I would not mind if Hugg was selected by New Jersey in the fourth round or later. At that point of the draft, everyone is seemingly a long shot of sorts. They can do a lot worse than picking someone who’s accomplished at the international level and at the junior level in Sweden. Especially one who is good at distributing the puck. However, the skating is a concern such that I wonder if the Devils would be better suited taking a chance on someone who excels at that instead. With two fourth round picks on top of one each in the remaining three rounds, the Devils can afford to take a chance on Hugg if they are believers in his abilities.
This is definitely a prospect for the deeper rounds of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. I think he’s got some potential to be somebody at least in professional hockey. In the meantime, what do you think of Hugg as a prospect? Is he someone you want the Devils to take a chance on in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft? What do you like the most and/or the least about Hugg? Please leave your thoughts about Hugg in the comments. Thank you for reading.