Everyone knows the Toronto Maple Leafs need to improve on defence. And there is one obvious place to look for someone the Leafs won’t have to trade for: Sweden, home of all the good defenders. Or so it seems, these days.
An argument could be made that three of the top five defencemen in the NHL are Swedish. In fact I had this argument with Fulemin a couple of days ago. We could look at why there seems to be so many good Swedish defenders around. We could delve into the Swedish club system, centralized training methods and playing style to explain it, and we still wouldn’t know if we’re just looking at statistical variance or just what naturally happens when kids grow up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom.
So instead of that theoretical flight of fancy, how about some rumours instead? How about Växjö defender Calle Rosén as the target of NHL teams, one of them the Leafs.
This story is behind a paywall, so I won’t discuss it beyond chuckling gently at calling any SHL player “one of the hottest European free agents”. Vadim Shipachyov, Yevgeni Dadonov and possibly Ilya Kovalchuk may be laughing more heartily.
UPDATED: The rumour grew some legs this afternoon as Swedish blogger Johan Svensson, the man who correctly told us in advance Jhonas Enroth was becoming a Leaf, reported that Toronto is the club Rosén will sign with:
Calle Rosén har ryktats till både Chicago och Toronto. Enligt mina uppgifter är det Toronto han är överens med. https://t.co/6mWnoHXZBR— Johan Svensson (@MrMadhawk) April 28, 2017
If he is cut from the World Championship squad, there may be an immediate contract signing.
Calle Rosén is indeed a sought after player, and there are a few other defenders in the SHL that might be worth a look as well. Two of them are Rosén’s Växjö teammates: Eric Martinsson and Philip Holm. All three of them are on the Swedish national team roster heading into the World Championships next week.
Back in March, Hockey Sverige profiled five SHL defenders who might be moving on to the NHL. Holm was fifth, Martinsson was third and Rosén was first. Uffe Bodin wrote this about him (translation by Google with a little help from me and a great save by Zeb_Habs on some tricky slang.):
Had like Martinsson a chance to leave for North America already this season. The decision to stay in SHL has proved to be really good. Rosén has grown into an exciting national team defender and has logged significant minutes for Växjö. Injuries have partly hampered his progress, but not enough to damage his chances of being signed. He has that moving and skillful defensive game like all NHL clubs are dying for since the Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup with a "modern" defence set. A lot of clubs out in North America are reported to be interested in Rosén and the final question is really just which of them he should choose.
And now your reality check: Växjö was a good team this season, although they didn’t go all the way in the playoffs. They got to the top of the regular season standings on the strength of a lot of goals from their forwards, one of whom is Dennis Everberg. Everberg could not crack the Colorado Avalanche lineup. He could not score goals in the NHL. He is off to the KHL next season, according to some reports.
The point is that SHL points are easy to get. So remember when you read glowing reports of Rosén, that he is playing in a very different league to the NHL.
Rosén put up a lot of points this year too for Växjö, mostly assists from dishing the puck off to their supercharged offensive forwards. He is 23, listed at six feet tall and the traditional European round number of 80 kg, which is Mitch Marner weight. He is also a left-shooting defender, as are Holm and Martinsson. Left-shooting defender is not a primary need of the Maple Leafs, but depth at all positions is always good to have.
Russia at Sweden
Thursday’s match with Russia needed overtime to solve it, but it didn’t look like an even match to begin with. Both teams had most of their World Championship roster on hand, so Andrei Vasilevskiy faced off against Eddie Läck. Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov and Nikita Gusev made up a line that surely pleased Kucherov. On the other side, Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Söderberg and occasionally Joel Eriksson Ek were very effective.
The Swedish defence pairs started out as Victor Hedman with John Klingberg, Anton Stålman with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Rosén, playing on the right side, with Holm.
The Russian top line was the one giving the Swedes fits at first. Shipachyov was not available to play today, so the Russian team put in Vladimir Tkachyov with Sergei Mozyakin and Sergei Plotnikov.
The period was dominated by Russia as the Swedes chased the play in front of their unhappy crowd. The Tkachyov line scored first—Mozyakin from Tkachyov on a beautiful passing play that caught Rosén watching the puck.
The second goal was by defender Viktor Antipin from Tkachyov and Mozyakin on a play where Hedman and Klingberg looked very unprepared to defend that level of precision passing.
Russia was killing Sweden with speed through the neutral zone and gaining all the zone time.
Kucherov and his line hemmed in Hedman and Klingberg with the Söderberg line for a very long shift.
Finally with some zone time for Sweden, Rosén showed why he’s getting all this attention with a really nice point shot that Vasilevskiy saved.
Early in the period, one that started better for Sweden, Rosén set up a beautiful goal off a fantastic shot through traffic. Elias Lindholm gets the credit, but it was Rosén’s shot that made it happen.
The most noticeable Russian play for the first half was a great backcheck by Tkachyov to bail his line out of some trouble. Then Hedman took a penalty, which is not a good idea when the team is saving Kucherov and friends for the second power play unit.
This time the goal was Mozyakin from Tkachyov on an even more impressive passing play where Tkachyov slid the puck across the slot perfectly to Mozyakin who had a wide-open net.
Landeskog headed off to the box next, but the Swedish penalty kill was better. Rosén played a lot of PK, and he is good at it.
Russia seemed happy with their three goal lead and backed off a bit, while Sweden, in front of the home crowd, did not let up.
The Russians started taking penalties.
Sweden tied the game on two power play goals.
With Strålman back with Hedman where you’d expect him to be and Klingberg looking more comfortable with Ekman Larsson, the game was much more even at five-on-five as well.
The bench was shortened in the third period as Sweden went questing for goals, so Rosén didn’t play much, but he did make another good PK appearance.
The KHL only started playing three-on-three very recently, and the non-NHLers on the team weren’t good at it. Swedish hockey, with the mobile, puck-moving defenders, who can instantly become the third forward, seems designed to excel at it.
The Swedes were very good with Klingberg and Ekman Larsson playing most of the four minutes they needed before Landeskog decided the game with a play set up by Söderberg and Klingberg.
4-3 Sweden over Russia.
I’d hate to be the Leafs scout at that game. He’ll be expected to give a report on Rosén and all he’d be talking about was that Russian centre!
Rosén seemed correctly place on the third pair with that roster. So that puts him behind Hedman, Strålman, Ekman Larsson and Klingberg. There really are a lot of good Swedish defenders out there, aren’t there? How far is Rosén behind those stars is the question, though.
Both of these teams were a mix of some of the best players in the NHL, some of the best in the KHL, and a few from the SHL. No one looked out of place or outmatched. And for Rosén—undrafted, young, playing a modern and fast style of hockey, he might very well be worth a look by the Leafs, even if he isn’t a righty.
But the exact same thing can be said for Tkachyov too.