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Djurgarden youngsters could be sleepers in Draft

by Bill Meltzer
The number of prospects selected from European programs in recent Entry Drafts has been on the decline. Sweden is the lone exception among the primary hockey countries in Europe. Both historically and currently, one of the most prolific producers of drafted NHL talent is the development program and Swedish Elite League team of the Djurgarden in Stockholm.

To date, 42 players have been drafted from Djurgarden, which ranks second only to Frolunda among all Swedish teams and fourth among all teams in Europe. In the last six NHL drafts, there have been seven Djurgarden players drafted; most notably rising Nashville Predators star Patric Hornqvist in the seventh round (No. 230) of the 2005 draft. Last year, there were three Djurgarden players chosen: first-round New Jersey Devils draft pick Jacob Josefson (No. 11), third-round New Jersey choice Alexander Urbom at No. 73, and fifth-round Chicago Blackhawks selection Marcus Kruger at No. 149.

This year, there are once again several Djurgarden-affiliated players who are hopeful of having their names called at the Entry Draft. NHL Central Scouting has ranked three Djurgarden players among the top 100 positional prospects in Europe: right wing Patrick Cehlin, right wing Arvid Stromberg and 20-year-old left wing Daniel Brodin. While none are shoo-ins to be chosen over the weekend, all three have sleeper potential in the latter rounds.

Cehlin is ranked 25th among Euro skaters this year after slipping through the cracks of last year's draft. The 18-year-old became a regular starter for Djurgarden over the course of this past season. An NHL team that selects Cehlin will do so based on the hope that he blossoms offensively. In 54 regular season Elite League games in 2009-10, Cehlin potted 5 goals and added 6 assists for 11 points. He also played in 16 playoff games and 9 games for Djurgarden's junior team. A smooth skater and stickhandler, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Cehlin has a quick right-handed release.

"I don't know if I'd put him in the same category as Hornqvist but there are some similarities at the same age," a European scout for a Western Conference team told via e-mail. "Cehlin knows how to get from point A to point B and he has good anticipation. He competes [but] has to get stronger especially without the puck and has to work on his defensive play."

Stromberg is 28 days older than Cehlin and is ranked 64th among European skaters. Unlike, Cehlin, Stromberg is still looking to establish himself as an Elite League player. He dressed for one game this past season and spent the rest of the campaign with the junior team. Stromberg represented Sweden internationally in younger age categories but did not earn a spot on the Under-18 or, to date, the Under-20 team. Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 185 pounds, he is a good two-way player but will likely never post big scoring numbers. He posted 13 goals and 20 points in 35 games for the Under-20 team this past season.

The oldest and physically biggest player of the trio, the 95th-ranked Brodin was impressive for bronze medalist Sweden at the most recent World Junior Championships, tallying 3 goals and 5 points in 6 games. He cracked Djurgarden's Elite League roster this past season, dressing in 30 regular season games and scoring 2 goals with 3 assists. He also played in 16 playoff games. Brodin, who turned 20 on Feb. 9, also played in 17 games for the Under-20 team in 2009-10. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder came to Djurgarden  via the Almtuna junior program in the greater Stockholm district, where the right-handed shooter was a star at the under-18 level.

"Brodin isn't the best skater or puckhandler, but he gets involved," the scout wrote. "He'd have to get much stronger to be a power forward but that's sort of his style. His hockey skills are average but he's got some jam in his game and he will make a second and third effort. He is one of those guys who could be a late bloomer."

In addition to the aforementioned three ranked players, 19-year-old defenseman Lennhammer (a 6-foot-3 defenseman who spent part of last season on loan to Oskarshamn at the minor league senior Allsvenskan level), 20-year-old winger Stefan Soder (a high scorer at the Under-20 SuperElit level) and goaltending prospect Tim Sandberg all stand at least an outside shot at being drafted this year.

Most or all of these young players are likely to remain with Djurgarden for next season. Former New York Islanders draftee, 22-year-old Stefan Ridderwall, is firmly entrenched as the starting goaltender and Sandberg may be loaned to a minor-league club to get some playing time.  A recommitment to youth has been a significant part of Djurgarden's revival as a contender in the Elite League during the last few years.

Djurgarden had to weather some tough times in the mid-2000s. The team ran into financial problems and operated at a significant loss. The club pared down a high-salaried roster, and younger players -- many of them homegrown in the team's junior system -- have played a greatly increased role in recent years.

Historically, Djurgarden is the most decorated hockey team in Sweden. The club was formed in 1891, and the hockey program was launched in 1922: the same year as the Swedish national men's league.  Known to its supporters as 'the Iron Stoves,' its hockey division has won 16 championships – but none since back-to-back crowns in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons.

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