A few weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman mentioned several potential free agents playing in the SHL in Sweden in his 31 Thoughts column. Aside: if you aren’t reading 31 Thoughts each week, you’re missing out. Friedman mentioned how these four players are attracting considerable NHL interest and included the Predators as a team that’s been present overseas scouting them.
This kind of scouting is a natural progression as the league expands scouting departments. Paths that prospects take to the NHL are becoming less traditional. Take Victor Ejdsell for example. That signing may have come out of left field for some, but it may end up being a shrewd move.
I mentioned in an earlier piece the concept of NHLe and projecting players from a bigger pool of leagues. Ian Tulloch has a great write-up on this. Something I want to highlight from his piece: pro and junior leagues in Sweden and Finland - among other places - are inching closer to being some of the best producers of NHL talent.
NHLe translation factors using Wilson Method:— Ian Tulloch (@regressIan) May 30, 2017
Jr Liiga: 0.26
Organizations like to have drafted players in North America sooner rather than later, but European leagues produce bona fide pro players that may have slipped through the cracks. Of course, there are always busts (i.e. Steve Moses, Simon Moser or Vadim Shipachyov), but anyway let’s analyze who the Preds are scouting.
Lawrence Pilut [D], HV71, 22
Freshly 22, Pilut plays defense for HV71 of the Swedish elite league - the same team Victor Ejdsell skates for. The 2017-18 campaign is his fourth full season in the SHL. In 182 career SHL games, he has 14 goals and 68 points and is an astonishing +47. This season, through 43 games, Pilut has 7 goals and 35 points - a 0.81 points-per-game pace. He’s leading HV71 in scoring, has 8 more points than the next highest scorer, and is fifth on the team in shots on goal (Ejdsell is tied for first with 92 shots).
Pilut got his first taste of the SHL in 22 games for HV71 in 2013-14 at just 18 years old. For reference, Mattias Ekholm at this age posted 33 points in 55 games for Brynas IF in 2010-11 and 17 points in 41 games in 2011-12.
By all accounts, Pilut is a highly-skilled playmaker. He has a smaller frame - 179 lbs, 5’11” - but has been known to play aggressively. Interestingly enough, the reports heading into his draft year were concerned with his offensive ability, but he’s drastically improved in that area.
Before looking at some film, it’s important to note that his current contract runs through the 2018-19 season.
In this first clip, we can see Pilut’s, #20, adept puck protection by manipulating his stick. This is reminiscent of Mattias Ekholm driving wide when entering the offensive zone. Also, what a beautiful snipe on the goal.
To keep with the Ekholm theme, I like a few things about this above goal: good awareness to find open space in the slot, he doesn't sacrifice any defensive positioning if there is a turnover, and he has an excellent half-snap/ half-slap shot like Ekholm.
To the defensive side of things, Pilut drops an assignment here and gets caught in a sort of no-mans land defensively. His strength defensively is adjusting to oncoming forwards on the rush; he might have been a bit too aggressive here.
This clip highlights Pilut’s skating preference’s and his passing ability. He’s a choppy skater with an imperfect stride (similar to Craig Smith early on in his career) but has excellent abilities with his outside edges (similar to Jeff Skinner). Additionally, one of his strong suits is the first pass out of the zone. He excels at quick reads and accurate stretch passes in the transition game.
I’m personally very enamored with Pilut’s game. He checks many boxes in the Preds’ system. Poile could pull something special here.
Joel Persson [D], Vaxjo Lakers HC, 23
Persson, like Pilut, is a young defenseman near the top of his team in scoring. The 23-year-old has 5 goals and 29 points in 42 games which is good for fourth on the Lakers and first amongst defensemen. A quick note: Emil Pettersson’s younger brother, Elias (a Canucks prospect), is tearing it up for the Lakers this year with 45 points in 35 games. Persson doesn’t shoot as much as Pilut does but the numbers are still impressive.
The 2017-18 campaign is Persson’s first in the SHL. In fact, he actually jumped straight from the third-tier Swedish league, Hockeyettan, to the SHL this season, and the transition has been fairly seamless. In 38 games last season, Persson scored 40 points. Jumping two leagues and still posting nearly 0.70 points-per-game is impressive. It does certainly help that Vaxjo is steamrolling their competition this season with 17 more points than second-place Djurgarden.
Persson has an identical build to Pilut but might play a more physical game. He is signed by Vaxjo for the next two seasons.
In the clip above, Persson, #94 in blue, makes a bad pinch at the blueline but proceeds to adjust well. His stride is much more drawn out than Pilut’s. He gets back and makes a proper play on the puck, but lack of defensive support leads to a goal against.
Here, Persson looks like a regular on the Preds’ defensive corps in the offensive zone. I’ve noticed he likes to dish more from the center point on the powerplay, whereas Ekholm and Josi tend to dish more from the half-wall and corners. The defensive lapse here by Salzburg isn’t something often seen in the NHL, but I like the awareness to shoot for redirections and deflections.
This clip features a really bizarre choice by one of the Brynas penalty killers, but, regardless, I like Persson’s constant patrolling on the blue line and his heavy shot that’s low to the ice here.
I think Pilut is a notch slightly above Persson and might fit the organization a bit better, but Persson may not have as much NHL competition.
Michael Lindqvist [RW], Farjestad BK, 23
Lindqvist is in a similar situation to Victor Ejdsell but a different player. He’s playing in his first full season in the SHL in four seasons after spending the past three seasons in the Allsvenskan. In 33 games this season, Lindqvist has 20 goals and 34 points for third-place Farjestad. He had a smaller offensive impact in the Allsvenskan than Ejdsell did, but he’s been tearing it up in the SHL this season.
Lindqvist is third on Farjestad in scoring and sixth on the team in shots on goal this year. Another small player, Lindqvist is 5’11 and 172 lbs. His frame reminds me of Tolvanen’s a bit, as does his shot.
His contract with Farjestad runs through next season.
Up above, there’s an excellent display of Lindqvist, #34, and his elite shooting ability.
Here we see Lindqvist on a breakaway displaying a rapid skating stride that uses crossovers a lot and solid stickhandling.
One thing of note/ potential concern, Lindqvist scores a heavy amount of powerplay points and likes to put goals home from the back door. On the plus side, he seems adept at finding open space and prefers high-danger scoring chances.
I’m not sure if the organization is focusing on the defensemen or forwards, but if it’s the latter I think Lindqvist is more attractive than Lindholm.
Par Lindholm [C], Skelleftea AIK, 26
Lindholm is the elder statesman of the group at 26 years old. He’s been playing full-time in the SHL for four seasons now with Skelleftea. In his first year, 2014-15, he posted 26 points in 54 games. The following season he dropped to 15 points in 52 games, then back up to 31 points in 38 games, and now 43 points in 43 games this season to date.
Lindholm is second on Skelleftea in points, tied for first in goals,t and third in shots on goal with an impressive 114. He’s another small player standing at 5’11 and 187 lbs. Fun fact: Lindholm played half a season with Emil Pettersson last year.
His age could be a concern for some. It might force him into a more complementary role with a contending team. His contract runs through next season.
Lindholm, #17, doesn’t impact this goal much, but we can see his impact as a screen for the goalie and note his surprising “bigness” for a smaller player. Something that I notice here is Skelleftea’s cycling. Normally, you would see Lindholm drift to the back door looking for a cross-ice feed, but he makes the right call and heads to the net dragging a defenseman with him and opening up some ice.
On this play, I like Lindholm’s play in the corner. He recognizes that Lulea has drawn all three forwards below the goal line and provides good puck support for the lone defenseman. Lulea eventually scores but Lindholm’s defense here is solid.
Lindholm has excellent awareness in the faceoff dot here. This is most likely a version of a designed play, but he ties up the opposing centerman, delays another forward attacking the puck, and then helps pull the defense toward the net to give his teammate more time and space.
Lindqvist seems to be a more natural scorer than Lindholm, but the latter’s maturity could be appealing to a team who thinks he can jump to the NHL immediately.
Pilut: I’m almost positive he’ll have an NHL deal this summer. He’s a special talent, but some teams might be concerned with his weight and erratic positioning when in the defensive zone. I think the Preds will have a strong pursuit of Pilut.
Persson: He’s a really interesting prospect that did somewhat come out of nowhere. I suspect he’ll have a quieter courting process like Ejdsell last season and will most likely stay in Sweden next season.
Lindqvist: Lindqvist might be the most intriguing prospect to me. He’s really carved out an excellent offensive role for himself this season and exceeded expectations. I suspect he’ll see some AHL time, but it could really be worth it. If I have to pick one of the four I want the most, it’s him, but I think Pilut might be more likely.
Lindholm: I know some teams were interested in him last summer, too. He has the best chance to jump straight into the NHL. I’m not convinved the Preds will be big players here given the logjam of the current forward group.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com.