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Theodor Niederbach: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Swedish Center with Awesome Hands and an Injury History

After missing hockey in his 2018-19 season, Niederbach came roaring back with a great season that had him rise up draft boards.

Who is he?: Theodor Niederbach is a right-handed center from Sweden who stands at 5’11” and weighs 172 pounds. Here’s a look at his statistics in Swedish juniors:

Elite Prospects

As you can see, there is a big gap in Niederbach’s statistics - 2018-19, when he was supposed to be playing in U-18 juniors. That year Niederbach had a knee injury that kept him out for the whole season. Nonetheless, Niederbach was able to not only return to hokcey at a high level but was called up to U-20 hockey after just 14 games at a level he never got to play a full season due to said injury. In my opinion, that makes his 48 points in SuperElit the past season quite impressive. Despite being unable to experience competition for so long, he was able to move to the highest level of juniors in Sweden just 14 games after returning from a full-season injury sustained while playing U-16 hockey.

Next season, I would assume he moves up to Frolunda’s main squad at some point, which is in the Swedish Hockey League. Since Swedish hockey has a relegation system, Niederbach cannot play in HockeyAllsvenskan (their second-tier adult league), which is the league in which Jesper Bratt played prior to being drafted by the New Jersey Devils. Since Frolunda is one of the best teams in the league, however, Niederbach may have a tough time getting a lot of ice time outside of the juniors team. If he does make the team next season, he would be playing with 2020 lottery prospect Lucas Raymond.

Where is he ranked?:

What others have to say about him: Steve Kourianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) had this to say about Theodor Niederbach:

Niederbach can be classified as an offensive-minded forward. He is neither big nor physical, but he plays with a fearlessness on the puck and in or around traffic. He’s an excellent stickhandler with soft hands and is able to delay from any location to survey the ice and identify his options. The heady nature of Niederbach’s game is evident the moment the puck is on his stick, although his overall on-ice demeanor seems more methodical and deliberate rather than intense and energetic. Niederbach’s calculated approach works out well for his mates, especially once he has the puck in the neutral zone en route to the opposing end. Defenders may think they can contain him in one-on-one situations, but like Eemil Viro found out at the Five Nations tournament, Niederbach can shift gears into a dangle and open lane to the net. There’s a high level of deception in Niederbach’s game, especially when he’s stickhandling at any speed inside the offensive zone.

If the person doing the Devils’ drafting wanted someone whose style complements the other European skaters on the team, Niederbach may be a good option. We’ve seen the stickhandling-heavy styles of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Nikita Gusev - and it seems to consistently create space for great passers.

Larry Fisher at The Hockey Writers had this to say about Niederbach:

Niederbach has been another big riser for me since debuting in November (173, 156, 73, 78, now 47) — reminiscent of fellow Swede Johannesson, with much the same back story after missing all of last season to injury. The more I watched Niederbach, the more I saw first-round potential, but unfortunately those viewings were still limited and I had been looking forward to focusing on him at the U18 worlds. Niederbach could have launched himself into the top 31 there.

I take this as a positive for Niederbach - the more people see him, the more he rises in their rankings. Given what was practically a jump from U16 to U20 juniors, I think Niederbach possesses enough skill to otherwise deserve late first round consideration.

Lastly, Jimmy Hamrin had this to say about Niederbach at McKeen’s Hockey:

The playmaking skills of Niederbach are near elite. He works effectively down low on the power play and moves up to the circles, along the boards and from behind the net. He likes to shift positions and always seems to make the right play in finding an open teammate in the slot with a precise pass. He has good control of the puck and passes the puck well in all three zones. He has good split vision in the way that he plays with his head up all the time, even when he has the puck.

The last line seems especially important to me, as Niederbach is a small player without much of a reputation for physicality. If he wants to avoid more injuries in North American hockey, he’s going to have to be looking out.

Video Highlights: Like my last draft profile, there were no readily available video compilations for Niederbach. Missing a whole season probably didn’t help his name recognition for this draft among hockey writers - especially with missed tournaments. In the first video, Niederbach jumps on a puck as he enters the zone and does a quick move before scoring a goal.

The second video is of Niederbach’s assist and a goal with the U-20 juniors team this season. The assist doesn’t appear to be all too impressive but the goal shows off his net-front hands on the power play.

In this video, Niederbach tries to split two defenders in overtime while speeding up the ice and manages to get a shot off. I quite like his ability to make moves at high speeds.

One of the few assist highlights I was able to find was a power play assist from behind the net:

Lastly, here’s a video of a goal Niederbach scored while playing U-18 juniors shortly before being called up to U-20.

Of course, this is playing against competition he was too good for - but he was also coming straight off a season-long knee injury. Nonetheless, Niederbach is able to protect the puck as he goes wide and pulls the puck around the edge of the crease before scoring the goal. For another video (which I cannot embed), see the video under his name in this Dobber Prospects article. The goal he scores is quite pretty, and it’s a good display of his ability to switch gears and get a one-on-one with the goaltender.

Analysis: I like what I read from scouts on Niederbach a lot. If the Devils were to trade down at any point and received a late first and/or second round pick, then I think Niederbach would become a consideration. He was a riser in draft rankings this season - who started low and rose despite the adversity of his injury. I do not think, however, that the Devils should take him with any of their first rounders with the selections they’ll likely end up having. Those picks will be too early for him to be the best pick available.

I wish I had gotten to see video of his passing highlights, since that seems to be more his bread-and-butter. He was a big power play producer in Superelit this past season, and could be a good set-up man from his strong side wing in the NHL. Of all the goals I saw from Niederbach, they were all either the result of a good ability to position himself with the puck to score. I do not think his shot will be elite, but he can probably get into the low areas alone often enough to tack on secondary scoring in the NHL.

I think his draft ranking suffers because of the number of Swedish prospects, and the GM that ends up taking him in the late first or early second will look quite smart when he continues to develop with his rehabbed knee. To my knowledge, he didn’t have any serious set-backs this past season. The lost season probably hurt his skating to some extent, but his hands are undeniable. Not only that, Niederbach seems to know how to get into the right spots at just the right time to get shots on goal. According to McKeen’s Hockey, he had an 18.5% shooting percentage this past season.

Whoever picks Niederbach will have to accept there’s some risk involved. But I would take into consideration that Niederbach jumped from U-16 to U-20 hockey and was still able to maintain his reputation for thinking ahead of the other players on the ice. Given his immediate success in Superelit this season, I hope he gets a chance with Frolunda’s main squad. I do not think he’s necessarily too small to play in the SHL when hockey resumes play, as he might be able to use his shiftiness to keep himself out of harm’s way.

Your Thoughts: What do you think about Theodor Niederbach? Do you think he’s a first rounder? Second rounder? Who do you think will end up selecting him? Do you think the Devils should consider him, or would it require a trade back for it not to be a reach? Would you pick another European forward? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.