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SMOOTH-SKATING BLUELINER

Swedish defenceman Simon Edvinsson draws comparisons to Hedman, Lidstrom

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com
Photo courtesy of Frolunda HC

 

One by one, he listed the names.

Hedman, Heiskanen, Hughes and Makar - each, an example of the greatness he craves.

He's watched them. Studied them. Carefully refined his own talents by imparting a small
piece of what each of them does best.

But, for the 6-foot-4, 198-lb. Simon Edvinsson, there's no better player to learn from than one of the best, ever, to play the position.

"The one I really look up to is Nicklas Lidstrom," said the NHL draft prospect and fellow Swede, who was nine years old when the Hall-of-Fame D-man took his last twirl. "He's a legend here in Sweden and I think everyone knows who he is.

"He's a player that makes it look easy … and I think that's what every defender wants to achieve. You want to be there for the team, to make it look (effortless), to be strong, aggressive and win those one-on-one battles.

"That's what I like about him.

"When he played, he was a leader - and that's the goal."

Lofty.

But entirely within reach.

You see, Edvinsson is one of the most unique players in the draft. He's a phenomenal skater that carries the puck with ease and moves efficiently through traffic. But there's more to it than that. His stride is so … graceful. There's a fluidity to it that few others - past or present - can relate to, while offering the same physical presence and top-end torque needed to be an impact player at the NHL level.

We all know comparisons are part of the business. They make headlines, build hype and offer a glimpse into what 'could be' at some point in a player's future.

Drawing some connection to the past is one way to achieve that, though the results may vary.

But when the assessment includes one of the all-time greats - a perennial Norris Trophy-winner that took four separate swigs from Lord Stanley?

Or how about a present-day man-beast like Victor Hedman, who's coming off a second straight Cup win of his own?

There's probably something to it.

"I think this is a player who could be the next world star coming out of Sweden," the NHL's Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb, told NHL.com. "He's really, really good. He has the size and the speed and the hockey sense. He's a leader, and I think he was probably the best 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospect at the Under-18 World Championship."

Edvinsson spent the 2020-21 season with three different clubs - the Frolunda J20 squad, their SHL parent, and Vasteras IK of HockeyAllsvenskan. Combined, he put up one goal and 11 points in 28 outings with the lower-level teams, and recorded one assist in 10 tilts in Sweden's top tier.

It was, however, his appearance at the U18s that garnered the most praise. He covered a ton of real estate in all three zones and was an absolute menace on the breakout, exploiting cracks in the forecheck and making things happen offensively.

His lateral mobility, reach and puck control skills were on full display, single-handedly calming the pace and forcing oncoming players to the outside.

Even after all that, Edvinsson thinks he could have been better.

That's just how he's wired.

"I feel like, especially for me, there was a difference in coming from the men's (league) to come and play on the smaller rink," he said. "It took a little bit to get used to.

"But when we started to play like (we did) in the playoffs, we really found each other and used the rink to our system."

Edvinsson finished the tournament with four points (1G, 3A), along with eight penalty minutes, in seven games.

The Onsala native (about a half-hour drive from Gothenburg) is a bit of a wild-card for the draft. Some pundits have him going easily in the top five, while others have him around the 8-15 range. As the No. 2-ranked International Skater by NHL Central Scouting, a slip that far would be surprising, but not impossible.

What is clear is the kind of raw talent this player possesses. He acknowledges he needs to improve his shot to become more of a threat offensively, but items like that will come with some additional seasoning.  

What can't be taught is the natural gift he already has. In a league that is only getting faster, the ability to skate and move the puck like he does is one of the most highly coveted assets.

"I understand the hype about him," Vasteras general manager Patrik Zetterberg told The Athletic earlier this month. "He's really good. He's a big guy and still he has to get some muscle on that body, but he's so smooth with his hands and he moves like a quick, smaller player. He handles the puck incredibly well and sees the ice really well.

"His hockey sense is very high, and he's so young. When he starts to realize what it all means and how to handle all of that talent, watch out."

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