Liam Öhgren is a fascinating prospect, mostly because he is inseparable from two other top Swedish forward prospects in this year’s draft: Noah Östlund and Jonathan Lekkerimäki. The reasons why they are difficult to separate is obvious, for a few reasons.
First, they’re all potential first round picks (Östlund may fall to the second but is worth a late first). They’re all Swedish forwards. And they all played for the same Djurgårdens team in Sweden, both junior and the pros, on the same line. It can be hard to separate the three in terms of their production or their skills, because they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Östlund is a smaller center but a brilliant skater and puck carrier. Lekkerimäki is a dynamic and flashy goal scorer and sniper. And Öhgren? Well, Öhgren is the everything else guy, who is the biggest of the three, does not handle the puck as much as the three, but produced the most in junior out of the three.
So while it can be difficult to separate him from the other two, there are some clear indicators for who Öhgren is as a player in his own right and why he may wind up as the best prospect of the lot.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
League: SHL/J20 Nationell
Weight: 187 lbs
Birth date: January 28th, 2004
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: 23rd
- Will Scouch: 11th
- Scott Wheeler: 14th
- Elite Prospects: 13th
- Dobber Prospects: 16th
- Smaht Scouting: 19th
Öhgren is, quite simply, a machine at producing points. Especially goals, and especially goals at even strength. Over the last three seasons, Öhgren has played 99 total games in Sweden’s junior leagues, between U16 and U20 levels. In those 99 games, Öhgren has 82 goals and 150 points.
If you look just at this season, his point per game pace at the J20 level was only beaten by one player since the 2000’s began:
- Robert Nilsson (D-1) — 2.00
- Liam Öhgren — 1.93
- Leo Carlsson (D-1) — 1.93
- Alexander Steen — 1.65
- Anze Kopitar (D-1) — 1.63
- Niclas Bergfors (D-1) — 1.62
- Lias Andersson (D-1) — 1.60
- William Nylander (D-1) — 1.59
- Zion Nybeck — 1.57
- Jesper Boqvist (D-1) — 1.53
- Jonatan Berggren — 1.50
- Noah Östlund (D-1) — 1.50
- Noel Gunler — 1.48
- William Karlsson — 1.42
- Lars Eller — 1.41
- Elias Lindholm (D-1) — 1.36
He is, quite simply, a goal and point producing machine. What’s fascinating is you might see the above statistics and assume something about how he manages to produce so many points. And I’m willing to bet that what you assume about him is largely wrong, or at least not fully correct.
THE GOOD: GOAL SCORING EFFICIENCY
The best part about Liam Öhgren is that he is ruthlessly efficient at scoring goals, but not really in a flashy or dynamic manner. He is not necessarily a sniper — although he does have a good shot. A very good shot, actually, and he is capable of beating goalies at a distance with a quick, hard and accurate wrist shot.
But what makes Öhgren such an efficient goal scorer is that he scores goals in many ways. He can score at a distance with a good shot. He can score off the rush and playing give and go. He can score off the cycle by crashing the net and hunting for deflections, rebounds and other loose pucks. And he can score by finding soft spots in defensive coverage to make himself open for a pass and quick shot before the goalie can get into a comfortable, squared position.
In an article writing about the best goal scorers in this draft, EP Rinkside said this about Öhgren:
He designed situations to suit his needs. He’ll time his release and change the angle on the shot to maximize net-front screens or defender’s windows. He’ll hunt for a soft spot and then utilize his quick release before coverage can react. But most importantly, he’ll hit his spot and he’ll hit in a hurry.
Öhgren also isn’t a puck handling wizard who will dangle his way to the net and score a highlight reel goal — but he is evasive with the puck to get around defenders and avoid having the puck stolen. He’s more of a ruthless efficiency sort of goal scorer, who has the necessary skills to manage it at a high level. While that can mean he gets the dirty goals around the net, it also means he is capable of pulling off the occasional highlight reel goal like this:
Öhgren can skate very well, and can play at a high pace against top competition. He is good at carrying the puck, but again he is not very flashy about it that often. He will often make the simple play, such as the obvious pass or chipping and chasing, when it is likely to succeed. This may make him a bit ‘safer’ than other prospects, and that’s why he is not ranked as high as his other goal scoring teammate Jonathan Lekkerimaki.
But that said, he is again still an effective passer and playmaker. Here’s what EP scout David St. Louis said about him:
The forward’s passing ability under pressure is probably his greatest strength. He creates lanes by constantly moving, both in the offensive zone and in transition, and he can backhand or slip the puck under sticks. His pass-and-reposition playing style will suit teams at the pro level, especially because Öhgren doesn’t just aimlessly cycle the puck; he attacks high-danger areas as soon as he can, with and without the puck.
The shorter and less frequent puck touches make it harder to truly evaluate the range of his tools, but with the right development, most of them should become above NHL average in a few years.
The other good part about Öhgren is, to generalize it, the rest of his game. According to Will Scouch, he’s got an element of being a complete 200-foot player. He is responsible defensively as a winger, he will back check, he will use his power game to throw his weight around but not necessarily as much as he could. But he is also good without the puck in an offensive sense. He is good at moving around in the offensive zone to make himself open, where his dangerous shot has the best chances of going in. He’s also good at being in position to hunt down loose pucks in the corners and around the net, which helps him score a good amount of garbage goals.
Which hints at his other strength. He is a smart player with good instincts, who can quickly identify the good and efficient plays, even if they aren’t the most dynamic or flashy. That greatly helps him execute plays, especially passing, while under pressure, which is a very good sign for his ability to perform at higher levels where you have far less time and space.
That is the focal point of his game, and it all derives from that ‘hockey IQ’. What makes Öhgren so interesting as a prospect to me is that he may have a simple game, but he executes it at a very high level. He seemingly crafted this style of play out of the very best skills that he has, and he does it well.
THE FLAWS: LACK OF DYNAMIC SKILL
One thing you may have noticed from the list of top PPG producers at the J20 level, is that most of them were players in their D-1 seasons. This is because the true top prospects in Sweden spend most if not all of their draft years at the SHL level.
Öhgren may have also spent just under half his season in the SHL, but he managed only 1 goal and 1 assist in 25 games. His production did not come at a higher level where his ‘simpler’ way of playing may endear himself to coaching, because it is ‘safe’, but it is something to worry about when you consider his projection to the NHL. While some players can make a career and put up good numbers doing the safe, reliable and efficient thing all the time (cough Hyman cough), you wonder how much Öhgren simply dominates lesser junior combination with it, and how much it will work against tougher, professional competition.
The other issue is that Öhgren’s efficiency often means he does not hold onto the puck very long — once he gets it, he will shoot or pass it almost as quickly as possible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the quick movement of the puck prevents defenses or goaltending from settling into position. But it also hints at the weakness in his game: he is never really the main driver of his line. He still does good things with the puck, but he won’t be the one you necessarily trust to break things open.
Having a player like Öhgren in this way is fine, and still useful to have for an NHL team. But you do need to pair him with someone on his line who can compliment him well. A good puck carrying, play making forward who can get it into the offensive zone and know how to play off him on rushes and off the cycle to set him up in dangerous areas.
What makes Öhgren a high level and ‘safe’ prospect is that he has tools that mean he will very likely have some kind of role in the NHL. Even if his offensive skills and goal scoring does not manifest at the NHL level to earn him a spot in the top 6, his skating, size, physical play, and off-puck responsible play mean he’ll at the very least be a useful bottom six player. Or he could be another Hyman, who carved out a role in a top 6 line before he ever produced like one because he was a smart, responsible, forechecking winger.
So he has a safe foundation, or a “high floor” as scouts like to say. But the rest of his skills still do have some upside, especially if he can develop some of his puck handling and playmaking to become a bit more dynamic and game breaking. He could turn into another Matthew Knies in that regard, and an excellent complimentary power winger for the top 6.
As a result of all of this, Öhgren seems like the kind of player that will be drafted before the Leafs’ pick comes around. He is a high producer, he is a ‘safe’ and high floor prospect and plays a style NHL teams love. There are few rankings out there that have Öhgren ranked at or below when the Leafs would pick. Even Bob’s mid-season ranking at 23rd would put him in range of Toronto, but he is coming off a great U18 World Championship run, and a huge surge in goals and points down the stretch at the J20s. The only way I can see him dropping a bit, in his rankings or actual draft position, is if others who were behind him before also see a surge in their draft hype and pass him on draft day. Maybe teams see his lack of SHL production as a slight worry, and they bump guys like Kevin Korchinski, Jiri Kulich, Rutger McGroarty, Lian Bichsel and other prospects above him.
So my including him here is a bit of a pipe dream. I just really like Öhgren as a prospect, and if by some miracle he does fall to Toronto, I’ll break out the champagne when Dubas calls his name.
Would you take Öhgren if he falls to the Leafs?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
Maybe, depends on who else is available.
No, I don’t like the kind of player he is.