Even before the start of the 2012 playoffs in Sweden's Elitserien, Brynas IF Gavle left winger Jakob Silfverberg was considered a top-notch prospect for the NHL's Ottawa Senators. Despite missing six regular season games, the 21-year-old forward led his team and ranked second in the league in scoring with 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists). He was the consensus league MVP in the regular season, winning the Golden Helmet award.
Now, Silfverberg may be hockey's hottest name outside of North America. He has dominated the Swedish playoffs to a degree that has not been seen in a player his age in many years. One would have to go back to a 19-year-old Daniel Sedin's playoff for Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik in the 2000 playoffs (8 goals, 14 points in 13 games) to find a youngster who has dominated the Elitserien postseason to the same degree that Silfverberg has this spring.
To date, Silfverberg leads all playoff scorers with 13 points (7 goals and 6 assists) through his first 11 games. Along with fellow highly-touted teammate Calle Jarnkrok (4 goals, 6 assists), Silfverberg was a game-breaker in fourth-seeded Brynas' quarterfinal victory in six games over fifth-ranked Frolunda HC Gothenburg, followed by a five-game semifinal ousting of defending champions Farjestads BK.
In the Frolunda series, Silfverberg racked up 9 points in the six games. Many of the points were clutch as well. Held quiet for most of the opening game, Silfverberg broke through late in regulation for an empty-net goal that sealed Brynas' 3-1 victory. The goal extended to 12 games a personal point streak dating back to the end of the regular season.
Held pointless in a 2-1 loss in the second game, Silfverberg took over the remainder of the series. Game 3 was the turning point of the series, and Silfverberg scored a pair of brilliant goals in regulation, followed by earning the primary assist on a Ryan Gunderson power-play goal in sudden-death overtime to win the game, 4-3. Brynas romped to a 5-0 victory in the next game to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, and Silfverberg repeatedly turned Frolunda's vaunted defense and goaltending inside out as he racked up another 3-point (1 goal, 2 assist) performance.
Frolunda squeaked out a 2-1 win in the fifth game to prolong the series, holding Silfverberg off the board despite several fine scoring chances. But there was no denying Silfverberg or Brynas in the next game, as he scored his fourth and fifth goals of the series. The latter goal was scored at the 4:23 mark of overtime to end the series in a flash and send the crowd of 10,515 stomping, chanting and singing Frolunda partisans at Gothenburg's Scandinavium home disappointed.
"It's nice to put in a few," Silfverberg told TV4 Sport. "The puck has just been finding me, and the bounces have been going my way."
Silfverberg's scoring pace slowed only slightly in the second round series with Farjestad. He was blanked in Brynas' 3-2 loss in double overtime in the first game of the series but rebounded to record at least one point in each of the next four games. He scored 2 goals (a pair of empty netters) and added 2 assists, The winger's most important point of the series came in the clinching fifth game in Gavle. Farjestad scored back-to-back goals in the final minute of the opening period and the first minute of the second stanza to grab a 2-1 lead. A mere 30 seconds after Jonas Brodin gave FBK the advantage, Silfverberg set up Sebastian Wannstrom to tie the game. Six minutes later, Detroit Red Wings prospect Jarnkrok put Brynas ahead to stay, and the team went on to prevail, 4-3.
ACROSS THE POND
AIK knocks off Elitserien top seedBill Meltzer - NHL.com Correspondent
For the second year in a row, the Elitserien club defeated the opponent that hand-picked it to challenge in the first round of the playoffs. READ MORE ›
The series win marked the first time in the last 35 years that Brynas has beaten Farjestad in a playoff series. Back in 1977, BIF downed FBK in the finals. After that, they met six times with FBK prevailing each time (most recently in last season's quarterfinals en route to Farjestad's fourth championship in the last decade). Although Brynas has 12 Swedish championships to its credit, the club has not returned to the finals since celebrating its 1998-99 championship campaign.
Brynas will now await the winner of the semifinal series between Skelleftea AIK and AIK Stockholm. SAIK holds a lead of 3 games to 2 after an 8-2 blowout win in Tuesday's game in Skelleftea. Brynas, which has 16 championships to its credit but none since 1998-99, is returning to the finals for the first time since their last championship celebration.
While Silfverberg downplayed his wave of success, his teammates and coaches need little prompting to sing the praises of the club's young star.
"Jacke is very easy to play with, because he's always in the right spot," Jarnkrok told TV4, referring to Silfverberg by his nickname. "He has a great shot and he's one of our team leaders."
Silfverberg is already under entry-level contract to the Senators. Originally drafted in the second round (No. 39) of the 2009 NHL Draft, he elected to spend an extra season this year with Brynas on loan from the Senators, continuing to hone his all-around game and adding some muscle.
Now most scouts believe that he's NHL-ready, and that the extra season of development has increased his chances of becoming an impact player.
"It was 99 percent his own decision to stay," his father, former Brynas player Jan-Erik Silfverberg told Elitserien's official website.
While some Swedish players elect to make a quick jump to the NHL and have succeeded dramatically, there are also many notable examples of prospects that ultimately benefited from spending an extra season or two at home. This includes players such Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson (who was 22 when he came over from Frolunda), Peter Forsberg (who turned down NHL offers in two successive years before leaving Modo for the Quebec Nordiques at age 21), Nicklas Lidstrom (age 21 when he joined Detroit from Vasteras) and Mikael Renberg (who turned down a chance to join the Philadelphia Flyers one year in advance of scoring a team-record 38 goals as a 21-year-old rookie).
It is far too early to predict whether Silfverberg's NHL career will carry him anywhere near the heights that the aforementioned players reached. But if he is able to translate his dramatic success with Brynas to the NHL level, he will have been more than worth the wait.