JONATHAN HEDSTRÖM: A LOOK AT A LONGSHOT PROSPECT
After having covered many of the more talked about Swedish prospects in this column, it’s now high time to mention some longshot prospects. Every now and them, a long-shot prospect arrives from nowhere and makes it to the NHL.
When you’re picked 221st overall, no one – perhaps not even the management of the team that drafted you – expects you to make it. But there’s a small chance, and with enough determination you might just make it.
Determination is not in short supply for 21 year old Division 1-team Skellefteå AIK left winger Jonathan Hedström, who was picked by 221st overall by the Leafs in the 1997 Draft. After having a sub-par season by his standards in 1997/1998 (scored only 5 goals and has 5 assists in 32 games), he has emerged as a solid point-producer and leader for his team this season while playing the powerforward role that made him a regular on the team in the first place. In 29 games, he has scored 13 goals, and he has 23 assists, to go with a team-best +24 rating. To go with that he has a solid 50 PIM.
Despite the almost one assist per game average, he is not a playmaker. His assist come mainly from hard work along the boards and digging out pucks before feeding passes to his linemates. His shot is average, and that has to improve.
He is a pretty good skater, but his main quality is his determination and his balance and strength on the ice. To see him carry the puck right through opponents who try to stop him is not an uncommon sight. His balance is excellent. But that is against Division 1-opponents. He is listed at 6’0, 200, which is fairly big in his league, but average at best in the NHL.
He can also deliver hits that bring the fans out of their seats at times, but that happened more frequently when he was younger. One memorable moment came last season when he totally crushed Björklöven forward Peder Bejegård with a huge clean hit. He has to find that kind of aggressiveness again. At 18, he was often seen as a madman on the ice. He is a key-point producer now for Skellefteå, but it has somewhat come at the expense of the huge hits and the intimidating style. Hedström is still a physical presence, but not as much now as he was earlier in his career.
With the Euro-loving management of the Leafs, it is unlikely that they will bring over Hedström to have him mature his in the AHL. They will surely want him to make it in the Elitserien next year, and then establish himself there before evaluating him. I think this is the wrong approach for a player like Hedström.
Hedström can at best be a grinder with some offensive ability in the NHL, and for him to find the qualities which would make it for him, he would benefit from learning his trade in the AHL. In the Elitserien, a physical style is rarely appreciated by the coaches, and forechecking is non-existent, and those are the two qualities that will take him to the NHL.
He could be a guy that is not in short supply in the NHL, and there’s no guarantee that he will ever make it. But if he doesn’t make it, it won’t be because he didn’t try.