With the calendar flipped to 2022, the Nashville Predators will need to sign three of their prospects in the coming months or their exclusive negotiating rights will expire. First on that list is defender Adam Wilsby who becomes a free agent in June should he and Nashville not come to an entry-level contract agreement.
Wilsby, who was taken 101st overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, is playing in his second full season in the SHL with Skellefteå AIK but has his focus trained on making it to the NHL.
“His long-term goal is to play in the big league,” said Wilsby’s agent, Erik Wallström. “He’s been following the NHL closely; he’s a guy who is looking a lot at specific players, trying to find parts of their game to emulate.”
Wallström didn’t share a timeline on when to expect Wilsby to sign his entry-level deal but confirmed he’s had talks with Nashville about the future and that those discussions are ongoing.
Expecting Wilsby to sign, what kind of player has Nashville got, and why do I think he could be a somewhat surprising piece of their blue line sooner rather than later?
Taken as an overage player after a 30-point season in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan, Wilsby transitioned to Sweden’s top league rather seamlessly after hearing his name called in 2020. In his first season with Skellefteå, Wilsby scored six goals and 18 points in 48 games—second among the team’s defenders.
This year, Wilsby has just two goals in 33 games but is two assists shy (10) from tying his 2020-21 mark. Eight of his 12 points have been primary ones scored at even strength.
The 6’0” defender’s presence has been felt significantly off the scoresheet as he’s been one of the league’s best possession players on the blue line this season; through seven games I’ve tracked, Wilsby has recorded a 55.7% Corsi at even strength.
A good chunk of that possession success is due to Wilsby’s excellent transition skills. This season, he’s allowed opponents a controlled zone entry on just 40.5% of their attempts, and he’s executed a controlled zone exit on a staggering 72.5% of his chances.
While he could improve on winning races to some puck retrievals in the defensive zone, Wilsby has carried the puck out on his own on 62.1% of his controlled zone exits—best among defenders in the pipeline of whom I’ve tracked a sufficient sample size.
When defending, Wilsby’s improved skating and awareness against the rush have turned him into a sneaky good shutdown defender (despite being known for his up-ice play). Of the controlled zone entries he’s allowed, Wilsby has kept 64.7% of those chances to the perimeter of the defensive zone.
Wilsby’s (#2, yellow) foot speed and lateral agility are key to him shutting down opposing forwards when they’ve barely entered the zone. In the clip above, watch Wilsby mirror the puck carrier's crossovers and then angle his step perfectly into the opponent’s body to prevent him from cutting back across his body. He doesn’t apply his check just for the sake of it, but he does so expertly to force a turnover and move his team quickly up the ice.
In this clip, watch how much ground Wilsby can quickly cover to remedy his big gap to the puck carrier. He uses a solid knee bend to launch himself towards his target after pivoting and powerful back-foot pushes to engage and once again force a turnover.
Wilsby has also developed a keen defensive awareness and good decision-making skills. On this shift, he challenges the opponent early in the neutral zone after confirming that he has two teammates behind him and a third crashing into proximity. Wilsby challenges aggressively with his stick, and it can get him in trouble here and there, but he’s effective in disrupting the play most of the time (as is the case here). When the puck goes deep into his defensive zone, it’s almost mesmerizing how well Wilsby can dig the puck out and swiftly reach his top gear while carving through traffic to start the transition.
And as noted above, those transition skills are Wilsby’s best asset. He’s not an overly-creative puck handler, but he’s confident, quick, and decisive in how he attacks the neutral and offensive zones. Those opportunities won’t be as frequent in the NHL, but I can’t help but love how he aggressively swoops in, cutting off play (shown above), and uses two deep crossover cuts to accelerate before weaving his way to a high-danger scoring chance.
Lastly, while not scoring at an amazing rate, Wilsby has an underrated point shot, especially his wrist shot. When receiving the puck, he’s quick to transfer his weight and launch the puck on goal. He’s also shown a good ability to keep shots low and shoot for deflections and rebounds.
Turning 22 before next season, Wilsby has one year remaining on his SHL contract. While I think his potential may be limited to a fourth or fifth defender, I’m confident that Nashville has an NHL defender in Wilsby, and I’m not convinced he will need much (if any) AHL time to prepare. David Farrance and Jeremy Davies rightfully continue to carry the conversation, but I’m keeping my eyes on Wilsby; come 2023-24, we could see this Stockholm native leading a new-look bottom pair for the Predators.