Monday, April 9, 2012

Draft-Eligible Swedes Pt. 1 - Pontus Åberg

I've been posted in Sweden for about three months now while going to school, and as a result have had a chance to see some of the better prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft play in person. It's difficult to find consistent online video or comprehensive highlights of any of the players over here, so it's nice to get a chance to watch them for a whole game.

This past weekend I had a chance to catch winger Pontus Åberg of Djurgårdens IF face off against Rögle in the last game of the 2012 Kvalserien, which pits the tier-two Allsvenskan's three regular-season leaders and playoff champion against the two teams that finished at the bottom of the top-tier Elitserien. It's round-robin format with two games vs. each opponent. Six teams enter, two teams leave.

One of the better collections of young talent in Sweden, Rögle defied the odds to become the first Allsvenskan team to not only survive the league's playoffs but also secure promotion. Guess who they'll be replacing next year? With everything settled before the puck drop, the game lacked intensity, but the celebrating crowd provided an unbelievable atmosphere.

This is part one of a three-part series.

Left Wing, Djurgårdens IF, Elitserien

SEASON STATS: 47GP – 8G – 7A – 15P – 6 PIM
STATS ON THE NIGHT: 0G - 0A - 0P - +/- EVEN - 5 SOG - 0 PIM

Djurgårdens IF @ Rögle BK (Lindab Arena, Ängelholm, Sweden)
6/4/2012 (16:00)
BY PERIOD: 0-1, 0-0, 1-1

Åberg is a sparkplug, but on this day he was inconsistent in some aspects of his game. Good on his edges and showed quick acceleration in a few bursts and an ability to get off a hard shot at top speed. Backwards skating is quick and forceful, if not a bit choppy. On many shifts he barely moved his feet at all except to forecheck and backcheck.

Most noticeable aspect of his game was his forechecking ability. Was consistently the first man in on the check and did a good job of angling the play wide or pinning his opponents in their own zone. Backchecks hard and reads cross-ice passes well. Always forechecked and always backchecked to the center-ice line at the very least (as a winger it’s particularly notable). D-zone coverage was good when he put the effort in; head on a swivel and active stick. Unfortunately, except for three shifts in this game, he was lax in his zone. Rarely dropped below the top of the circles. Seemed to be waiting for offense to start.

Stagnant on breakouts, making it difficult for defensemen to move the puck up ice to him or otherwise. Struggled to create space for himself. Bobbled breakout passes on numerous occasions and was visibly frustrated. Tried to start the breakout himself and showed good wind-up speed but overskated the puck, leading to a costly turnover. His breakout passes were generally not leading, forcing attacks to restart. On one occasion he made a great play to chip the puck past a defenseman to spring a 2-on-1, but overall he was overly ambitious and risky.

Fashions himself as a finisher in the offensive zone. Sets up at the top of the circle for quick shots off the draw. His center, Mika Zibanejad, was consistently looking to him as a triggerman. Tended to gravitate to the high slot even when the puck was down low, sometimes taking himself out of the play. Has hard slap- and snapshots with a quick release. Accuracy was off on this particular night as all his shots hit the crest. Managed to put five shots on net, three of which were legitimate chances.

Had chances to go to the net and provide traffic but shied off. Supported tentatively while the puck was on the boards and rarely got involved in board play. Playmaking ability was lacking. Liked to drive wide on defensemen but more often than not either threw the puck up the middle or held on too long and got rubbed off. When challenged by forecheckers or defensemen standing up, tended to hesitate and riskily throw the puck cross-ice. Had a hard time giving tape-to-tape passes and an even harder time corralling pucks.

Plays with some grit to his game. Was looking to play the body in all three zones and made good contact on numerous occasions without putting his team at a disadvantage. Didn’t mind getting mixed up in back and forth physicality, and in one case dished out a pretty nasty chop, but played whistle to whistle and never got involved during stoppages.

Difficult to differentiate between bad habits and general demotivation. His team knew they were getting relegated before the game so it had to have been difficult to get involved in the play with any kind of gusto. Whatever the case, based on this one performance alone he projects as a two-way second/third line winger that can play in all situations and forechecks hard. Compares well to Phoenix’s Lauri Korpikoski.

(7.5) Acceleration - First few strides, ability to pull away from or catch other players.
(8) Speed - When in motion at full stride.
(7) Balance - Is he strong on his skates?
(8) Mobility - Agility, footwork, pivots, stops and starts.
(7) Backward Skating - Overall backward skating ability.

Puck skills
(7) Shot accuracy - Does he hit the net, force the goalie to make a save?
(8) Shot strength - Does he have a heavy shot?
(8) Shot release - Ability to shoot without getting set, off of the stickhandle.
(7) Possess multiple shot types - Quality of wrist, slap, snap and backhand.
(6.5) Stickhandling ability - Can he handle the puck at top speed? Controls the puck in tight
quarters, corners, along the boards.
(6) Puck protection - Ability to adjust body position & balance to keep or acquire the puck.
(NA) Faceoffs - Gets his team puck possession off the draw, used in all zones and all
(6) Giving a Pass - Delivers puck for easy handling, leads his man.
(5) Receiving a Pass - Gets puck under control quickly, can receive puck backhand, forehand,
off skates.
(7) Scoring touch - Can he score several ways? Smart around the net, has a nose for the net.
(Involved in chances but no goals on the night)

(5) Scoring drive - Willing to battle, go to the net, pay the price to score.
(5) Work ethic - Overall effort, works and competes every shift regardless of score & venue.
(4) Attitude - Level of maturity; well developed or 'has a ways to go.'
(2) Consistency - How consistent has his play been over the course of the season or in a game?
(8.5) Forechecking - Puck pursuit, fights through checks.

Physical Play
(5) Board & Corner play - Battles for loose pucks, willing to pay the price.
(7) Physical presence - Size and strength are used as an asset; tough to play against;
punishes opponents every chance.
(6) Conditioning - Overall physical conditioning, build, strength, stamina and durability,
seldom misses games.
(8) Hitting - Takes the body, effectively separates opposition from the puck, willing to take
a hit to make a play.
(NA) Fighting - Willing to fight and is capable.

Hockey Sense
(6.5) Playmaking - Vision, offensive imagination, sets teammates up for scoring chances.
(7) Anticipation - Reads and reacts to the play, gets himself in position before the play
develops, sees opening for transition play.
(4) Discipline - Avoids bad penalties, accepts a bad call, not drawn in to retaliation.
(6) Decision Making - Ability to sort out options and make the right choices.
(5) Play under pressure - Ability to make the right decisions above when forechecked or in a key situation.
(3) Versatility - Ability to play various positions, roles, special teams. (Did not play PP or PK)

Defensive Play
(5) Defensive Anticipation - Reads the play, gap control.
(6) Positioning - Angles opponents, active away from the puck.
(8) Backchecking - Picks up man, returns hard to the defensive zone.
(3) Defensive Reliability - Is he used in critical situations?

Psychological Factors
(3) Leadership - Takes charge, displays on-ice leadership.
(N/A) Communication - Witnessed in-game examples of constructive discussions w/ teammates and coaches.
(5) Confidence - Displays a noticeable 'air of confidence' in his on-ice activities.

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