In a league where you get drafted as early as you do in the NHL, it is quite the challenge to guess the developmental curve of a young player. Hockey is not a pure-skill kind of game, and to estimate which talented players will continue to grow both physically and mentally in the subsequent years is a challenge for professional scouts, let alone amateur hockey analysts.
Naturally, there is a challenge in examining the European talent pool. How are you supposed to rank a player who excels in the Swedish J20 SuperElit and plays a few games in the SHL or HockeyAllsvenskan compared to a guy who puts up 1.5 points per game in the Canadian Hockey League?
If anyone could have guessed the post-draft development for Swedish guys like Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, Andreas Johnsson and just recently the Montreal Canadiens’ own prospect Mattias Norlinder, they certainly wouldn’t have been picked where they were. Out of those four, Norlinder was an over-ager picked in the third round in his second year of availability, while the others exploded into NHL stars after being later-round picks.
In the four latest drafts, between 43 and 48 players selected have been over-agers, with the Canadiens taking three just last year. This time, one interesting over-ager to keep an eye on is Swedish forward Linus Öberg. After making his debut in the SHL toward the end of the 2018-19-season, he burst onto the big stage during the final months of 2019.
Birthplace: Vänersborg, SWE
Date of birth: July 18, 2000
Weight: 203 lbs.
Team: Örebro HK (SHL)
It became clear from the get-go that Linus had developed greatly during the summer and he began the SuperElit season with two hat tricks in the first few games, making it impossible for head coach Niklas Eriksson to keep him buried in the Junior squad.
Linus had a great start to his first real tenure with the senior squad, especially when you look at the underlying numbers. Near the end of October, he had the third-best Corsi-for percentage in the entire league.
Bäst Corsi%:— SHL Stats (@ShlStats) October 29, 2019
(Minst 10 spelade matcher)
1. Greg Scott, 66,05% (BIF)
2. Anton Rödin, 64,94% (BIF)
3. Linus Öberg, 62,93% (ÖHK)
4. Manuel Ågren, 62,30% (DIF)
5. Henrik Törnqvist, 62,21% (LHC)
Sämst: (Valfri Oskarshamnspelare)#SHLStats
This, along with his physicality and ability to find open space near the net, led to him receiving a call from Sweden U20 head coach Tomas Montén in late December. Öberg made the roster and was a regular for the World Junior team in Czech Republic, scoring twice. One of those goals happened to be the game-winner in the Bronze Medal Game against archrival Finland, even if that goal was more a mistake from Finnish goaltender Justus Annunen than anything else.
It had been a crazy few months for Öberg, and even though the rest of the season didn’t progress at the same furious tempo, he had still proven enough to get into draft discussions. When the season was cut short, Öberg had scored four times and added on four assists in 37 SHL games. Those are not stats that will wow NHL scouts, but if you take the developmental curve into consideration, the discussion changes. One year earlier, Öberg had 30 points in 44 SuperElit U20 games, 14 of which were goals. In his 11 games last season, he had 18 points, 12 of them goals. Something had clearly clicked and fallen into place.
Linus Öberg is a player who thrives when things get physical and who won’t back down from getting his body into puck battles in the corners. He has an above-average shot and a knack for finding open space near the net for tap-ins and rebounds. He is not a player who will wow you with his technique or his skating ability, but he will give you a full-throttle effort every night combined with a scoring touch. You could certainly do worse with a mid-round pick.
I had the privilege of meeting Linus in February, and spoke to both him and his head coach about his season and what the future could hold. You can listen to those interviews either here or where you normally listen to EOTP’s Habsent Minded and The Dispatch.
Speaking about giving a 100% effort, this summer he impressed Sweden’s hockey community when he shattered Örebro’s club record on the Cooper test with his time of nine minutes and 40 seconds. Earlier that month, former St. John’s IceCaps player Max Friberg had made headlines when he ran the same test in 10 minutes and 16 seconds, which itself was an impressive effort. Friberg is eight years Öberg’s senior. You do the math. Öberg’s stamina is something out of the ordinary.
Kross av klubbrekordet!— Örebro Hockey (@orebrohockey) July 30, 2020
Linus Öberg springer 3000 m på 9:40 ♂️ pic.twitter.com/6x65pXpd3O
There will be other reports focusing on him being two years older than other prospects and whether his ceiling is his current role of an SHL starter. Personally, I believe if he continues to bulk up and develop, he could have a role to play in the NHL as a bottom-six winger with the ability to add something on both special teams. I think there is another level or two in Öberg’s game. For example, I think that he could use his physique even more to his advantage and add on more of a mean streak when he’s in the crease.
With that said, this season will be the most important one yet in his career. There were natural growing pains during his rookie season. This year, most of them will need to be ironed out if he wants to take that next leap into a legitimate NHL prospect. He has performed well during the pre-season, scoring a few goals for an Örebro team that looks to have improved from last year.
Things are different for over-agers, and they don’t get anything for free. There will always be doubters. You just need to embrace the challenge and prove that you are up for it, something Linus Öberg proved he could do last season.