Theodor Niederbach missed the entire 2018-19 season with a knee injury that required surgery, and as a result had to play his way back up draft boards in a Frölunda U20 team that had draft prospects throughout the lineup.
Birthplace: Bjästa, Sweden
Date of birth: February 25, 2002
Weight: 172 lbs.
Team: Frölunda U20
After missing the previous season, he started the year on the third line as they tried to ease him into the action. His play had him rise up the lineup, and he eventually ended the year on the top line, solidifying his draft stock in the process.
His 48 points put him third in team scoring, and both players ahead of him were older and in their second seasons playing at the U20 level. Niederbach also played 14 games on the under-18 team, where he scored 11 goals and added 10 assists.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Niederbach is another forward coming from the Frölunda program that is seen as a smart, responsible player who is always in the right position. His hockey sense is seen as one of his best qualities, and he is able to hold his own defensively and shut down most players he is up against. His success is based on his ability to recognize what is going on around him, which helps him on both ends of the ice.
Unlike some of the other centres who have come out of Sweden in recent years, there isn’t as much question about his offensive upside. Niederbach is skilled offensively. He was able to come back from a lost season and put up offensive numbers despite not always being given the top opportunities. His average ice time was eighth among forwards on the team.
This was supposed to be his second season with the Frölunda program, but he had to make up for lost time. By the end of the season, Niederbach teamed up with Daniel Torgersson, who is also seen as a top prospect for this year’s draft. Both of them should be gone by the end of round two.
His skating is seen as a positive. He improved in that department as the year went on, as is to be expected after his injury. The good news is that it didn’t seem to affect his game and teams now have a full year to feel confident in his ability to come back from the injury.
Niederbach’s vision is a big reason for him climbing back up draft boards. He’s more of a playmaker than a shooter, and his ability to find his teammates in the offensive zone is well regarded. It’s what makes him more than just a defensive two-way centre. There is legitimate offensive talent.
Although he is a solid two-way player, Niederbach isn’t the most physical player and has a lean frame that he will have to add muscle to as he starts playing against older players. Adding strength to his lower body is also something that will help his skating improve.
His shot is fine if he gets in close, but it’s not a weapon that can be counted on regularly, and isn’t something that will threaten goalies from range.
Some scouts believe that although his vision and hockey sense are good, he can have a tendency to make poor decisions with the puck. They also have differing opinions on his ability to use his body. Scouts are divided on whether he can protect the puck at his current size. Some think he shies away from the contact while others praise that part of his game.
Elite Prospects: #27
Future Considerations: #64
Hockey Prospect: #70
McKeen’s Hockey: #33
NHL Central Scouting: #19 (European skaters)
The variance in Niederbach’s rankings comes down to one thing: How scouts see his offensive game. The ones who like him praise his ability to play offensively, while those who think he is a lower-ranked prospect think so because they don’t see the upside in his offensive game.
There is nothing that stands out negatively about his game, but there is nothing in his physical tools that really sticks out as a positive either which makes it hard to read him. The fact he has a season less than most of his counterparts doesn’t help, either.
Because of him missing a season to injury, Niederbach jumped from the U16 level to the U20 level, with his only U18 action coming this season.
At the end of the day, his offensive tools were good enough to finish third in team scoring on a team that was very deep. Most of the season, especially early on, he played as the third line centre which may have had scouts thinking his upside was limited. However, that would be to ignore the impressive numbers he put up.
Frölunda coach Roger Ronnberg has said that he can see Niederbach getting some looks at the senior level this year, and has skated with the team in the pre-season.
The Swede projects to being the prototypical middle six centre, who will be defensively responsible but with enough offence to put up some points. This probably sounds familiar because of past Frölunda players with Montreal Canadiens ties — Lars Eller and Artturi Lehkonen.
How much you believe in the offence will depend on where he will go during the draft. He does not project to score enough to be a top line player, but his floor is quite high because coaches will always find place in their lineup for players like Niederbach.