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Timothy Liljegren aims to get bigger, stronger for next season

Defenseman, 2017 NHL Draft prospect intends to develop another year in Sweden after enduring injury, illness

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

Timothy Liljegren of Rogle entered the season considered by some scouts to be the top defenseman for the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas. 

That opinion could still be held by some, but after a season filled with illness, injuries and team jumping, Liljegren isn't sure what anyone thinks of him.

"It's been hard for [NHL teams] … I had some ups and downs, some real good games and I had some bad ones too," he said. "They want to figure out which one is [the real] Timothy."

Liljegren (5-11, 188), a right-shot defenseman, is No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, and scouts said his style of play is reminiscent of Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

"We like him as a creative offensive defenseman with excellent mobility and skating," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. "He's also an excellent puckhandler. He can change the momentum of a game with an individual effort. He is also very creative and involved in the game. Likes to shoot and has a good selection of shots. Smooth hands, fine passer and playmaker. Not overly physical but he does not shy away from the rough stuff.

"At times he tries to do too much on the ice, playing a too complicated and difficult game. His overall game will improve when he starts to play a more simple, risk-free game."

Liljegren, 18, started the season with four points (one goal, three assists) in five games for Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August. But that was one of his few highlights. 

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He was preparing for the start of the season with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League when things started going off the rails. 

"Played a game against Malmo [in September] and I was real tired," he said. "The day after I couldn't get out of bed. Me and my mom went to the hospital and they did some tests. Turned out I had mono."

Liljegren was out for two months because of mononucleosis, but he said he should have stayed out longer.

"It took about a month for me to get back to where I wanted to be," he said. "I felt like I came back too early. Should have waited another two weeks to prepare myself with practices and stuff, get in shape. It was a mistake by me and the coaches. I started play too early."

Liljegren struggled and in addition to playing for Rogle in the SHL, he spent time with Timra in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division, and with Rogle's teams in Sweden's under-20 and under-18 leagues.

Playing for four teams meant four coaches giving him four different styles of play.

"Obviously [four] different coaches … they want different things from me," he said. "That's a big part of why my season went up and down. I don't really want to blame all the stuff on the mono."

Liljegren said his season started to get on track during a five-game stint with Timra in February. He had one assist but said he got more ice time than he had been getting elsewhere, which helped his confidence. Later that month he had three assists in four games for Sweden at the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden.

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But then a hip injury sidelined him for three weeks and he didn't have the tournament he hoped for with Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April. He had two assists and a minus-5 rating in seven games, but was tied for second on the team with 28 shots on goal. He felt he got better as the tournament went on, and he had an assist in Sweden's 7-3 defeat of Canada in the quarterfinals and one in a 4-3 loss to the United States in the semifinals.

"At the Under-18 I got back into trying to do too much in the [preliminary round], tried to impact every shift, saw myself as a leader and tried to score as much as possible, stuff like that," he said. "Then in [the medal round] I really let go of all those feelings and I felt like myself again. Just focused myself again, trusted my instincts, and that was probably my best games of the tournament."

Liljegren said his focus during the offseason will be to work on getting bigger and stronger, which should allow him to play a full season for Rogle in the SHL and then compete for an NHL spot in 2018. 

"I think the best thing for me is to stay in Sweden," he said. "After this season I think I need one more season in Sweden to develop, to be in a place where I feel comfortable playing."

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