One thing I mentioned in the Freij profile is how differently I analyze a defense prospect now, specifically how I re-balanced how much I weigh offensive skill vs defensive ability. I've simply seen too many 'offensive' defensemen who I liked in years past who struggled or are struggling to really break into the NHL now.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to look only at big defensemen who hit a lot but can't skate or move the puck. I am re-focusing on what skills I consider more essential to future NHL success – and dangles and pure point production is not high on my checklist.

What I want is a defenseman who shows promise as a two-way defenseman as a prospect. That doesn't mean they'll get to the NHL and be good at both offense and defense, but having that good foundation makes it easier to project them in the future. In a way, this is me treating defense like I usually do forwards – how often have you seen me gush about a forward prospect who I said was a solid all-around player, even if they didn't have any elite skills?

So, these next three profiles on defensemen will all be prospects that I think fit this mold. They are not exactly the same, with different balances of strengths between offense and defense. Today, we'll start with Norwegian defender Stian Solberg.


  • Position: Left-Shot Defenseman
  • League(s): Norway
  • Height: 6'2"
  • Weight: 205 lbs
  • Birthdate: December 29th, 2005

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: 45th
  • Will Scouch: 32nd
  • Elite Prospects: 20th
  • Scott Wheeler: 22nd
  • Future Considerations: 44th
  • Dobber Prospects: 40th
  • McKeen's Hockey: 23rd

Solberg is someone that came out of nowhere this season. Part of that is exposure – he has never played outside of Norway. Part of it is also because he only played in 20 games last season, so it's not like he had a big season to generate much hype. But Solberg first started playing in Norway's top pro league (EHL) three years ago, as a 15 year old.

Solberg's journey as a prospect has been somewhat unusual, though that's mostly because Norway does not have a history of producing top prospects whatever path they may take. In fact, they really have only one: Mats Zuccarello, who has 636 points in 835 NHL games. The second most points in the NHL by a Norwegian player was 111 in 207 games in the 70's. Only nine Norwegians have ever played in a single game in the NHL at all. And as I mentioned in the profile on Michael Brandsegg-Nygård, there has never been a player from Norway drafted in the first round.

This year, Solberg may join him as being the first two in NHL history.

“He’s playing much better in higher leverage”: Meet Stian Solberg, the future of Norway’s blue line
Stian Solberg wasn’t supposed to play hockey, but that hasn’t stopped him from developing into Norway’s best defensive prospect in years. This is his story.

As of this season, he was one of Norway's top defensemen. He averaged 17:46 of ice time in the regular season, and 18:29 in the playoffs as one of his team's top defensemen. He had 15 points in 42 regular season games – good for 23rd in the league for all defensemen, but first among all forwards or defensemen in his age group by a wide margin. He added 9 points in 17 playoff games as his team lost in the EHL finals, which was good for 3rd on the team for points by defensemen.

Solberg has also been a top player for Norway in international play. He's been playing for their U20 junior team since the same year he made the country's pro league – at 15 years old. He helped them advance from the D1A World Junior division to the top division for this past year. It's hard to measure his international play in terms of offensive production, just like it is to measure his play as a pro, because he was always so much younger.

This season, Solberg played on Norway's World Juniors squad that did get relegated, but honestly were not the worst team there. He was a big reason why they hung in tough against the stacked USA squad that won it all. He played no less than 24:40 in each game, including one game at 27:54. Again, this is as a freshly turned 18 year old in his draft year, where most of the top prospects in the tournament are always playing in one or even two age groups up from him. He had 2 points in 5 games for the tournament, and by some of the tracking data for the tournament rated as one of the top 10 defensemen. That tournament is really what put him on the map as a potential first round pick.

From Mitch Brown and Lassi Alanen's WJC tracking project:

The good news for Solberg's development, is that his big season has earned him a contract for next season with Färjestad in the SHL. That will be a good test for a player as young as he is, but as a top prospect looking to develop his game against (much) tougher competition.

While other top prospects in this draft were playing at the World U18s this spring, Solberg – as a late 2005 birthday and no longer eligible – instead played for Norway at the World Men's Hockey Championship. Not only played, but starred. He led the team in ice time, and in fact finished second in the whole tournament (for the round robin) in total ice time – averaging 22:44 as an 18 year old. Not only that, but while Norway was usually grossly outshot, they hung into games in large part because of him.


Without a doubt, the two main things scouts will talk about when it comes to Stian Solberg is the physical defense that he plays. However, that doesn't mean he's just a big goon on skates. In the past, he was more of a pure offensive defenseman. He has adjusted his game the past couple of years to playing as a pro, and as he's grown and matured physically. That does mean he could have some offensive potential than you may expect just looking at his boxcar stats, but we'll get into that.

First, Solberg's defense. I don't really care how physical a defenseman does the job, as long as they are actually good defensively. He is not the very best skater of the draft, but he's no slouch. He is able to get around at a high level, and is very solid on his feet so opposing forwards cannot shove him off balance when battling in front of the net or along the boards. He also looks good to me when it comes to the little things that are important for defenders to have – he has a good sense of positioning, stick checking, and reading the play.

From Will Scouch:

Early in the year he came off as a safe, stable physical defender, but his impressive World Junior performance made me rethink some things and go back with a different outlook... When he makes contact in transition, it works. You aren’t getting through him. The guy is a rock on skates with a good set of feet under him, and seems to have a good grasp of the layout of the ice, making good reads more often than not. It’s the late first round, and I think this guy could eat minutes, and kill penalties with potentially a bit of offensive pop tucked away. The focus though is the combination of mobility and physicality that you can’t ignore, so consider me a converted fan.

Solberg is #72

Now let's talk about how his physicality helps Solberg impact the play. He seems to have struck a good balance already, and understands how to use strength and physical play to enhance his defensive impact – rather than chasing physicality at the expense of it. He does throw some punishing body checks, but it's not very often that he gets caught out of position or gives up an odd man opportunity to the other team because he sold out for the big hit.

The best way I've seen him use this style of play is when defending his blueline to stop zone entries. You can tell that a lot of opposing forwards coming down on his side of the ice that a lot of them don't want anything to do with him. Many, but not all, will try and pass or carry it to the other side, dump it past him, or whatever they can to avoid him. Again, he won't always go for the big hit in these situations. He will also just stick check or simply direct the player into the boards and seal him off there so he can't get by. But he definitely makes it part of his attitude when playing. If you like more physical, bruising defensemen then you will like Solberg.

From an interview with Elite Prospects:

It's those hits that have stood out the most in this tournament. The number of times he's made an opponent suffer the decision to carry the puck into his zone is more than can be counted on two hands, and we're talking about a sample of four games here. It's a part of the job that the 18-year-old Norwegian takes to with unmatched relish.
“It’s fun to be in the opponents' face and to annoy them and say “shut the fuck up,” or say anything to them,” Solberg said with a chuckle. “Make them mad. Hopefully, they get mad at me. I just love it. It’s perfect. That’s just how I’ve been playing for the last three years. I was probably more of an offensive guy before and then I realized that’s a part of my game I can build.”

You can see a lot of highlights of Solberg's physicality in this highlight pack. He's #72 in all of the clips.

Now, let's talk his offense. Solberg has been in that kind of situation where he's been playing well above his age in Norway for so long, it can be easy to think he doesn't have as much offense as he does. A 15 year old playing pro – even a more obscure league like the EHL – isn't sticking around for his offense, he's sticking around because he can hang defensively. He wasn't getting the chance to quarterback a power play or get the offensive opportunities he would have if he played in junior leagues with all players at least closer to his age and physical maturity.

What I've liked when watching Solberg is that he has shown he is capable of doing the little things that are still important. In fact, I would argue they're more important than being a flashy, point producing defenseman. He can elude forecheckers, protect the puck, and make the first pass to get it out of his end safely. No getting stuck in his own end constantly because he turns it over behind his net, or just limply tosses it up the boards for the other team's defenseman to keep in. Combine that with his defense stopping cycles so he has more chances to get possession, he becomes a valuable zone exit guy to really limit the other team's offensive chances.

The exciting thing is that Solberg might also have some of that flash, or at least the ability to produce points. This season, especially towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, he was showing more ability to create offense not just drive positive possession.

From Samuel Tirpak at FC Hockey:

He is very active at both ends of the ice, often being a very noticeable player compared to other shutdown defenders in this class. Solberg is also really smart with the puck on his stick. He makes calculated decisions and rarely gets into troubled situations by his own fault. In this particular game, the stakes were the highest. It was game 7 of the semifinals. He also scored two goals as a defense-oriented defender — first one was a solo goal from his own zone, deking through two neutral zone defenders and then using his great edgework to sneak past last line of defense for the goal; the second was a bomb from the left flank going through the defenders and goalie. What I loved from his actual position is how he read pressure points of the opposing team. They were trying to force turnovers from his side of the pair and he managed it really well. The well-roundedness he brings to the table is matched by only few and in my opinion he is one of the most complete defenders of this upcoming draft class and a player that an NHL coach would be able to trust in all situations.

Just check out these two highlights from Solberg's playoff run. The first video (left) is just a brilliant highlight reel goal that showed off how underrated his skating and puck handling can be. I think it might be that when he skates, he's very smooth and economical but he doesn't look that fast or that agile. The other play is more the kind of thing I like to see from a defenseman – using his skating, vision and creativity to evade forwards in his own end to escape pressure and make a play to get the puck out safely and under control. It's just a question of developing this part of the game so he has the confidence and refinement to create offense on a more consistent basis at higher levels.


My biggest issue is it's hard for me to contextualize how Solberg looks on an oftentimes overwhelmed Norway team in international play against the usual top nations, or looking good in one of the lower-rung European pro leagues. Him playing as a pro so young is impressive, but not so much as if he was playing pro this year in, say, the SHL or even the Liiga. The fact that he is at a level that he got an SHL deal is a good sign.

In some, very specific ways, his situation reminds me of Topi Niemelä. He played pro in the Liiga in his draft year, where his reputation was as more of a defensively impactful player than offense. But when he got older and more mature, he had a bigger offensive breakout, while his defensive reputation from his draft year never really stuck.

Now, I'm not saying that Solberg is or will be either as deficient on defense or as good at offense as Niemelä has turned out to be. I mean more that their respective circumstances playing pro hockey so young does muddy the waters when it comes to their abilities, and I'm not so good or experienced a scout to watch Solberg in Norway and be able to project him to the NHL.

From what I've seen from other scouts, Solberg may have more of a limited ceiling than you'd like from a high first rounder. His offense can look fun at times, but it's still developing. For all the great highlights he has, he is not without his gaffes and turnovers. I would also say it's pretty clear that he is not likely to have a real game-breaking amount of offensive skill. What I've seen is people saying he could eat minutes, kill penalties, play a physical style and move the puck okay. One comparable I saw made for Solberg before the World Men's Championship put his hype into space, was Justin Holl. Now, more people would say the comparable is someone like Jake Muzzin. The issue of Solberg as a prospect is that he might not have a truly elite level of his game aside from physicality, so he winds up more of a second or bottom pair guy.


The above issues aside, I still Solberg as a potential late first rounder. As of writing this, Bob McKenzie's most recently published ranking has him at 45. I was really thinking that he had a good playoffs in Norway, that he'd get a nice bump to be maybe a borderline first rounder. He had become my favourite realistic prospect that would likely be available for Toronto at 23rd, and I had this profile written up to reflect that and talk about how perfect a pick he'd be.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand then Solberg playing for Norway's men's team at the World Hockey Championship. Now, there are so many scouts, final rankings, mock drafts from guys who actually talk with NHL teams where Solberg is basically top 15 and outside of Toronto's range. I've seem some reports that some NHL teams have him ahead of Michael Bransegg-Nygard.

Solberg just has a set of tools and skills that are in demand by everyone. Him excelling at such a big stage Playing Against Men(TM) where he could show all of that off will be noted. He has a strong balance of skills and tools to use as a defenseman, and honestly I do think maybe his potential hasn't looked as high because of the environments he has been playing in. But if he does wind up being more of a late bloomer, something Toronto scouts love, and has more potential than most people initially realized, then he'd make for a great choice if he does wind up still being available when Toronto's pick comes up. He seemed like someone that everyone could love, the 'old school' traditionalists and the analytics nerds and everyone in between.

Ah well. If there's any consolation, it's that him and a few other players who have also had a huge and late surge in their draft hype will also push down some others into Toronto's range – like Adam Jiricek, for example. And in the off chance that teams don't over correct their rankings on Solberg so much to go from a mid second rounder to a borderline top 10 guy, then maybe he does slip to Toronto and I'll be happy either way!

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, NCAA, 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, The Athletic, and more.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

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