Swedes still popular
During this weekend’s draft
in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Detroit Red Wings selected eight players. A
high percentage of the picks were (not surprisingly) from Sweden where the
Detroit Red Wings have one of the best amateur scouts in the world, Håkan
Andersson. Johan Franzen, third round (97th overall), Anton Axelsson,
sixth round (192nd overall) and Nils Backstrom ninth round (290th overall) were
the three Swedish players selected in this year’s draft by the Wings.
No first round picks, no surprise
This year marked the sixth
time in the last eight years that the Detroit Red Wings were without a first
round selection. On top of that, they were also without a second round pick
which was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Mathieu Schneider back
Red Wings scouts have always
been able to find Russian gems in the NHL entry draft, such as Vladimr
Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov and the recent draft picks Igor
Grigorenko and Dmitri Bykov. But the Wings scouts went through the last three
years’ drafts without selecting a Russian player. In this year’s draft they
choose to select one Russian player, Gennady Stolyarov as well as a Belarus
defenseman, Sergei Kolasau.
Pick by pick rundown
3 – 97
Johan Franzen was a surprise
pick by the Red Wings on the first day of the draft. Although he has had a
great season in the Swedish elite league and with the national team, he wasn’t
supposed to be taken in the top three rounds. The 24-year-old Vetlanda, Sweden
native was taken 97th overall in the third round.
The 6’2, 207-pound center is
a solid skater who has good top speed and agility. He possesses good hockey
sense and sees the ice well. He is a sound two-way player who is responsible
defensively and is also alert offensively. He has a good wrist shot, but isn’t
a big time scorer. He is smart and uses his size to his advantage. He can play
a physical and aggressive game down low. Franzen is also a capable playmaker
who can run the power play. He is a solid puck handler who
can make plays. On the downside he seems to have limited offensive ability. He
also needs to become more selfish around the net, as well as aggressive.
Franzen has had a strong
season in Sweden where he was among the best forwards in the entire league and
was also a member of the Swedish national team. He was a top-2 line center in
the elite league but is projected to play as a third to fourth line role player
in the NHL.
He is a steady player who
could challenge for a spot in the NHL probably as soon as in the coming season,
but the big question is whether he has reached
his peak or is there more to come?
4 – 128
One year ago McGrath was
touted as a top-10 draft pick by some of the scouting services after his tremendous
play in the OHL as well as in the 2003 Memorial Cup. But when the first day of
the 2004 draft ended, McGrath hadn’t heard his name. Obviously very upset with
the situation, he chose not to attend the second day of the draft. He used the
time to do an extra workout at the hotel’s gym.
McGrath is a solid sized
center has very good hockey sense and scoring instincts. He is a very good
skater who has a quick first step and plays a speed game. He is a slick puck
handler who has good one-on-one instincts and is effective when on the attack.
He displays a good attitude and is a hardworking center that is also
responsible defensively, although this is the area that he needs to work on the
most. He also has a good wrist shot and has a scorers touch. On the downside he
will need to add some bulk in the offseason and become more physical and
McGrath´s upside is probably
worth the gamble in the fourth round of this draft. His skating and offensive
instincts can’t be ignored. But at the same time his development (or lack of
development) during the last season is a big question mark.
The coming season will have a
huge impact on the rest of his career as a hockey player. He will need to step
up and show the attitude and fire that he had at the 2003 Memorial Cup. If he
manages to do that, he will most likely be a top-10 scorer in the OHL and
another Red Wings steal at the draft.
5 – 151
With the compensation pick
for the loss of free agent Luc Robitaille during the offseason, the Wings used
their fifth round pick to select a big defenseman from Minsk, Belarus. Sergei
Kolasau is a hulking defenseman who has solid skating ability for a man of his
size. He reads the play pretty well and is sound defensively. He displays a
good attitude when on the ice. He works hard and is a physical presence. Mainly
a defensive defenseman, Kolasau lacks top notch offensive instincts, but can
join the rush and deliver a good out let pass. On the down side he needs to add
some bulk during the offseason as well as continue working on his skating.
The combination of size and
aggressive play was too good to pass on in the fifth round of the draft. The
Red Wings scouts were very high on the 6’ 4, 187-pound defenseman and were even
considering trying to move up in the draft in order to make sure that they
could select Kolasau.
The young defenseman has
expressed his desire to move over the pond and play in the CHL for the coming
season. During the CHL import draft which was held on Wednesday, July 1,
Kolasau was selected by the Prince George Cougars of the WHL with the 57th
pick in the second round.
5 – 162
With the second fifth round
pick the Red Wings chose to select another skilled center from the OHL by the
name of Tyler Haskins.
The Cleveland, Ohio native
spent the last season with the Toronto St. Michael’s where he was among the
better performers. He finished the season fifth overall in team scoring with 18
goals and 45 points in 63 games.
Haskins is a skilled center
who possesses good hockey sense and two-way instincts. He is a very good skater
with tons of speed and agility. He handles the puck well and is a creative
playmaker. He has a good shot and is dangerous around the net. He is also
responsible defensively and works hard all over the ice. He needs to add some
more bulk and play more with an edge in order to become even better
Skill and speed are two of
the attributes that make Haskins a good draft pick in the fifth round. He has
some untapped offensive potential and should also develop his defensive game
with gained experience.
Haskins will be back with the
Toronto St. Michael’s next season where he will have an even bigger role both
offensively as well as defensively as the team’s captain and star as Tim Brent
is about to turn pro.
6 – 192
The younger brother of the
Boston Bruins forward PJ Axelsson was another surprise pickup by the Red Wings
in this year’s draft. Maybe the most surprised was Anton himself who was
following the draft from his home in Sweden.
Axelsson didn’t have an
impressive season in the Swedish junior ranks where he only had 17 points in 28
games, playing for one of the better teams in the league. He also had some
injury problems that cut his season short and played to his disadvantage when
the Swedish World Championship U-18 team was selected.
Axelsson is a small winger has
strong skating ability and is an intense forchecker. He works hard all over the
ice and isn’t afraid of using his body. Axelsson is also a good stick handler who has soft hands in tight and can make
plays on the offense. He has a well developed hockey sense and is a good
playmaker. He can be used in all situations and has good attitude both on and
of the ice. On the down side he needs to add some upper body strength and shoot
Axelsson is a smart hockey
player who knows what he needs to work on in order to get better.
When asked by Eliteprospects.com what his strengths and weaknesses are, Axelsson
said, “I think that my hockey sense and my skating are some of
my strengths and also that I have the physique to work hard all the time.
Looking at the weaknesses then I would say that my shot and my passing accuracy
could be better, and I could be stronger as well.”
For now it looks like he
could eventually develop into a third or fourth line checker in the NHL, but if
he continues to develop his offensive skills and add some strength he could
move up the depth chart.
7 – 226
Steve Covington of the
Calgary Hitmen, had an unspectacular season, collecting only 6 goals and 19
points in 72 games. He was drafted by the Detroit Red Wigs in the seventh round
of the draft.
Covington is a hard working
winger who has good skating ability and is willing to play physically. He has
great attitude and work ethic. He gives everything when on the ice. Covington
is a good penalty killer who could turn into a role player at the pro level. On
the downside he lacks puck handling skills and hockey sense to become a scoring
winger at the pro level. He also lacks ideal size and strength as of now. But
he is only 18 years old and has time to bulk up.
A long term project who could
one day replace Kris Draper a speedy penalty killer, Covington will have to
work hard in the next two years in order to earn a pro contract. He will be
returning to Calgary for at least two more years of seasoning.
8 – 257
Central Scouting Services had
Gennady Stolyarov as the 31st best skater in Europe in the final
rankings. The 6’4, 187-pound winger was
selected with the 257th pick in the eighth round.
Stolyarov is a big winger who
has tremendous size and is also a very good skater for a man of his size. He
has good foot speed and agility. He also possesses strong puck skills and is
more of a scorer than playmaker. He is smart and has good hockey sense. He has
a quick wrist shot and is dangerous around the net. He is offensively minded
and lacks defensive zone commitment. He also has to learn how to use his big
body to his advantage.
Stolyarov is a raw prospect
who has some very intriguing skills, such as size, skating and puck skills but
he needs at least three to four years, maybe even more time to grow into his
huge frame and to develop. He will most
likely stay in Russia and hopefully earn some time in the Russian Superleague
9 – 290
It was no surprise that the
Wings used one of their late round selections on an unknown Swedish defenseman.
Håkan Andersson, Wings European chief scout has developed a habit of selecting
unknown Swedish players during the last two drafts.
Nils Bäckström played for Stocksund,
J-18 tem during this season and was among the best players on the team. He was
the top scoring defenseman on the team with 3 goals and 17 points in 33 games.
He was also voted as the MVP of the McDonald´s Cup and named to the All-Star
team at the same tournament where some of the best J-18 teams from Sweden
Bäckström is a very mobile
defenseman who has good foot speed and agility. He also has good top speed and
lateral movement. Ha possesses strong puck handling skills and is very calm with
the puck. He has a good crisp first pass that opens up the play. He has good
hockey sense and sees the ice well. He is not physically mature and will need
to add some strength during the off season. He also needs to work on his
positioning as he tends to lose his man when on defense.
The 6’ 1, 183-pound defenseman is a long
term project that will get all the time he needs to develop his skills in
Sweden. He has some intriguing skills but the odds are against him. Next season
Bäckström will be playing in the top junior league in Sweden with Djurgården
where he could get some time on the power play and show that he can hold his
own against some of the best junior players in Sweden.
Niklas Wikegård, coach of the
Djurgården men´s team has said that Bäckström is a skilled and intense
defenseman who has high ambitions.
He has a long ways to go but
he also has some time to prove himself.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written
permission of the editorial staff.