I remember the first time I watched a Timothy Liljegren highlight reel. The Leafs were weeks away from drafting Auston Matthews, and his addition practically eliminated the chance of winning a lottery pick the following season. The days of drafting in the top five appeared to be over, and I figured that Liljegren would end up on a team like the Sabres, Canucks, or Devils.
I watched that highlight reel far too many times, as he was a sight to behold. He zoomed up and down the ice, and he could regularly beat goalies with a hard wrist-shot that you don’t typically see from defencemen. I thought he had a real chance of challenging Nolan Patrick as the top player selected in a weak draft, but he did not quite live up to the enormous hype that year.
Some will tell you that Liljegren would have gone second overall if he had not got mono. That’s a myth. Mono may have helped him to fall a few extra spots, but let’s not pretend like he would go second overall in a re-draft right now. Nevertheless, he ended up fluctuating in the 6-10 range on my draft board, and I was ecstatic to land him at #17. After a solid rookie season with the Calder Cup winning Toronto Marlies, and a respectable performance at the World Juniors, Liljegren comes in at #7 on this year’s Top 25 Under 25.
All ten voters placed Liljegren within their top nine, and two voters even placed him in their top five. He’s the top-ranked player on this list who has yet to play a NHL game, and could develop into a needed right-shooting defenceman who can play in the top four.
Timothy Liljegren via Elite Prospects
Liljegren is a mobile skater who will have no problem keeping up at the NHL level. He keeps an incredibly tight gap in the GIF below, and it takes a highlight-reel pass to beat him:
It looks like Liljegren is going to get beat out-wide in the GIF below, but he shows off his lateral quickness by cutting the forward off and preventing a clean entry:
His above-average skating not only helps his defensive game, but also gives him the ability to skate the puck out of trouble. I’d like to see more of this next season, but he provides us with a glimpse of what he’s capable of as a puck rusher here:
Liljegren bolts over to the left-side of the ice to cover for his partner in the GIF below. He prevents yet another clean entry towards the end of the clip:
If you’re a fan of Liljegren GIFs, check out this thread. I’ve also wrote about him previously:
- 2017 Top 25 Under 25: #7 Timothy Liljegren
- Scouting Jeremy Bracco, Timothy Liljegren, and the Toronto Marlies
- Looking back on Timothy Liljegren’s performance at the World Juniors
Liljegren is the only player in the top 10 of this ranking who does not have a game of NHL experience under his belt, and he’s less of a sure thing as a result. However, his mobility and neutral zone defence provides him with a good chance of being a NHL player in at least some capacity, and he certainly plays a premium position. He did not look out of place in the AHL as a teenager, and he’s usually one of the better players on the ice when he plays for Sweden in International tournaments.
When ranking players I often ask myself “if I had to move one, which one of these two players would I rather trade?”, and in this case, I would rather give up Andreas Johnsson than Timothy Liljegren. As every Leafs fan knows by now, it’s incredibly difficult to acquire a top-four right-shooting defenceman unless you draft and develop them. Liljegren certainly has the edge in terms of upside, and as I stated above, I think a right-shooting defender who can skate like him can at least make the NHL in some capacity.
Optimistic Leafs fans may tell you otherwise, but he does not look NHL ready at this point. He played on the third pairing behind Justin Holl and Vincent LoVerde during the Calder Cup playoffs, and while he was certainly impressive for a player of his age, he’s not yet one of the league’s best players. With another offseason to workout and get stronger, plus one year of experience on the smaller ice surface, I expect him to take another step forward next season and establish himself as a more impactful player at the AHL level.
He reminds me of many NBA rookies who boast the size, speed, and athleticism to be successful, but just need a year to get stronger and fully develop their offensive game. I expect him to be a little bit more confident and aggressive to start the year, and use his hard wrist-shot to develop into a solid scoring threat from the back-end. The Marlies power play struggled for much of the year, and while this is not necessarily his fault, I expect that the duo of Liljegren and Bracco could quarterback an effective top unit next season.
I can’t wait to watch him at the World Juniors. He formed a strong top pairing with Erik Brannstrom at the 2017 Hlinka tournament, and the duo could reunite since Rasmus Dahlin will be heading to the NHL. His ability to use his mobility to deny clean zone entries, find players with long stretch passes, and unload hard wrist-shots should help the hype train to take off following this event.
The Leafs will be heading into a cap crunch ahead of the 2019-2020 season, and the team would certainly love for Liljegren to step up and take a NHL job to start that season. His contract situation and handedness makes him incredibly valuable to the organization, and while he certainly has a chance to be a top pairing defender if everything breaks perfectly, the Leafs would certainly take a solid second-pairing option.
Let’s hope that Liljegren takes another big step forward next year, and with a little bit of patience, Leafs fans can look forward to seeing this smooth-skating defender on Toronto’s right-side someday. He proved that he did not look out of place in a AHL lineup last year, and now it’s time to prove that he can excel.