When we're talking about later round picks, it's good to remember there's a veeeeeery low chance that they ever make the NHL much less be an impact player. Even some of the riskier guys who have obvious talent are the ones who are off the board in the second and third rounds. So there's a few of ways I look at finding players who interest me that late in the draft.
First, they do still have a standout skill or two. Maybe it isn't elite, but it profiles as very strong and is projectable to the NHL. Then you hope that skill can develop into elite, or close enough, that it can carry him to the NHL. The worry is you can't, and/or that the rest of his play aside from that skill is a real low level that can't be improved enough either. This could be your Pierre Engvalls, who had size and good skating to drive play. But also had something of a shot to work with, even if he didn't have a lot of skill to use it very often.
Second, you look for balanced players that drive good results for their age/level. These are players that maybe don't have a lot of hype because they didn't have gaudy point totals in leagues that get the spotlight, maybe they missed or didn't play in the big international tournaments, or maybe they just didn't get much player time because of injury or playing on a really deep team. These kinds of players I do think tend to be undervalued a bit, but that's more in later rounds. Toronto has had some good luck with these kinds of players, like Connor Brown or (maybe) Pontus Holmberg.
Third, you just hope someone slips.
Felix Nilsson, for what it's worth, falls under mostly the second group... maybe a bit of the third too.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
- Position: Center/left-winger
- League(s): J20 Nationell (36 games) / SHL (18 games)
- Height: 6'1"
- Weight: 187 lbs
- Birthdate: June 22nd, 2005
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (outside top 80)
- Scott Wheeler: 75th
- Elite Prospects: 41st
- Dobber Prospects: 44th
- Smaht Scouting: 71st
- Future Considerations: Not ranked (outside of top 100)
Felix Nilsson is an average sized center from Sweden who has an argument for being the best U18 forward in their junior league this year. By points, he finished third in points per game just behind Axel Sandin Pelikka, who is a lock as a first rounder and may be the top defenseman off the board. And as you can see above, Nilsson has some excellent tracking data pretty much across the board. With 19 goals and 41 points in 36 games, he played at better than a point per game to lead his team.
Nilsson played well enough to earn 18 games in the SHL on their fourth line, and played a responsible role as a two-way center. In a lot of ways he is similar to Oscar Fisker Mølgaard, but just a step behind in the next tier of prospects. He didn't get nearly as many games or ice time in the SHL that Mølgaard did, averaging 6:28 of ice time in those 18 games – he had no points at the pro level. He did also get into an additional two games with the SHL team in the playoffs, and averaged even less at 4:12. Getting any real time at Sweden's top pro level as a 17 year old is generally a good sign as a prospect.
Nilsson also played for Sweden internationally in various junior tournaments. At the Hlinka Gretzky tournament last summer, he got into 5 games in a depth role and only had one assist. As he got stronger through this draft season, however, he got better in the games and a bit better role. He had 12 points in 18 games by the end of the year in various other tournaments. There was talk he would be used as one of their top forwards at the World U18 tournament before an injury caused him to miss it completely. So there's a good chance he may earn himself a depth role in next year's World Juniors.
So Nilsson showed clear improvement through this season, which is a good sign for future development and improvement. So let's talk about what makes him an effective player.
THE GOOD: SMART, TWO-WAY, PLAY-DRIVING CENTER
Nilsson is another jack of all trades, master of none kind of player – and if you've noticed that's a player I tend to like, congratulations! You get a cookie. He has no major weakness, and is solid across the board. He doesn't have any huge standout skill or tool at his disposal either, but if he did he'd be a lock as a first rounder. It's not so much that I'm looking for these kinds of players, so much as these guys tend to be ranked lower than those with high end, elite skills even if it's only one or two of them.
So while he doesn't seem to have an elite skill, the thing that stands out the most about Nilsson is that he is a smart player. I've talked about what that means to me before, but here's a quick reminder: he has a good sense for his surroundings and positioning, and can anticipate how a play will develop around him. For me, it also means knowing how to make use of your skills to their utmost effectiveness, which I guess is a fancy way of saying he makes smart decisions.
You can see a combination of all of it when he makes a smart read and jumps into a play to pick off a pass, and turn the offense up the other way. It's why Nilsson is projectable as a two-way forward, because he can make plays like this – he's #52 in all of them:
But Nilsson also has a good amount of skill as well, especially with his hands and his playmaking. That combined with his skating allows Nilsson to be a menace on transitions. He did make some improvements to his skating through the year, to the point that it is probably around average-above average, but with more room to improve. He is already quick in his couple of steps, and is also very slippery in his movements. Part of it is that anticipation – knowing when to make quick cuts, changes of direction, bursts of speed, and so on to keep defenders off balance.
You could see some examples of that in the clips above, but here are some other clips:
You can see in the above clips that his playmaking is another area of strength for Nilsson. He has a good sense of vision and anticipation to find where his teammates are and where they're going. He can then create passing opportunities to them with his hands and elusive skating to make passing lanes to those areas on the ice. While Nilsson has shown he has a pretty good shot, I'd say he will make it more as a playmaker than a goal scorer. That is mostly because he seems to want to pass first instead of shoot first, or having a balance of the two.
Here are some more examples of his playmaking – once again, he's #52 when playing on his Swedish league team. There is one clip from his international games with Team Sweden, where he is wearing #11 from the point:
THE FLAWS: SKATING(ISH), SHOOTING(ISH)
So like I said, Nilsson is a bit of the "jack of all trades, master of none" as a player. That means he doesn't really have a major flaw that would scare you away from him, especially since we're talking about a 5th/6th round pick at this point. His biggest issues, I would say, is lacking separation speed and lacking a big shot/the willingness to shoot more.
For his skating, I mentioned above that he's quick off the line when it comes to his initial burst of speed. That helps him get some initial separation, especially along the boards. But in open ice, he has to rely on his changes of direction and shifty movements to keep defenders off him. It's not a big issue for him now, but that is something he will have to improve in the future as he goes pro in Sweden and (potentially) North America.
The other issue is working on his shot. It's pretty quick, has some good power behind it, and good accuracy. He has shown he can beat goalies in junior from medium distance, but not so much that it would translate even to the SHL much less the NHL. Adding some power behind it will help, especially if he can keep the quickness of his release. But it would also help him to be more willing to shoot than he does – he's got a bit of Marner in him in that regard.
Nilsson is not a very skinny guy at this point, so it would be tough to project much physical growth from him. He could grow another inch or two, though at his age that would be not likely. He could also still add more muscle than what he has, which would certainly help with both his shot and his skating. That would go a long way for his chances of becoming an impact player in the NHL.
The more I watched and thought about Nilsson, the more I think he's somewhere between Pontus Holmberg and Alex Kerfoot. Neither are very large players, but they're also smart. Neither have tons of flashy skill, but they're effective and make smart, little plays that can get the job done. I do think he has the chance to make the NHL in some capacity, in the same vein that it seems like Pontus Holmberg might. But he also could have enough skills and positive impacts to be a versatile center/forward that can move up and down the lineup as a complimentary player, like Kerfoot is. He may not ever have tons of fans, but you won't be sorry he's in the lineup. I do think he'll need to improve his skating a good amount still – that speed I talked about – if that is going to happen.
As of writing this, Nilsson is not ranked at all on Bob McKenzie's mid-season ranking. That's why I am including him as an option for the 5th or 6th round, though like I said for Mania yesterday I do think there's a good chance some team takes him before then all the same. We'll get a better idea in McKenzie's final rankings that will come out maybe sometime this week. If he still isn't ranked on his final list, there's at least something of a chance. If he is, then there's a good amount of teams who would likely snap him up before it even gets out of the third round.
I have Nilsson in the same camp as Mania, where he's probably a bit of a pipedream for a later round pick. Because if he does somehow fall that far, I think he's absolutely worth a roll of the dice. I'd bet on him and Toronto's development team to improve those key areas as much as is possible, and reap all the rewards.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
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