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Grading Filip Eriksson’s 2023-24 season

Credit: Maria Gardstig / Smack Fotografering

Filip Eriksson had been out injured for most of his draft season; a battle along the boards in his second SHL game concluded with a broken scaphoid bone. He returned to be part of the Le Mat Trophy-winning Växjö Lakers team at the end of the season. In the end, Eriksson was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 6 of the 2023 NHL Draft. At that time there was next to nothing known about the player who had stayed an extra year with his home team Troja-Ljungby instead of moving over to Växjö at an earlier stage. However, that year in Troja-Ljungby was a season for the ages, and more scouts really should have seen the potential.

Speaking to a few people in Sweden’s vast hockey community, a few things stood out: Växjö had tried to recruit Eriksson for a few years, they signed him to a contract when he got injured even if he hadn’t played many minutes on the SHL team, and both assistant GM Patrik Hall and coach Jörgen Jönsson couldn’t stop talking about Eriksson’s qualities as a player. The question was if this was a a team building up a player, or if it was something that the scouting community as a whole had missed.

This season started out quite well for Eriksson. He got to play in the SHL, but again with limited minutes. While his production was limited, his underlying numbers were still on an expected level or even better in regard to his draft position since he outproduced other forwards from the same draft in the SHL.

Data from SHL.se

Stenberg, Edström, Unger-Sörum and Fisker-Mølgaard all got time on the power play, whereas Eriksson didn’t. Another thing his peers received was the chance to play in the World Juniors (or WJC Division IA in Mølgaard’s case) while Eriksson got to play in the SHL instead. In hindsight, I can’t really see an offensive role for Eriksson in Sweden’s silver medal-winning team. He wouldn’t have gotten a role where he could have succeeded but rather he would have become a role player, and therefore his time in the SHL was probably more important for his development.

The return of injured players to the Växjö lineup and an early exit in the Champions Hockey League to Genève-Servette, meant that ice time was limited in the SHL for the Canadiens prospect. As hinted before the season by coach Jönsson to Eyes On The Prize, Växjö started to look at an opportunity for Eriksson to go on loan to a team in a lower league where he could play all situations, and heavy minutes.

The team that could offer the best solution was the Nybro Vikings, a newly promoted team. Most important was the ‘Hockey Professor’ Tommy Samuelsson at the helm. Few coaches in Sweden have the same pedigree as Samuelsson, even if he coaches a smaller team at this time. Nybro could also offer all the opportunities that Erkisson needed in his development: ice time, power-play time, a centre role, and a top-six spot that a higher-placed team could not have offered.

Eriksson grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He started to produce at a high and, more importantly, consistent level. He scored against teams at the top of the table, as well as teams at the bottom. Nybro benefited from Samuelsson’s coaching and Eriksson’s production, and got into the playoff proper via a ‘play-in’ series against Almtuna. However, facing the top seed in the quarter-final meant an early exit for Eriksson, even if he played well and produced against Brynäs as well.

Overall, his time in Sweden’s second division was a success not only point-wise but again with regard to the underlying numbers, holding his own against players more highly regarded and on better teams.

Data from HockeyAllsvenkan.se

Keeping up the pace in regard to points per 60 minutes played with first-rounder Otto Stenberg is impressive. Stenberg’s team had an easier opponent but still managed an upset in the quarter-finals. Brynäs, the team Nybro faced, won the league by 17 points and earned the promotion to the SHL. Eriksson definitely faced a better opponent.

In a surprising exit for a red-hot Rögle in the SHL semifinals, Eriksson was one of the best players for Växjö. His two goals and overall strong play in the third and fourth games in the series stood out, and gives an insight of his development this year.

Strengths

Every coach, GM, scout and TV expert points out Eriksson’s hockey sense, and he has it in spades. It is most visible in the offensive zone, be it at five-on-five or on the power play. His sees situations and openings before they happen, actively searching for areas that are open ahead of the puck being delivered there. The goal above is a good example. He circles back, creates space with a small bump, and leaves Kapla at the far post, giving himself a free move into the dangerous area before the pass comes in. The tip is just the cherry on top.

On the power play, he delivers sharp, crisp passes into high-danger areas and onto the blade of his teammates. Nybro used him on the half-wall as a power-play hub with his passes serving as the base.

Upon his return to the SHL, Växjö used him more in the central spot in their 1-3-1 setup, shifting him form the centre position down to the crease at times. The move gave him the chance to use his quick release and strong shot to finish off plays, but also his hockey IQ to go east-west and screen the goalie. While it didn’t pay off to the degree that Växjö wanted, it highlighted another usage.

This brings his shot into focus, because it’s another strength Eriksson has. It is quick and comes with uncanny precision. He mostly relies on his wrist shot, but he has a wicked slapshot that can be released when the opportunity arises.

Weaknesses

His physical game is a point of weakness mostly due to his age at this time. He needs time to build up his body even if his balance is better than average for his age in both leagues he played in. This also results in a discrepancy in his play with and without the puck. It seems that he isn’t as comfortable cutting inside with the puck as he is without it. He will almost always either delay, cut back, or snap a pass cross-ice off the rush, but doesn’t really exploit defenceman who are too passive or too aggressive with a quick cut across the circles. This could be something that he will incorporate more as he gets stronger and more comfortable against seasoned professionals.

I like his defensive game, especially when he played with Nybro in HockeyAllsvenskan. Even if it looked like he was cheating a bit at times, his coach said that was with his good grace and a tactic they wanted to use at those times. Eriksson took the defensive responsibility to shut down passing lanes and went hard into blocking shots, often getting there on time thanks to his good reads. The question is how it stands up in the SHL over a full season next year. When he did play in the SHL, he was mostly used on the wing, but both Eriksson coach Jönsson see him as a centre.

Grades: B (2023) / A (2024)

Can I grade semesters? Of course I can. His autumn was better than expected, but it was his his spring semester that brought out his offence and playmaking ability.

Credit: NLIceData.com

Looking at the data collected by NLIceData, it is clear that Eriksson was too good for HockeyAllsvenskan. Interestingly, the NHL points equivalency (NHLe) correlates with data from both the SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan. The difference will be the confidence he brings into the season next year, and the bigger role he will be given in Växjö.

It is evident that he has the trust of coach Jönsson, a player he sometimes reminds me of. In his prime, Jönsson was a star in the SHL, even if he didn’t make it into the NHL long-term. Both Jönsson and Eriksson base their game on smarts, and being cool under pressure to deliver when the game is on the line.

For next season, expectations need to be realistic. While Växjö loses some key players, it is a team that will still strive for a deep run in the playoffs. I expect Eriksson to be used on the second power-play unit and get third-line minutes, though I could see him end up on a second line if the pieces fall exactly right. He builds his game on being smart and that can get you far, but he will need to produce to stay high up in Växjö’s lineup. I think it will be a year too early for him to really produce in the SHL.

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