Victor Söderström caught Magnus Sundquist off guard this season, the Brynäs head coach admitted to Eyes On The Prize after a game against Växjö.
“I didn’t have anything to do one night in Gävle when I just had been appointed as a coach,” Sundquist explained. “I went to catch a game with the U20s. I had heard about Victor as a talent, but not anything else. Then, when saw Victor play, I said to myself, ‘He is too good to play with the U20’s, he should play in the senior team.’
“His transition from the junior to professional level was smooth. You would expect a dip in play, but that never happened. That is all down to the hockey IQ that he possesses.”
Quite a few clubs look for a right-handed puck-moving defender and never really find one, especially not one who can impact the game in all three zones and has a strong transition game that comes though excellent skating.
What really stands out is his hockey IQ, something that wasn’t always obvious on TV but quite easy to see when you watched from the stands. Most hockey scouts would say that skating and hockey IQ are the things necessary to excel at an elite level, and these are what Söderström will bring in abundance.
His defensive game is strong. He reads the game well and will force forwards out toward the boards with positioning and a heavy pokecheck. A couple of added kilos would be needed before he is NHL-ready in order to stand up to the forwards and to pin them against the boards. He defends well and never looks to be in a hurry, not even against the rush as he usually holds a strong gap and rarely gets caught out of position.
In the World Under-18 Championship, he took a position a bit higher up on the ice, but was still very secure before he sustained a concussion in the last game of the round robin.
Birthplace: Skutskär, Sweden
Weight: 179 lbs.
Team: Brynäs IF (SHL)
Over the season, Söderström played 44 games in the SHL with Brynäs, finishing the year with seven points (4G, 3A) on a team that finished 11th in the league. The club conceded the fourth-most goals and that helps explains the -11 rating, but he also had a -1.89 relative shot-attempts-for percentage compared to his team. While being negative is not great, he was close to the team’s 45.5 CF% in a year he began as a 17-year-old.
The skilled defender had better stats, while a smaller sample size, in his time with the Brynäs U20s where he posted eight points (1G, 7A) in 14 games, with a +5 rating.
The defender adapts to new situations and learns quickly thanks to his hockey IQ. He plays well in all aspects of the game, and this is where he stands out from his peers, such as Cam York and Philip Broberg, the latter of whom especially is more of a wild card when it comes to offensive upside.
Söderström uses his great skating to his advantage to get the puck out of his own end or into the opposing zone. He has good edgework, and his excellent lateral movement helps him change direction in an instant. He balances himself well on his skates to be strong along the boards in order to win battles against bigger and more experienced forwards, though a lack of muscle affects that part of his game. All these skills make him tough to beat in one-on-one situations, especially considering the addition of his well-timed pokecheck.
Something else that stands out, that not many draft profiles have mentioned, is his leadership skills. Söderström has those in spades.
“He is a leader,” Coach Sundquist said in our conversation. “I forgot which game it was, but he came into the room during an intermission and told everyone, ‘Guys, this is how we will run the power play,’ and started to draw up plays.”
The defender does not shy away from responsibility, and will lead from the front.
“He is ice cold,” Sundquist says. “In our last game away to Färjestad, where we ended up in a shootout, I look around and I see him standing there shifting his feet back and fourth. I asked if he wanted to take a penalty [shot], he just says ‘Yes,’ goes out there, and roofs it close to the corner. We go to sudden-death penalties, I look around at my most skilled forwards and Victor looks me straight in the eyes and says, ‘I’ll take it’. Eight thousand fans, deciding penalty, he roofs in the other corner. Seventeen years old....” The coach gets lost in his thoughts and shakes his head at the memory.
His shot is fairly good. He gets it through on net most of the time, but it isn’t the cannon that you might expect. I choose to describe it as a weakness as there is much room for improvement. It is not up to the same level as his hockey IQ or skating, but it is good, and it did the trick on those shootout goals, but it’s more for precision work than brute force at this stage.
Söderström will need to fill out to be able to handle the more physical play of the NHL. The scouting combine(s), draft, and development camp this summer will hamper the progression a bit with all the travel across the Atlantic, but another year in the SHL should benefit his chances to build up his body thanks to less travel and more training.
Sometimes it seems that his brain works faster than his hands, and his puck control is not as good as it could be. He will need to improve on this to take the puck through traffic at a higher level, and it could just be down to experience to help him reach the level necessary to become a true puck-moving defender at NHL level.
Söderström is, according to Mr. Sundquist, “serious, meticulous, and likes to practise and train hard.“ All of these traits are important things to build success upon and will be important for the ultimate goal of reaching the NHL.
It is not certain that Söderström will be a top-pairing defender once he gets there, but it is a safe bet that he will be a top-four defender who can step up to fill a role on the first pairing when needed, much in the same mould as Jeff Petry.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Elite Prospects: #14
Future Considerations: #13
Hockey Prospect: #12
McKeen’s Hockey: #10
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (EU Skaters)
When it comes to the draft, Coach Sundquist knows who he would be selecting. “I don’t know about the others, I really don’t, but they have to be damn good players for a team to pass on Söderström for another defender in the draft. He is exceptional”.
“I also hope no matter where he ends up, that they don’t bring him over to some Junior team over there. Let him play against the pros in the SHL. Here he gets to play heavy minutes, all situations and in difficult situations, and it will only make him better prepared for the day he comes over to play in the NHL — because he will play in the NHL.”
The defender from Brynäs is a more secure option on defence in the draft, though might not be as tantalizing as his fellow Swede, Broberg. However the team that picks Söderström will know what they will get in the defender: puck-moving ability with an offensive upside. Most teams are in need of these in the pipeline, and any team would do well to draft the Swedish defender, who should go somewhere around the Montreal Canadiens’ pick at number 15, though it’s possible he will be gone before then.