Mike Babcock and Mark Hunter were on hand in Plymouth, Michigan to watch Team Sweden take on Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase. Toronto’s staff could not pass up the chance to watch their latest first round pick in action, and fellow Leafs prospect J.D. Greenway gave Liljegren plenty of powerplay time by taking three minor penalties. Joseph Woll sat this game out for Team USA.
Liljegren’s first shift did not go according to plan, as he quickly gave up the puck to an opposing fore-checker by fanning on a backhand pass. Thankfully, nothing came of it, and Liljegren lived up to his first round pick status the rest of the way. Although he was held off of the score sheet, he led the game with five shots on goal, and this puts him among the leaders in this category through three games.
Sweden looked like a different team when he was on the ice, as Liljegren stood out by weaving his way up the ice and generating zone entries. He resembled a young Jake Gardiner on the powerplay, as he constantly backed up opposing defenders in the neutral zone with his speed, before utilizing a drop pass to one of his forwards. Just about every defenceman can pull this play off, but top-end skaters can back defenders up just a little bit further, and this provides for more clean entries.
His skating will always be his calling card, but Liljegren also impressed in terms of his vision and elusiveness. He regularly escaped from opposing forecheckers with his speed, and then generated clean zone exits with his passing. I was eager to see Liljegren carry the puck, and he was more than capable at weaving his way through traffic with his creativity, rather than just around traffic with his speed.
Liljegren also helped reduce some of the concerns surrounding his physical game. He stood up Josh Norris in the first, and then took a bit of a run at Kieffer Bellows in the third. All in all, he cemented his status as a talented skater, puck carrier, and passer who can generate plenty of shots on goal. While he will never be known for his physical strength or defensive presence, he held his own for the most part in this game.
Nothing about Liljegren’s performance is overly surprising, but it is nice to see him showcase his skillset that put him just inside the top 10 of my draft rankings. I do not see him seriously contending for a roster spot to start the season, and I think we can throw those Erik Karlsson comparisons out the window, but he continued to look like a strong bet to become a top-4 defender someday.
Lias Andersson (NYR) scored both of Sweden’s goals in this one, and his off the puck play remains a clear selling point for his game. He scored his first goal from a distance on a wrist shot, then went to the net to put home his second of the night. His strong wrist shot was showcased in the third, but USA’s goalie just managed to get a piece of it to prevent the hat trick.
Casey Mittelstadt (BUF) continues to be the best player on the ice every time I watch him play. His craftiness and ability to make defenders miss is exceptional, and he looks like he was a great selection at eighth overall. Mittelstadt’s played on a line with Kailer Yamamoto (EDM) and Logan Brown (OTT) in this event, and this trio continues to dominate. At the moment, I see Mittelstadt as the third best prospect from his draft just behind Hischier and Patrick.
Quinn Hughes (2018 draft eligible) is an undersized but skilled defender who looks like a potential top ten pick. He scored the game-winning goal with a wrist shot from the point, and his speed and puck carrying ability could make him a dangerous offensive defenceman at the NHL level someday. Riley Tufte (DAL) and Yamamoto were the other goal scorers for USA.
Tim Soderlund (CHI) continues to display his speed and work ethic every time I watch him play. Elias Pettersson (VAN) did not live up to expectations in this one, but all the tools are there to become a top-end player once he puts on weight and gets stronger. Several key players were held out of this game including Rasmus Dahlin, Max Jones, Ryan Poehling, Sean Dhooghe, Brady Tkachuk, and Adam Fox.
Sweden’s next game will be against Canada at 1 pm ET on Friday. Meanwhile, USA will take on Finland at 4 pm ET later that day.