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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Zion Nybeck oozes creativity, but is that enough?

Concerns about his size and off-the-puck play could see him waiting a few rounds on the draft’s second day.

HV71

The top scorer in Sweden’s SuperElite (the under-20 league) last year has creativity to spare. Nybeck finished the season with 66 points (27G, 39A) over 42 games, displaying both his goal-scoring and passing acumen for everyone to see. Yet, as with all players his size, there will also be a question of how his game would transition to the NHL, or if he is better suited for the Olympic-sized rinks.

Birthplace: Alvesta, Sweden
Date of birth: May 12, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Winger
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: HV71 (SHL)

Standing 5’8”, it is clear what his challenges will be compared to many other prospects in the draft. He was outstanding in the SuperElite last year, but struggled in the SHL when he was called up. However, one needs to understand that playing 15 games in a professional league as an undersized winger during your draft season is a feat in itself.

He shone together with his whole team during the pre-season, but with the higher intensity of league play, both Nybeck and his teammates have struggled.

Nybeck’s speciality is the passes that can be delivered into small areas, be it to the front of the net or to players driving to the zone on the opposite side of the rink. It will be his playmaking skills that decide his future, because the other areas of his game don’t stand out to the same degree.

Elite Prospects

Strengths

His passing is at such a level that you ask yourself if it is a gift rather than having been taught and mastered. He delivers short, sharp passes in and out of traffic, passes that creates space and time for his teammates. He connects them with such ease that he can fool whole defences with a flick of the wrist.

The same dexterity benefits his shot, generating good power and accuracy with ease. While his wrist shot is good, he shows some good understanding of the game for when he can shoot to generate rebounds when the net is covered.

Unfortunately the same intelligence isn’t visible in the defensive zone, and Nybeck’s whole game balances on this edge. Can he can continue to make those passes when raising up the ranks in the professional hockey world? The team that drafts Nybeck will bet on that.

Weaknesses

His skating is decent, but you’d expect a small player to be more agile and faster in his edgework. He can skate in all directions, but more on an average level rather than a top one. This should be amendable with a good skating coach and rigorous training on Nybeck’s part, but the fact that he hasn’t worked hard on this part of his game when he has been going through the Junior level raises a warning flag for me.

His hockey IQ is also something that needs to see improvement. His talent is second-to-none, but he has lived on that talent alone for too long in the Junior ranks.

Obviously his physique stands out too. The Montreal Canadiens bet last year on Cole Caufield, but he had the goal-scoring touch rather than playmaking skills, and the jury is still out on that pick in regard to the transition to the professional ranks.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #78
Future Considerations: #30
Hockey Prospect: #87
McKeen’s: #97
McKenzie/TSN: #73
NHL Central Scouting: #29 (European skaters)

Discussion

Nybeck is a similar player to previous Canadiens European draft picks Joni Ikonen and Martin Réway. While none of those have worked out, due to injuries, you’d have to wonder if Montreal is ready for another similar pick. Nybeck is, like the previous mentioned players, a boom-or-bust pick, and there is no sugarcoating that fact.

Compared to Réway and Ikonen, his skating is worse, which makes me think he will be going somewhere in the third or fourth round where these types of picks are typically made. The question that lingers is if Montreal is gun shy after their previous experiences with similar players.