The New Jersey Devils, generally a conservative bunch, were uncharacteristically thrilled to nab Mattias Tedenby with the No. 24 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft.
"We were extremely happy," Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello told The Bergen Record. "The player we got in the first round, from where we were picking, we felt very good. I haven't seen our scouts that excited. I know he's small, but I've seen the films."
The Devils traded down twice, going from No. 21 to No. 23 in a deal with Washington that netted them an extra second-round pick, and from No. 23 to No. 24 in a trade with Minnesota that garnered them a 2009 third-round selection.
With some teams tentative to select European players due to the lack of a formal transfer agreement between the NHL and the IIHF, which governs the European hockey leagues, Tedenby remained available for the Devils.
Lamoriello also realizes a player won't get faster as his game matures, but his defense can improve with teaching – something the Devils are famous for, particularly with Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson working on special assignments and former Devil defenseman and fellow Swede Tommy Albelin working as an assistant coach.
Even exceptional players struggle with consistency, but Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, recognizes this is not a problem for Tedenby.
"Mattias is excellent on every shift," Stubb said. "He has outstanding speed, stick work and work ethic. He is small, but fearless, he takes hits and always comes back. He looks like a young Saku Koivu. He creates scoring chances with his outstanding skating and is very difficult to stop when he is at full speed. He has excellent balance and quick, smooth hands, but needs to improve on his defensive awareness."
"This is a sheer talent. Speed is something you can't teach. He's an exceptional player.”
-- Lou Lamoriello
Tedenby, 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, has been compared to smaller NHL players like Koivu, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and former Canadien and fellow Swede Mats Naslund. New Jersey's scouts made the Naslund comparison, which caught Lamoriello's attention.
"When you hear that, that makes your eyes open," Lamoriello said.
Like Naslund, Tedenby played in the Swedish Elite League prior to being drafted. Tedenby played for HV 71 last season, where he had 3 goals and 3 assists in 23 games.
Tedenby also played for Sweden in the past two Under-18 World Championships and his improvement was visible. The 2007 tournament saw Tedenby score 2 goals and add 1 assist in 6 games as the Swedes defeated Canada to capture the bronze medal.
The 2008 tournament saw the Swedes fall to the United States, 6-3, in the bronze-medal game, but Tedenby was tied for the team lead with 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 games.
"I'm an offensive player who likes playing offensive hockey, 50-50 goal-scorer playmaker," Tedenby said.
The Devils could use an infusion of offense because they are a traditionally a low-scoring team – they ranked No. 27 in the League with just 198 goals scored last season.
Tedenby made one trip to North America after the draft, joining Sweden's Under-20 team, which played exhibition games at a Team USA camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., before returning home for the Swedish hockey season. When he comes across full time, though, remains a question.
The Devils are known for slowly developing prospects and probably don't mind Tedenby will be playing in the best league in Sweden. Once Tedenby does decide to come to New Jersey, he could be playing alongside countryman Nicklas Bergfors, the club's top prospect.