The New Jersey Devils under Ray Shero and Paul Castron have shown the willingness to draft players from a variety of backgrounds. They haven’t shied away from North American junior hockey, college hockey, or European based hockey. We’ve already seen them rewarded for drafting from Europe as Jesper Bratt developed faster than many expected and was able to contribute to the NHL team last season. While some of these forward prospects in today’s post are years away from potentially making an impact, it’s worth noting that this group does carry some upside that’s worth being excited about. Today, we will take a quick look at those recent draftees from Sweden and Finland and discuss what 2018-19 may have in store for them.
Will this be Jesper Boqvist’s big season for Brynäs IF?
As much as I like the other prospects we will discuss today, I feel comfortable saying that C Jesper Boqvist is the most gifted when it comes to pure offensive talent out of this group. The Devils selected Boqvist at 36th overall in the 2017 Draft so they clearly like his potential. The 2017-18 season did see Boqvist earn a full time role for Brynäs IF, however it was marred by a wrist injury that required surgery and kept him out during the 1st half of the season. Still, he managed to put up 3 goals and 10 assists in 23 regular season games as a 19 year old. He also averaged 1.87 shots per game and 15:25 in ice time per game. In terms of raw scoring among U20 SHL players, Boqvist finished 10th in points and 4th in points per game (0.57). He’ll turn 20 years old in October and already has 67 combined regular season and playoff games on his resume. Now that he’s healthy, I expect him to challenge for a top 6 spot either at center or on the wing. With his skating ability, quick hands, and flashy puck skills he should be able to be a key part of the Brynäs IF offense going forward. The injury and lackluster WJC campaign last season caused him to be overlooked a bit, but he is in a great position to put that all behind him and have a big 2018-19 season. Hopefully another season of SHL play will help him further round out his game as he has had issues defensively.
Will Fabian Zetterlund earn a bigger role for Färjestad BK this season?
RW Fabian Zetterlund was able to secure a role with Färjestad BK in SHL action for most of last season. As a depth player he put up a solid 3 goals and 4 assists in 35 regular season games as a 18 year old. He still managed to put up nearly a shot per game (0.91) despite playing an average of 8:51 per game. Zetterlund also found success away from the big club, putting up 6 points in 5 games with the U20 team in junior action as well as 5 points in 8 games down the stretch for Timra IK in the second tier Allsvenskan. That run helped him earn a spot for Färjestad BK in the playoffs were he had 2 points in 6 games. Zetterlund was also surprisingly effective in a depth role for Sweden’s WJC team with 2 goals in the tournament. The good news for Zetterlund is that not only can he use a solid 2017-18 season as a jumping off point, but he’s also coming off of a successful showing in the World Junior Summer Showcase for Sweden. He captained that team as the 1st line RW and figures to play a large role both as a leader and producer for Sweden’s entry to the upcoming WJC this winter. Zetterlund seems to be coming into his own as a strong, aggressive, two-way player that loves to put pucks on the net from anywhere. His quick hands and ability to retain possession on the forecheck make him a valuable asset for Färjestad BK. I look forward to him trying to earn a spot on the second or third line while also playing on the penalty kill. He is certainly a prospect that is trending in the right direction right now.
What can we expect from Aarne Talvitie’s move to Penn State?
C Aarne Talvitie is making the jump from Finnish junior hockey to American college hockey. He’s doing so after dominating the Jr. A SM-liiga for Espoo Blues U20 the past two seasons. Last season, as captain, he had 34 goals and 25 assists in 44 games while averaging 5.11 shots per game, a 52.21 FO%, and 19:11 in ice time. He’s similar to Zetterlund in that he also plays an aggressive, two-way game, and boasts a deceptive shot. When he’s on the ice he clearly makes his presence felt whether its by releasing that shot, making a big hit, or finding a way to recover the puck for his team. He recently turned 19 in mid-February and already plays a pro-style game so I don’t think he’ll have a difficult time adjusting to the NCAA as a freshman. In fact, I like that he’s going to Penn State as it’s a program on the upswing and he’ll be given the chance to earn a top 6 role right away. I’m cautiously optimistic about Talvitie being a top player for Penn State this upcoming season. I also really like this move as it will help him get used to the North American style of game and allow him to play against different players than he’s used to as he uses the challenge to further develop. Talvitie also had a strong WJSS as captain of the Finnish team, scoring 4 goals in 5 games. Keep an eye out for him at this winter’s WJC.
What should we expect from Eetu Pakkila as he is set to play another season of junior hockey?
The Devils selected LW Eetu Pakkila in the 7th round of the 2018 Draft. He’s far from a complete player right now but is coming off of a solid season for Kärpät U20 where had 23 goals and 17 assists in 48 games of Jr. A SM-liiga play. He even had 8 points in 11 playoff games. Those regular season totals were good enough for 2nd in scoring on his team 11th overall among U19 players in the league. Pakkila will be turning 19 in October and I think a good bench mark for him would be a similar season to what Talvitie just put up. Something along the lines of 30 goals/20 assists/50+ points. With Kärpät U20’s leading scorer from last season, Aatu Luusuaniemi, moving on, there should be a great opportunity for Pakkila to earn a ton of playing time as the top forward on the team. It’s interesting to note that Pakkila did appear in a Liiga game last season so the option to earn a place in the 1st team is on the table if his play warranted it. Right now, I think playing a ton in the junior league is fine for his development in 2018-19. He also has an outside shot of earning a spot on the Finnish WJC team and was even the extra forward in their games at the WJSS recently.
What are your thoughts on these prospects at this moment in time? Did you find the play of Zetterlund and Talvitie at the WJSS encouraging? What do you expect from these players in 2018-19? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!