There’s a move that Viktor Lööv uses frequently. It utilizes his size and speed, and looks a lot like a hawk swooping down to pick off an unsuspecting pigeon. Narrowed in on the location of the puck, Lööv has an insane sense of timing for exactly when to strike.
God forbid that a forward puts his head down or turns his attention away from his surroundings for a mere second, because he will end up ass-over-helmet on the ice.
When Lööv's hits are legal, they are the trademark of his style of play. Drafted by the Leafs in 2012 as the 209th overall pick, this past season was Loov’s first playing in North America. Is Lööv like his countryman, Niklas Kronwall? At a reported 6’3 and 200 lbs, his size, strength, and speed of hits are similar.
But sometimes, maybe, he’s more like Radko Gudas. Lööv's merciless "Lööv taps" run just this side of legal, until they don’t. This was his biggest issue during the 2014-2015 season, riding that fine line between "hard to play against" and "hard to keep on the ice."
This was exhibited last season in game two of the Calder Cup playoff series against the Griffins, when Grand Rapids F Zach Nastasiuk carried the puck over the blue line, only to be taken unaware by a swooping Lööv from the skater's right.
Hit in the head by Lööv's shoulder and elbow, Nastasiuk went down face-first and did not return to the game. The hit was ruled an illegal check to the head, and Lööv's five-minute major turned into an ejection and two-game suspension.
Is this lack of fine-tuning a result of getting to know the North American game, or a result of needing to learn to temper his own strength? Sure. The game is different, here, and Lööv admits to making some changes to adapt. Lööv said as much to the National Post: "It’s not the same. Not at all. There’s just a few guys hitting back home and it’s not that much open-ice hits either. I think it’s more slashing over here as well, so I have to get used to that too."
As for other adjustments to his game, he knows what he has to work on, telling a reporter: "In Sweden, it was more like I was skating slalom. I think I skate more straight now. I’m trying to get into more shooting areas. [The coaches] like it, but of course if I turn the puck over they’re not happy. So I have to choose my times when I do it."
He does not consider himself a "points guy." About point production, he said to the Toronto Sun, "Sure, I can chip in with some points. But my game is just be aggressive, play hard, be hard to play against."
Playing "his game" is to play as a defensive defenceman. Third in the Marlies blueline in points, penalty minutes, and shots on goal (and second in +/-), Lööv's 2014-2015 season showed an excellent adaptation to North American hockey, exactly on pace with expectations for a developing Swedish D.
It is worth noting that in last season’s 44 PIM, exactly zero were from fights. This is not for lack of the Marlies’ opponents trying, but it’s just not Lööv's style. Although he developed a gritty style early due to playing with older children in a league in Sodertalje, he told the National Post that he’s never been in a fight. Will he? Well. He doesn’t rule it out.
Clark interviewed Marlies reporter Kyle Cicerella about his opinion of Lööv.
Q: How was Lööv's transition to North America?
It was a good transition considering the mistakes he was making in the beginning of the year were going away as the season went on. He said his goal was to use the season as a "learning" year and he showed that he was picking up on the style, not just in NA but with the Marlies.
The biggest issue he had when he came over was his reaction time and decisions with the puck in his own zone. He mentioned that in the AHL he doesn't have the same amount of time with the puck to make a decision and that the pressure came at higher speeds, causing him to turn it over if he couldn't use his skating to bring it out. His outlet passing improved as the season progressed but there were times where it was often just flip it off the glass and out.
He plays an aggressive style and was used more as a penalty killer when it came to special teams.
He will try and lay out the opponent if it's open. In the playoffs he threw a hit that got him a two-game suspension, but he isn't dirty. Wasn't the first big hit of the season, just the first one to go over the line.
He has decent size and skating is one of his advantages
Q: Lööv's never been a big scorer in Sweden, but had a career high 21 points with the Marlies. Is he a late bloomer on the offensive side or should we expect more of a defensive defencemen role from him?
He came from Sweden with the defensive defenceman label, and it's easy to see why. But his shot is decent, his skating allows him to jump up into the play if he feels it and he was putting more time into rounding out his offensive skill set through his rookie season than anything else.
I wouldn't call him a late bloomer because I'm unfamiliar with what his opportunity was like back in Sweden. I do expect him to at least match his offensive output though. He didn't see much power-play time last year and likely won't next season either.
Q: Where does Lööv fit on a crowded Marlies blueline next year, or will he push for a spot on the Maple Leafs?
I expect him to start with the Marlies. His role is hard to judge with a new coaching staff taking over and how Sheldon Keefe plans to use his defencemen. I think he'll be in a top-four and penalty-killer role, but with the D core being so tight in age there could be a lot of balance in playing time. If pairings and sides are important, he'll most likely be battling it out with Stuart Percy and Scott Harrington on the left.
As we've seen all week in the voting, there wasn't much in the way of consistency. Lööv registered a single top 10-vote but was also left entirely off two other ballots, and most of the other voters had him in the general range of 16-20.
Lööv's total votes represent the last player to be in this category of splitting the opinions of our voters, a common dilemma when looking at players with potential to play a role at the NHL level, but who still have some flaws.
The gap in results between 15th and 16th was significant, one of the largest gaps between two places in the entire countdown. As we enter the top 15 next week, we enter a new group of players that all of our voters agreed were among the most important in the Maple leafs system.