Sweden has no real top talent going into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. There is no Rasmus Dahlin, Lucas Raymond, 2023 eligible Leo Carlsson, or even a William Eklund among this year’s graduates. But while potential superstars may be missing, there is by no means a lack of players with NHL potential.
By checking NHL Central Scouting’s top 20 European skaters, we see seven Swedish players. As a comparison, the Russian and Finnish systems have to combine to get up to an equal number of players on the same list. Additionally, Marco Kasper and Lian Bichsel are top prospects of foreign birth who have chosen to continue their development in the Swedish system.
Last year, six Swedish players were selected on the first night of the draft. The year before that, there were only two, but an additional four were chosen within the first 10 picks on Day Two. In 2019, the first-rounders were four, with an additional asterisk added for the 40th overall selection Nils Höglander, who early on went on to feature prominently for the Vancouver Canucks. So while there have been intense discussions within the country about Sweden’s demise as a hockey power, they seemingly still manage to produce a large quantity of NHL quality.
With seven Swedish players poised to be within the opening 50 picks in 2022, we could just as easily end up with a new 2020 as a new 2021. Especially since there is no one, except for Djurgården forward Jonathan Lekkerimäki and potentially his teammate Liam Öhgren, who is considered a sure-fire first-rounder.
This leads us into what could be one of the more curious cases in this class. Södertälje-born defenceman Calle Odelius has been heralded as a top talent in this class by Elite Prospects. Meanwhile, there are other analysts who see him as no more than a mid-second or even third-rounder. Let us juxtapose those two opinions, shall we?
Birthplace: Södertälje, Sweden
Date of birth: May 30, 2004
Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Elite Prospects call Odelius a defensive defenceman for the modern NHL. He is by no means the biggest player on the ice but manages to track opponents and shut them down with impressive efficiency. His best overall asset is his skating. He covers ground with ease and manages to turn his pace into power when he needs to deliver a hit.
When he has retrieved the puck, he finds an open teammate more often than not, thus starting transitions without then actively participating in them himself. Although Odelius had 30 points this year, playing mostly for Djurgården’s Under-20 team, he doesn’t project as someone who will contribute with points galore at a senior level. Instead, much like the Canadiens’ Alexander Romanov, he will play most of his game in the two zones behind the offensive blueline, making sure that no attacker gets to ever fire off a shot uncourted.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have The Athletic’s Corey Pronman. He agrees that Odelius’s skating is his most intriguing asset, but as you can see from the rankings below, that is where his superlatives end. What Pronman otherwise sees is a defenceman who is average defensively and doesn’t project to have any true offensive traits. That, in combination with a small-ish frame, is why he sees Odelius as no more than an early third-round type of talent. His colleague Scott Wheeler somewhat agrees, saying that Odelius lacks upside, but is still projecting him as an everyday NHL defenceman for the future.
Elite Prospects: #15
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #38
NHL Central Scouting: #16 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #72
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #50
There is, of course, no way of knowing from our current position who will end up being right about this, or any prospect for that matter. What is both interesting and fun, is that the chopped-up seasons that Covid unfortunately brought upon us, seem to have created more diversity within the analyst community, as is highlighted in the curious case of Odelius.
A lot of these prospects have lost at least parts of two hockey seasons, meaning that although they are in their 18th year in body and mind, they may only be where a 16- or 17-year-old would be in a normal, pandemic-free draft process.
Odelius only played six games in total during 2020-21. Would he have been further along developmental wise if he had another full season under his belt? The answer is probably yes. With another year of junior hockey, he may have already been ready for a full-time role with the men’s team. Then again, you can make a similar kind of if argument for every prospect in this entire class if you wanted to.
Not taking a regular spot on Djurgården’s SHL team in 2021-22 should also by no means be indicative of how talented a youngster actually is. Long-time NHL assistant coach Barry Smith had been hired in the spring to take the team to the next level, but the 70 year old’s methods and the talented roster simply did not mesh. Even though Smith was fired around Halloween, the team never fully recovered and the season ended up with an ignominious relegation to the second tier.
The silver lining in all of this is that the relegation should mean that Odelius, just like his teammates in this draft class, are awarded more prominent roles in the near future. If you look solely at the talent development factor, you’re probably better off as an 18-year-old draftee starting off on a projected top side in HockeyAllsvenskan than by fighting for your life in the bottom of the SHL. The tempo will be slightly slower and the opponents will be slightly worse, meaning that you can actually allow your talented youngsters to play their game without shielding them as much.
This could, in a weird way, end up being the time where Odelius and his teammates Lekkerimäki, Öhgren and Noah Östlund to some extent get their previously lost years back, as long as they’re up for the challenge.