At the end of last season, defenceman Timothy Liljegren was in the conversation for a top three selection. Unfortunately, he contracted mononucleosis in the summer, missed a few months to start the season and was never able to get back to that same level of hype for this year. That time missed meant that he was always playing catch up. It took him a while to get back up to speed in terms of strength, conditioning and play.
Since he was behind his peers in all of those physical categories, he has slowly lost his grip on a consensus top 5 pick. However, it's important to look past the ailment and see what kind of player Liljegren really is.
The young Swede's game is exactly what you are looking for in a puck moving defencemen. He isn't afraid to carry the puck out of the zone or move it tape to tape to his teammates. He is an excellent skate who is very agile and fleet of foot. He is able to take a couple of strides and get up to speed quickly. With his smooth hands he is able to carry the puck out of danger and into transition.
There have been some suggestions or concerns that he puts himself into trouble by skating too much with the puck. Some even suggesting that's due to a lack of hockey sense. That can be a valid suggestion as they are quite apparent when they do happen but those mistakes are few and far between. They are usually created because Liljegren has created so much space and his teammates haven't caught up or have gone for a line change, and he's left on his own to run out of space.
He has a booming and accurate slap-shot that he leans into. If he is given the space and time to one time it, he is able to get it through traffic and blast it past the goaltender.
In the defensive zone, Liljegren uses his active feet and stick to close gaps and puts pressure opponents with the puck. He has been playing against men for the better part of two years, and his defensive play shows it.
Video: Timothy Liljegren - Prospect Profile
Since Liljegren started the season ill and was playing catch up, he ended up hoping between a few teams in Sweden throughout the year to ensure that he got maximum playing time. That included some games with the Under 20 and Under 18 teams for Rogle BK and also being loaned to Timra IK in the second division Allsvenskan league before getting back to the SHL. In 19 SHL games with Rogle BK, he scored one goal and four assists, which matched his production from 2015-16.
That may seem like low production but simply being in the SHL for any games as a 17-year-old or 18-year-old is an indicator of his talent level.
Liljegren represented Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament prior to getting ill where he was impressive and finished with one goal and three assists in 5 games. The Kristianstad native also represented the Tre Kroner at the Under 18 World Championships in April and had an impressive showing despite others getting the acclaim.
Finnish defenceman Miro Heiskanen and Liljegren's partner on Sweden, Erik Brannstrom stole the headlines with their performances, but Liljegren was just about as good as them. Although Liljegren only finished with 2 assists in 7 games, he was generating shots at an astounding rate:
Heiskanen took all the headlines as he ended the tournament with 12 points, while Brannstrom exceeded expectations with his performance and thus received some well deserved positive reviews. But if Liljegren had been able to score a goal or two, or get another couple of assists, he would've likely reaped the same compliments.
Liljegren was regarded as the best defensive prospect in this draft for years and due to things that were out of his control, he unfortunately fell a bit in rankings. Scouts were left wanting more simply because they expected more from him. That can create a false read on a player, while another player who exceeds expectations gets vaulted up despite lower talent levels.
There is no way to predict where Liljegren will get selected anymore. He could be the first defenceman selected, or he could tumble a bit down the draft board. If the Canucks are looking for that powerplay quarterback who can move the puck and create speed with his transition game, then Liljegren may be the best bet. Letting a couple of months of recovering from illness can't cloud what kind of player he is. Which is a very good one.