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Draft notebook: Swedish prospects benefit from pro experience

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Rasmus Dahlin may be the top-ranked Swedish defenseman available in the upcoming NHL Draft, but he's hardly alone. On NHL Central Scouting Service's rankings of the top international prospects in this year's draft, five of the top 15 players are defensemen hailing from Sweden. 

Those hopefuls will have the chance to join a star-studded line of NHL defensemen to have come from Sweden in recent years, a group that is headlined by Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman but also includes names like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, John Klingberg and Mattias Ekholm. 

All this begs the question: What is Sweden doing to produce so many top-flight prospects on the backend? Dan Marr, director of NHL CSS, has a theory.

"What happens with these young players is they get to practice and attend training camps and train with the pro teams, with the men's team, but they don't necessarily get the ice time, get the playing minutes," Marr said. "So, they're in a professional mode, yet they're not a pro yet.

"I think that just carries over where you just learn by example. They're put into this routine where they're disciplined, they're committed to they're training, they understand their conditioning levels, and then when it comes to game time they're ready to go."

READ: Kris Baker's Top 31 Prospects | READ: Recapping the NHL Scouting Combine

Like Dahlin, the other Swedish defensemen at the top of this year's class enter the draft with the benefit of having Swedish Hockey League games under their belt. Whereas North American prospects tend to come from the CHL or other junior leagues - where they face opponents in their own age bracket - the SHL pits these prospects against grown men. 

While the jump from Sweden's junior leagues to the SHL presents a physical adjustment, Adam Boqvist and Adam Ginning - who played a combined 53 SHL games last season, including playoffs - agreed that the transition is even more demanding from a mental standpoint.

"It's tough to take the step up from the junior team to the big team because they are smarter out there and skate pretty well," said Boqvist, ranked second among international skaters. "If you make one mistake, they score."

"All the players are a little bit better, a little bit stronger, and the main part is they're a little bit smarter, I think," added Ginning, the fifth-ranked international prospect. 

As for Dahlin, he credits his SHL experience - he began playing in the league as a 16 year old during the 2016-17 season - with preparing him into the NHL next fall. 

"My season went so good," he said. "I learned so many things. I think I'm ready right now to play in the NHL. We'll see what the team that picks me says."

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