"The draft almost feels unreal. it almost becomes a fantasy, why would an NHL team want me?"
Those are Rasmus Asplund's own words in an interview with Hockeysverige.se. Having been mentioned in the first-round discussions during the season, he seems to have settled into a late first-, early second-round position. One of the perceived drawbacks would be his 5'10" frame. While he is small, he isn't afraid of going into the tougher areas along the boards or in front of the net.
Birthplace: Filipstad, Sweden
Position: Centre / Left Wing
Weight: 176 lbs.
The 18-year-old centre debuted in the SHL the year before last, playing 35 games in the top Swedish league, notching three points with an average ice time of 9:14 over the season. Playing pro hockey for a full season before the 2015-2016 season is something that made him stand out among other draft hopefuls.
This past season he averaged 13:40 over the 46 games of the season, and scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists). He did so on a much improved Färjestad team compared to the season before, and he was a big part of their progression.
He focuses more on his defensive responsibilities than his offensive output, which is another reason why he might be a bit of a sleeper pick in the draft. Newly appointed national team coach, and former bench boss of Sweden's U20 team, Rikard Grönborg referred to Asplund as the new Henrik Zetterberg, saying that they have the same mind for the game.
That is rather high praise, but he has a lot of tools that make him interesting. He's a great skater with the type of top-end speed that you want to see. He's a great two-way player that can take the puck up ice with speed, then freeze defenders with his hands.
He has controls the puck well and has good vision, using these in combination to draw in defenders and find open teammates. The only question is how this will translate to a smaller rink in North America. He is strong in the face-off circle, and has a good forecheck, but it is really on the defensive side of the puck where he has stood out this season.
Asplund is a classic, hard-working, two-way centerman who can handle all types of situations in the game. His top speed is impressive and generated by a long stride for a smallish player. He moves well in all directions. He uses his good timing and anticipation in combination with his speed, creating breaks up ice. His speed seems to surprise goalies as he gets on them quickly and has the hands to make a move to beat them. Despite his stature, he protects the puck well and does not fear contact. He's a very skilled center who isn´t afraid to drive to the net and create some offensive chances in front of the opposition’s cage. He makes good passes in traffic with big D-men all over him.
Asplund makes some beautiful give-and-go plays on the rush, passing the puck off to a short option, exploding into an open lane and receiving the pass back. The kid can absolutely fly down the wing when he gets moving, and is a threat when he gains some momentum and confidence in his game. He commands the ice in transition and while in possession, making opponents back off with some slick hands and skating, pushing them back. He is dangerous as both a finisher who can snap a nice wrister into the top corner or as a playmaker who finds his targets through seams.
He shows impressive awareness and good coverage in the defensive zone, with a willingness to work hard defensively before moving the puck up ice. He will take a hit to deliver the puck. He blocks shots and takes a lot of responsibility upon himself. Asplund has killer agility and a deadly first step that he uses in conjunction with his active stick and vision to cut all sorts of time and space on the penalty kill. He works hard all over the ice, is very grounded, brings a steadying influence to his team and earns the respect and trust of his coach.
Nik Funa, Hockey Prospect Black Book
Really liked his game this year. I don't think I had a subpar viewing of him all year long. He brings something positive to the table each shift. I loved his willingness to work for pucks and him not shying away from playing in high-percentage scoring areas and through traffic. Played a pro game.
Skilled, creative centre with good playmaking ability. Asplund consistently keeps his feet moving and provides good versatility and strong minutes. He was one of the more reliable, consistent forwards from game to game for the Swedes at the 2016 WJC. Pass-first type of player and has the ability to make everyone around him better. He plays a 200-foot game and doesn’t take any shortcuts in any zone. Remains active off the puck driving into the slot to draw in defenders and create room for his linemates to get pucks on net. Good first steps to create space for himself with speed. Does not have ideal NHL size. Can get pushed around.
Future Considerations: 25th
Central Scouting Service: 4th (European skaters)
Hockey Prospect Black Book: 21st
DraftBuzz Hockey: 41st
The Draft Analyst: 25th
I don't see Asplund being on the board when the Canadiens second pick in the draft comes around, and with the amount of two-way centremen that Montreal is already carrying, I'm not even sure he is a good fit for the club. The question then arises: should Montreal trade up?
Again, I am not sure. Asplund is a very good player, and impressed when forced to take on a larger role at the World Juniors because of William Nylander's concussion. Likewise, he was up to the challenge of playing on Färjestad's first line when injuries necessitated that promotion.
He also kept established players out of the lineup in Färjestad, so his development has been very good indeed. What would it take to move up from the 39th pick to, let's say, 33rd? Probably a third- or a fourth-round pick has to be added, and it could be an option.
As he isn't the player that lights up the goalkeeper, he might be a player that flies a bit under the radar. But we have to remember he played 35 games in the SHL last season, and already has two seasons of pro hockey behind him. It would make him interesting for plenty of teams as he has already proven himself on a professional level.
If he does slide into the second round, he could be an excellent bargain pick for the Habs.