When we last convened this countdown, in the lower reaches of the countdown were two late round Swedish draft picks, both regarded as strong defensive defencemen with some offensive potential, playing in Sweden's second tier but not scoring a significant amount of points. They were ranked 31st and 32nd, with not a lot separating them.
Flash forward to this summer, and both young Swedish defencemen, with another season of pro experience under their belts, have moved up in our countdown. Both remain strong defensive defenceman with some offensive potential, having played in Sweden's second tier but not scoring a significant amount of points. This time, Viktor Loov moved from 32nd to 24th, while Tom Nilsson, a 4th round selection in 2011, moves up from 31st to 23rd.
With so little separating the two, what keeps Nilsson ahead?
For starters, age. Nilsson, despite being drafted one year earlier than Loov, is nearly nine months the younger of the two. In terms of development, especially in this exercise, that matters. While both of them have to date had fairly similar career trajectories, the fact that Nilsson's success has come at a younger age is important.
The other factor is that Nilsson was fortunate to get an opportunity to play for Sweden in the 2013 World Junior Championship thanks to injuries that ravaged their blueline. The experience was beneficial, which gives Nilsson his second advantage; exposure. The Allsvenskan is no doubt good hockey, but it provides no reference point to the average North American fan. The AHL is somehing of a mystery to many casual Leaf fans, so the Swedish equivalent might as well not even be taking place.
Thanks to the World Juniors people are familiar with Nilsson's name, and his performance this past season was deemed worthy of a contract from the Maple Leafs. Nilsson, who like Loov will step up to the SHL this season (Nilsson does so with Frolunda), and in 2014-15 will come over to North America.
So with that settled, why does Nilsson land at #23?
After goaltenders, the hardest type of player to properly project is the defensive defenceman. If you cannot provide value in one end of the ice, you almost have to be perfect in the other to make up for it. The reason for this is that there are several defenceman coming from other routes, that may be just as good defensively, but with the added feature of providing offence. The pro ranks are full of defence that in the lower ranks were significant threats from the blueline, but adapted and became defensive specialists to advance. Nilsson's offence ran dry this year (4 points versus 10 last year).
EDITION 2 - 31/41
EDITION 1 - T-39/45
Offense is a concern. Will play in Elitserien this year. Still a ways away. ETA - 2015
Nilsson has made a slow progression up the rankings so far, jumping up eitht spots both times. Now, though, the ladder begins to get steeper, and making significant gains becomes a harder task. Nilsson will need to impress with Frolunda to make another big jump in our rankings.