The Ivan Hlinka tournament takes place in August, and Canada versus Sweden is typically the biggest matchup of this event. I watched this game without volume, and since there were no last names on the back of Sweden’s jerseys, I simply took notes based on jersey numbers. Sweden’s best player by a mile was #3, a defenceman by the name of Adam Boqvist, who is projected to be a surefire top 10 pick in this year’s class. The other major standout was #17, a forward who impressed as one of the only players who could gain the zone and create scoring chances against Canada’s elite back-end.
I assumed this forward was either Jacob Olofsson or Filip Hallander, as they were the only two forwards on the team projected to go in the first round. As it turns out, this player was Jonatan Berggren, and while he did not get on the scoresheet in this 4-1 loss, he still managed to score five points in five games.
Berggren went on to dominate the SuperElit this year, leading this junior league in both points and points per game, and by a wide margin. With 1.5 points per game as an under-18 player, he trails only Alex Steen (1.65), Anze Kopitar (1.63), Niclas Bergfors (1.62), Lias Andersson (1.59), William Nylander (1.59), and Jesper Boqvist (1.53) among players who played at least 20 games since 2000.
While Nylander’s production came as a 16 year old, Berggren has outscored the numbers of NHL talents such as William Karlsson, Frans Nielsen, and Lars Eller at the same age. He was also Sweden’s best forward by a mile at the most recent U18 tournament, where he recorded five points and five assists in just seven games. Projected 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes was by far the best puck carrier at this event, but Berggren was among the top three players in the tournament in this area.
By the Numbers
SuperElit U18 point per game leaders since 2010-2011
|Joel Eriksson Ek||1.28|
*Nylander achieved this point per game mark in his age-16 season, rather than age-17.
A Glimpse of Berggren in Action
Berggren is a crafty puck carrier who regularly makes opposing defenders question if hockey is the right sport for them. He doesn’t score from a distance like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, or Oliver Wahlstrom, but he’s more than capable of driving into the slot and picking a corner:
His above average quickness causes opposing defenders to back up and respect his speed. He’s a shifty skater who can stop and start quite quickly, and he uses this to his advantage here:
While he’s listed as a centre, Berggren played right wing at the U-18, and generated a ton of zone entries in this role. Finland could not stop him from flying through the neutral zone, and I’m willing to bet that he had roughly twice as many controlled zone entries in this game compared to any of his teammates.
Berggren is a clear standout every time I watch him play pic.twitter.com/hmpase1gRH— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 15, 2018
It looked like Finland’s forwards finally managed to trap him here, but he somehow found a way to chip the puck past them, then beat the defender in a footrace:
He makes the first defender miss in the GIF below, then nearly dances his way around the second defenceman. Nothing results out of this play, but he showcases what he’s capable of as a puck carrier:
Berggren shows off his creativity once again. If he would have finished this it would have been a gorgeous goal pic.twitter.com/8ct1mI3scU— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 17, 2018
Berggren was a primary puck distributor on Sweden’s powerplay, and he shows why in this next clip. He weaves his way through three defenders, then turns and fires a quick pass to give his teammate a wide open net:
Berggren with a nice set up here. If the Leafs can trade down and still get him... pic.twitter.com/LA1xLzIUOe— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 17, 2018
Clearly, Berggren is a dangerous zone entry threat, as he regularly dangles the puck through the neutral zone then beats a defender out wide. This is the forward who you drop the puck to on the powerplay breakout strategy:
It feels like he has 80% of their zone entries so far. We're 7 minutes into the 2nd pic.twitter.com/OzCdiWiZ8J— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 16, 2018
Playing your off-wing comes with various challenges, especially when the breakout pass comes a couple of feet behind you. Berggren spins to accept the pass, then shows off his playmaking skill while coming down on the rush:
Spins to receive a bad pass, then sets up Sweden's best chance of the game pic.twitter.com/HOeMubTb5b— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 16, 2018
Here’s one more zone entry GIF, in case you still don’t believe that he’s good at beating defenders out wide and establishing the offensive zone for his team:
Berggren played twelve games in the SHL with Skelleftea this year, which is the same team that Toronto’s recent signing Par Lindholm was on. While he only posted one point during this stretch, it is clear that no one could defend him in his junior league:
He showcases his ability to standout as a puck carrier once again in the GIF below, dancing around a couple of defenders before driving to the net for a goal:
His speed is on full display here, as he flies right between two defenders, before flicking the puck over the goalie’s blocker:
There’s plenty of moves in his bag of tricks, as it looks like he’s about to flick the puck over the goalie’s blocker once again, but he instead drags the puck back and roofs it glove-side:
Berggren is primarily known as a standout puck carrier, as well as an above average playmaker on the powerplay. He was Sweden’s best forward at both the U 18 tournament and the Hlinka, and looks poised to step into a more significant role in the SHL next year. It would be quite convenient if the Leafs took him in the draft, as the signing of Par Lindholm should help Berggren to earn more ice time on his SHL team.
With a July birthday, he’s one of the younger players in this class, and it is important to factor to this in during an evaluation. Fellow Swedish forward Isac Lundestrom, who is ahead of Berggren on just about every list i’ve seen, scored half as many points as Berggren in his year’s U-18 tournament, as well as just two points in the Hlinka. While he offers more size, two-way ability, and SHL experience, Lundestrom posted just 10 points in 13 SuperElit games in his 17 year old season, versus Berggren’s mark of 57 points in 38 games this year.
Berggren ranked 19th in my most recent draft rankings, and here is part of what I had to say:
“Berggren is one of the youngest players in this class, and he’s not quite big and strong enough to fill a prototypical checking line role. This is a bit of a boom or bust pick as a result, but I won’t be surprised if he ends up being a steal in the early second round. He’s quick enough, and skilled enough as a puck carrier, to offer top-6 potential.”
Jonatan Berggren - a favourite of mine - did here what he does in the SuperElit. He was the primary puck carrier and playmaker, often combining both for deadly effect. A few snippets of what he can do: pic.twitter.com/R1yzKj1a7Y— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) February 18, 2018
Ultimately, he’s talented enough as a puck carrier to carry a chance at sticking at centre, though he may start his career on the wing. While he constantly beat defenders out wide in the U-18 tournament, teams will want to ensure he is a high-end skater rather than just a good skater, as he will need to score at a solid clip to make the NHL as an undersized forward.
I expect Berggren to be a top scorer in the 2019-2020 World Juniors, and I’m impressed enough with him as a puck carrier to see a possible 50+ point scorer at the NHL level. While he’s not as safe of a pick as a bigger forward like Ryan McLeod, he’s talented enough as a scorer to warrant a first round selection. Berggren is near the top of my shortlist for the Leafs if they keep the 25th overall pick.