The captain of the Swedish U18 Team that won the World Championship in Örnsköldsvik earlier this year might not have been the best defender on the squad, however on a team with plenty of leaders, Björnfot, whose name translates to ‘bear paw,’ was an easy choice.
“Tobias is a strong leader,” his SHL coach, Robert Ohlsson, mentions when asked to describe him. “He wants the responsibility of leading the team, and he relishes leading others, on top of his good two-way game.”
Birthplace: Upplands Väsby, Sweden
Date of birth: April 6, 2001
Weight: 203 lbs.
Team: Djurgårdens IF
The defender was projected as a first-rounder last season, but after having had a year in which his offensive numbers stagnated, he is projected to go somewhere in the second. Mr Ohlsson explains there are other reasons for the static offensive output.
“He might not be spectacular, but he makes it easy for his partner. He is calm, collected, and secure, and he will do the dirty work, too. It is very easy to play beside a player like that.”
The problem for a defender coming out of Sweden nowadays is that everyone is looking for the next Erik Karlsson. In some ways he is shaped in the mould of the new Swedish defender, but he compares more to Nicklas Lidström than Karlsson. Björnfot is strong in the battles along the boards and in open ice. He is not always spectacular, but Mr. Ohlsson points out that “sometimes the hard thing is to do the simple thing right.”
“Björnfot is that player,” he continues. “He doesn’t have to do the spectacular thing all the time, but he knows he can do it. He is happy to hit the blade of the player with speed. He gets others to shine, rather than shine himself.”
Björnfot has great skating that he uses to stop rushes and set up counter-attacks. He reads the game very well and can pinch and hit hard when he gets the chance. However, it is his stability as a defender that stands out when you watch him play. His defensive acumen rests on his strong understanding and read of the game.
His lateral movement on his skates helps him protect the puck, giving him that extra second of space if he is in trouble to set up an exit pass, often with good accuracy even when under pressure.
However, his creativity was missing for much of this season. It might have been a confidence issue, and it could have been because he was asked to play a different role than before.
In the SHL games that I watched, Björnfot rarely put a foot wrong. He had an average ice time of 7:50 during the regular season (2:44 over the playoffs) and finished with a plus-two rating and 45.9% Corsi-for percentage (-7.07% relative to his team); stats that are par for the course for a U18 defender in the SHL.
When he played against his peers, especially toward the end of the season, he showcased more of his skill; mostly his skating, but also some good moves with his hands to score this goal against HV71:
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Dobber Prospects: #38
Elite Prospects: #46
Future Considerations: #46
Hockey Prospect: #41
NHL Central Scouting: #7 (EU Skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #37
It remains to be seen where Björnfot will end up in the future. The club that drafts him will hope that he can regain some confidence and work on his puck-handling this upcoming season in order to start boosting his offensive output. He will look to grab a spot on a Djurgården team that will try to challenge for the Le Mat trophy once more. Björnfot will need to show that the tougher assignments and the weight of an increasing leadership role will not hold him back from producing offensively as well.
Coach Ohlsson says that his defenceman “will develop into something with an edge. I personally think he leans toward a good two-way defender, but he can also develop into something really, really good”.
The lingering question is the creativity and if Björnfot can show it at the pro level. He has his defensive game down, but if he regains his offensive game from a season ago, he can become something very interesting.
It really is the missing offensive output that has had him fall down the rankings, and any team should take a gamble on him in the second round. It would be a low-risk, high-reward gamble, the kind of that NHL teams like to make.
“I am excited to see where both Björnfot and [Albin] Grewe go in the draft,” Coach Ohlsson says just before the interview ends. “It was a tough year for both of them — the draft year — but it is a fun one for everyone involved.”