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2020 NHL Entry Draft Profile: Zion Nybeck

As the NHL moves closer to what it hopes is a return to play—although I’m still skeptical—further details about the 2020 NHL Entry Draft have emerged, including the draft lottery.

I won’t pretend I can explain the NHL’s planned format easily, but this is a fairly thorough explanation. Essentially, what you need to know as a Preds fan is that should the team lose in the initial five-game play-in round, they will have a spot in the draft lottery.

Beyond that, there have been few other developments about the forthcoming entry draft.

Draft Scouting – On the Forecheck

With five picks in the first three rounds, Nashville could have a prime opportunity to select Swedish forward Zion Nybeck, whose game I will break down below. At the link above, you can find my previous profiles of draft-eligible players and my initial draft ranking from April.

Zion Nybeck – W

HV71 J20 [SuperElit] – 18 – Alvesta, Sweden

A month removed from his 18th birthday, Nybeck has become a trendy name as we approach the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. And for good reason. After growing up in his hometown club, Nybeck began play for the HV71 program for a small trial during the 2017-18 season.

Over the past two seasons, he has dominated his peers and older competition. There’s much to be said about his 2019-20 season, where he scored 27 goals and 66 points in 42 games for HV71 at the U20 level; in fact, in doing so, he broke the SuperElit record for most assists and points by a U18 player.

But he’s long been a high-end offensive producer. In 2018-19, he played just 14 games at the U18 level—scoring 24 points—before scoring more than a point per game at the U20 level that season, too.

Nybeck was so dominant this season that he didn’t just score over a point per game, he scored over a primary point per game, too (1.1190), and 22 of his 27 goals came at even strength.

Nybeck’s 15-game stint in the SHL helped settle him into a full-time role for HV71, and he is expected to make the pro club to start the 2020-21 season.

Nybeck’s Scouting Report

Unique skating and mental tools in transition play will boost him to the next level He’s a fine skater but not overly explosive for someone his size – may concern some teams
Reads forechecking lanes and puck support opportunities very well then executes Would like to see him engage more off the puck in the defensive and neutral zones
Doesn’t get enough credit for his impressive skillset with the puck and shooting ability Needs to think alternate routes better; sometimes he gives up when initial deke doesn’t work

One of the first comments who may hear about Zion Nybeck’s physical traits will be about his height; there’s never an accurate measure for some draft-eligible players, but per Elite Prospects, he stands at just 5’8”. I hope we’ve hit the point where you—our loyal readers—should know that isn’t an insurmountable roadblock to playing in the NHL. Unfortunately, I have less faith in managements around the league.

Luckily, Nybeck’s talent with the puck and his on-ice assessment skills often make you forget about his stature.

Despite not producing a goal, this is a favorite shift of mine from Nybeck (#18, blue) this season. When entering the zone, he pulls the defenders’ positioning away from his shooting line before firing a shot that goes awry. But then, his puck skills come in handy. Opportunities like this will exist less at higher levels, but I appreciate how confident he is in using every inch of the zone. You can pick up on his internal assessments as he draws three defenders to the wall and a fourth off the slot before dishing the puck off for an eventual shot attempt.

Nybeck’s forechecking ability really stands out to me, as he understands how to build two layers of attack to produce a turnover: his body/legs and his stick. In this clips, he uses a great solo effort to push the play back into the defensive zone—you’ll notice those two layers in use. But then, he doubles down with a great effort to pin the near defender closer to the wall by attacking him from the zone exit lane and using his stick to force the lateral lane back deeper into the zone.

Here’s another example of how well Nybeck (#63, blue) maps out these lanes in his head—this time at the SHL level. It’s a simple play, but he takes a great angle to the defender trying to exit the zone that forces a brief retreat and enough time for a line change.

In this play, Nybeck (#18) combines his entire arsenal—smart forecheck positioning, active stick, dynamic feet and offensive skill—for a pretty goal.

Here’s another example of Nybeck going from good forecheck positioning into a quick transition, and he tops it off with a remarkable primary assist.

I’ve seen critiques of Nybeck that say his skating won’t be explosive enough for the NHL at his size. I think it’s fair to have those concerns, but I think his transition abilities are so transferable that I wouldn’t hesitate much before drafting him. He makes very timely pivots and has good control of his forward and backward stride mechanics. Skills like that allow him to explode into a great saucer pass out of the zone from a quick turn up ice, as seen above.

In this clip, Nybeck displays how well he can shift his positioning with his head constantly up—a gravely important skill that could expedite his development. He follows the puck well and is able to win a puck battle despite losing the race and eventually helps create a shot attempt.

Above is another example of his transition skills: Nybeck uses a quick crossover step to find space away from the forechecker, a mohawk turn to open up to his teammate, and then another crossover to retrieve the puck. He was prone to careless errors at times this season, or instances where he would force a play with the puck despite not exploring alternate routes. But here, he recovers the puck and springs into a clear zone entry before displaying a bit of his impressive skill.

The most glaring flag for me in Nybeck’s game, as mentioned above, is his planning. It’s clear he understands the ice and who is moving where very well, but sometimes he gets caught committing too early to ‘Plan A’ and then can lose the play behind him. For example, in this clip, I like how early Nybeck registers the cross-ice play, but he takes a poor angle and loses the puck deeper into his own zone.

In this case of Nybeck’s defensive zone positioning, I like how he’s constantly moving his feet and keeps his head active. But in some instances, I think he cheats too low in the zone. As the puck carrier comes around the net, Nybeck is still playing a zone defense in the low slot and fails to jump the pass to the point, despite his teammate coming to challenge the puck carrier.

What’s helpful is that I think all of these adjustments are remarkably teachable. It’s impossible to deny Nybeck’s talent and assessment skills, so tightening up these mechanics in each zone should produce a competent NHL regular.

Expected Pick Range

Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) over at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from a variety of different sources. You can read about his methodology here, track the compiled rankings here, and use his data viz (embedded below) here.

Nybeck’s Expected Pick Range: #17 to #34 – 1st or 2nd Round

It’s hard to fathom a good reason why Nybeck should slip into the second round, but the NHL never ceases to amaze. I think he’s a genuine first-round talent, but may be a reach for the Predators if they pick in the teens. However, if he’s available in round two, there should be no hesitation.

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and pick224.com.