Nils Lundkvist, Defence, Luleå HF (SHL), 5 foot 11, 180 pounds
Lundkvist has been talked about as a player who could be a steal if he manages to fall outside the first round of the draft.
Another player who made the jump to the SHL in his draft year, Lundkvist is a defender that packs a punch offensively and is a right-handed shot.
"“Smooth skating, right-shot defender who has looked comfortable and calm in the SHL as a 17-year-old. Can run a power play, jump of the ice to join the attack and offers reliable positioning in the defensive end.” – Cam Robinson, Dobber Prospects"
While Lundkvist had five points in 28 games in the Swedish top-flight this season, it was his plus-two rating and zero penalty minutes that stuck out.
Despite the smaller frame, he is not a defender who has put all his eggs into the offensive basket. He gets bodied off the puck by bigger forwards, but packing on muscle will counter that.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Hockey made a stylistic comparison to Tomas Kaberle. If that’s the case, a second-rounder would be well spent on him, if a team is willing to give him time to grow into his potential.
David Gustafsson, Centre, HV71 (SHL), 6 foot 1, 185 pounds
Gustafsson is emerging as one of the gems of this draft. You know someone has to be a special prospect to crack the roster of the reigning SHL Champions as a 17-year-old.
While Gustafsson only managed 12 points across the entire campaign with HV71, the 45 games he appeared in were pivotal to his growth.
"“Gustafsson was a role player for HV71’s top team, but watching him play against peers reveals a dominant puck hound that is a threat in open ice. He uses his quick feet and active stick to strip pucks from defenders behind the net, but it’s his ability to spot cutters and weak-side teammates that puts him in a select group of draft-eligible centers.” – Steve Kournianos, Sporting News/ The Draft Analyst"
Unlike some of the other forwards in this age group, Gustafsson already plays well in his own end. Add that to his prowess in the offensive end and he can be looked at as a reliable option in the NHL down the road.
Gustafsson has top-nine potential at the moment. With more time, his ceiling could be higher. He can spend another couple of years in the SHL and become a bigger contributor to his team’s success.
Filip Hållander, Centre, Timrå IK (Allsvenskan), 6 foot 1, 185 pounds
Are you seeing a theme here? The Leafs love them some Swedes and they need a centre. Luckily for them, Hållander is another special talent who can play down the middle or slide out onto the wing.
"“Hallander has a good arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both powerful and accurate. His release is above average, but could use a bit more work. Hallander can score from the slot, or from the tops of the circles. He is also strong on the backhand, with the ability to elevate the puck in tight to the net. His soft hands are good at deflections and at pouncing on rebounds. Hallander does not use his slap shot very often. It could use some work, and he is more effective at fooling goaltenders with the shorter wind-up. Hallander has good stickhandling and puck control but plays a simple game. He keeps the puck moving with quick, accurate passes to the open man. He is not the type to dangle defenders or make a creative saucer pass but reads the game well and keeps the puck moving. A hallmark of Hallander’s game is the fact that he always keeps his feet moving. He is strong on the forecheck and pressures opponents into mistakes, which he can then take advantage of offensively.” – Ben Kerr, Last Word on Hockey"
Hållander would likely have been looking to make the jump from the second-tier of Swedish hockey to the SHL for the upcoming season. Lucky for him, Timrå earned promoted to the top flight after fighting their way through Kvalserien this year.
Like many of the other European prospects here, Hållander will likely bide his time learning how to better himself in his homeland.
Some see the Swede as more of a top-nine option rather than a top line option. He is a player who can hold his own in the defensive end and chip in points to boot. A season in the SHL will definitely give everyone a better idea of what Hållander will be in the NHL.
Jay O’Brien, Centre, Thayer Academy (USHS-Prep), 6 foot, 183 pounds
Alternate routes to the NHL have become more and more popular as the years have gone on. O’Brien didn’t go the USHL or junior route, however. Instead, he elected to play nearly his entire season in the high-school ranks.
The closest comparable to his draft route was 2017 eighth-overall pick Casey Mittelstadt, who played the majority of his season with Green Bay of the USHL before returning to high-school, where he tore up the Minnesota ranks.
While he isn’t as dynamic a talent as Mittelstadt, O’Brien lit prep school hockey on fire with Thayer Academy.
Averaging 2.67 points per game, O’Brien’s 80 points in 30 games was tops in the league. He also had 21 more points than the second-highest scorer on his team.
"“As the game (The All-American Prospects Game) went on, O’Brien got more impressive. Even though he has mostly played in the New England prep ranks, he did not look intimidated by the more experienced competition. Speedy and highly skilled, the Providence College commit went top-shelf for a goal and looked good on faceoffs.” – Ryan Kennedy/The Hockey News"
As a player heading to college next season, O’Brien could be looked at as a bit of a project. If a team is patient with him, they could find a great player coming out of the NCAA ranks in a couple of seasons.
So here we are; the draft is finally upon us. Who do you predict the Toronto Maple Leafs will take in the first round, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.