It’s a long way from the draft, and there aren’t any whispers about the Leafs having interest in any European free agents this summer, but it’s still fun to imagine acquiring a new guy. Uffe Bodin has a hint for us:
Several Toronto Maple Leafs scouts in Stockholm today at the game between Djurgården and Rögle. No William Nylander in sight, but they did talk to Rögle prospect Nils Höglander after the game. Feisty albeit undersized forward who could be a player for the Swedes at the WJC.— Uffe Bodin (@UffeBodin) November 3, 2018
No one has Nils Höglander in their top-20 or top-15 2019 draft prospects yet, not that I know of. He might be someone who would be in the range for the Leafs with their first-round pick, which we hope will be very poor quality, or a second-round pick if they play the trade-down game again. Last summer that got the Leafs Rasmus Sandin and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. Could Höglander be the Swedish SDA?
Höglander is on this list, but not top 20. Not quite:
It’s out! My preliminary top-62 ranking for the #2019NHLDraft is live at @TheAthleticNHL. The biggest project of each hockey season. Hope you enjoy: https://t.co/5AmCfo5eAP pic.twitter.com/fq40fimJGv— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 6, 2018
We should not let the long wait to the draft to stop us from looking at Höglander now, like those Leafs scouts did, because he’s about to play in a Four Nations junior tournament with Leafs prospect Pontus Holmberg. Both of them want to make the WJC team for Sweden, and this is one of their last chances to make an impression.
Höglander and Holmberg both played for Sweden at the August Four Nations event. That one is usually considered a chance for the team coaches to look at their B and C prospects. Neither player was at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Canada where the A teams were on display (minus a lot of defenders in Sweden’s case).
They’ve both played their way into consideration, beginning with that August event. Höglander led the team in points with three goals and three assists in three games. Two of his goals came in a 5-2 kicking of the Czechs, but his play was good even in the shootout loss to the Russians. Holmberg was a second-tier scorer at that event, with one goal and two assists.
Holmberg got attention for his overall play and mature game. He is 19 with a March birthdate, and is playing a full time SHL role after most of a season spent in Division 1 last year. You can follow Holmberg’s exploits every Sunday in the European report.
Höglander is 17, and doesn’t turn 18 until just before the WJC starts. He’s a rawer talent who split last season between junior and the Allsvenskan team at his club. He was 16, remember, playing the second tier of men’s hockey when he wasn’t scoring at a point per game pace in junior. This year Höglander is with Rögle of the SHL, a team that is a small step up from a top level Allsvenskan club, but they play against the good teams, so even if his teammates haven’t improved a huge amount with this move, Höglander’s competition sure has. He has two assists so far in 15 SHL games.
He’s playing around 10 minutes per game, and he gets some power play time, which is very interesting considering his age, but he’s yet to be on the ice for a power play goal. Rögle don’t score much.
Höglander is, as advertised, small and he is sort of the Swedish SDA. He is only 5’9” tall, but is listed at 185 lbs, so that makes him shorter than SDA and much bigger. Höglander was born in the year 2000, just 2 months plus 5 days after SDA, but because of the draft cutoff date, SDA was the youngest player in the draft last summer, and Höglander will be one of the oldest in the draft this coming summer.
Research continues to show that, contrary to what is often believed, players with late birthdays get drafted lower than they should. The later, the worse this effect is. So even though he’s going to be older and potentially look better than younger players, Höglander is still statistically more likely to be undervalued. Undervalued players at the draft are exactly what the Leafs need to look for.
While he will be an old man of nearly 19 at the draft next summer, he’s always been young on his teams so far in his life. He was the youngest on the Swedish team at Four Nations when he scored the most points. He’s the youngest player on Rögle this year and was the youngest on AIK last year. He only had five players younger than him on his junior roster. He played in the World U18 tournament for Sweden last year where he was the fourth youngest player. Höglander was held off the scoreboard in that event, where Jonatan Berggren made waves. Berggren went in the second round, 33rd overall, to Detroit last summer, and might have been a bit of a steal.
Höglander is a left-shooting left wing, and he likes to do this:
One of my favorite players for 2019 draft is Nils Hoglander. Shifty, skilled little guy playing in Sweden. pic.twitter.com/eJHl8YJB08— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) January 17, 2018
Or this from his first season with AIK the year before last:
Nils Höglander, 16, med sin andra fullträff för @AIKishockey mot Tingsryd. Hemmalaget leder nu med 4-1. #twittpuck pic.twitter.com/S86xvJSGXk— C More Sport (@cmoresport) January 18, 2017
Let us appreciate Nils Höglander. pic.twitter.com/7AeXSmlBfy— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) December 7, 2017
This no-look backhand pass by Nils Hoglander was all kinds of filthy. Did I mention this was his SHL debut? I didn't? This was his SHL debut. pic.twitter.com/rIcKXKfvDa— In Hakan We Trust (@InHakanWeTrust) September 18, 2018
But how good is he? Future Considerations has him at 54th in their early ranking, but that will change. But they, like Corey Pronman, are known to champion the small agile winger prospects. Other draft rankings will shy away from that height.
Should we get all excited and hope he gets drafted by the Leafs? Well, here’s some things to consider: The Marlies just won the Calder Cup with seven Swedes on the Roster. They have seven right now. We need to keep those numbers up. Also, his name means Highlander, so how can we pass that up?
The Leafs chose Semyon Der-Arguchintsev as a small, young creative player who has always played with bigger, faster, stronger and older players. That’s working out so far. The Leafs chose Rasmus Sandin from Rögle, after only 5 games of senior hockey, and that’s really working out so far.
It’s easy to see why the scouts at that game in Stockholm were impressed by him, even if they might have been there to check out the team Sandin might return to. Or maybe they wanted to see Justin Pogge get the win. Either way, it’s never too early to window shop.
The Four Nations junior event begins November 9 and runs through the weekend. The Swedish junior team camp moves to BC on December 16 for some pre-tournament friendlies, but we should expect a preliminary camp in Sweden in the weeks just prior to that. Marlies fans should expect to lose a couple of defencemen for a month or so once the WJC really gets going. Other than that? Who knows what interesting future Leafs will be there.