B efore the Nashville Predators drafted Patric Hornqvist with the very last pick of the 2005 NHL draft (that’s 230th overall), the franchise had not drafted a Swedish player since 2001. “With the 240th pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators select Gustav Grasberg… from wherever he’s from.” Grasburg scored a handful of goals in not even the highest Swedish league and didn’t set a skate on North American ice. Yeah, I don’t remember him either. But with what I always felt was the “Hey, he’s still there, I guess we’ll take him” Hornqvist pick in 2005, the Predators began to delve into the Swedish hockey mines.
Personally, when I think of NHL franchises that invest their time in scouting Swedes, the number 1 team that comes to mind is Detroit… and then maybe Ottawa. I’m sure that Nashville is not on the top of most lists. However, since 2005, the Predators have drafted 10 Swedish players (at least 1 every year, 3 last year and 2 in 2011) and, of course, they have acquired several others (most notably Filip Forsberg and Daniel Bang, who both had NHL ice time this season) in other recent transactions.
It took 3 full seasons to get Hornqvist into the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, which had generally been the trend until the Predators essentially recovered their 2012 first round pick (which had been traded to acquire Paul Gaustad) with probably the biggest deal of the 2013 trade deadline: the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade. Forsberg played in 5 games with the Predators just weeks after being acquired and less than a year after being drafted, an entirely new approach to the Predators “road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee” tactic (given that Nashville was desperately fighting for a playoff position). Only David Legwand and Scott Hartnell had started their Predators careers earlier.
However, the Predators could see this happen again soon, for, as we all know , they have a top-5 draft pick for the first time since 1998. The Forsberg experiment was one of the few highlights of Nashville’s less than stellar season, so perhaps the Predators are already clearing a stall for whoever goes at number 4.
I’m fairly certain that the top 3 draft picks are pretty much set in stone. It would surely be some kind of upset (Is that what it’s called?) if Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin or Nathan Mackinnon were ousted from the top three. So, who in the world are the Predators going to draft at number four? Since I am apparently some sort of hockey oracle (I totally called Pontus Aberg at 37 last year and Patrick Cehlin 3 years ago), I’m not saying that the Predators are going to draft Swedish prospect Elias Lindholm at number 4, but the odds are forever in his favor that he will probably still be there. With Nashville’s recent trend of seemingly drafting the best Swedish prospect if he is available (Aberg with their first pick in 2012 and Magnus Hellberg with their first pick in 2011), I think there is reason to keep him on the radar.
As the top Swedish prospect in this year’s draft, most rankings obviously have him in their top 10, most commonly around 7. The highest I have seen him ranked in number 4 in The Hockey News Top 100 prospects. In that publication, he is ranked above both Alexander Barkov (who I know many Predators fans are hoping for) and Valeri Nichushkin. If the Predators are looking for scoring, which surely they are after a disappointing season that resulted in a number 4 draft pick in the first place, I think Nashville would choose Lindholm if it came down to Lindholm or Nichushkin (Russians have not worked out so well for Nashville in the past). Lindholm scored the most points (30) as a junior in the Swedish big boy league with Brynas (you may recognize the name as Mattias Ekholm’s former team) and was one of 4 nominees for Elitserien Rookie of the Year (like Ekholm).
Lindholm is a pretty small forward, but getting guys with size is not always the main priority (ie: Ryan Ellis). Some places have him listed as 5’11″ and others at 6’0” (which for some reason in my mind is a huge difference).
Either way, in this highlight reel (with snazzy music!), I think you can get a pretty good idea and appreciation of his style of play (Lindholm is #19):
The very first thing I notice when watching these highlights is his Patric Hornqvist-like “I’m in the slot and I’m going to stay here until the puck is in the net” mindset. I’m not saying that he’s like Patric Hornqvist, because comparisons are “meh”, and when saying one player is going to be the next so-and-so or the next big thing in general, no one really knows – especially when undoubtedly no one in the Predators organization had the faintest clue that Mr. Irrelevant would become one of the most important aspects to the team. When Forsberg played on Hornqvist’s line while Hornqvist was on injured reserve at the end of this past season, I half-expected him to play the same game – which is my favorite game and a game that works – but he did not. This is the only reason that I pointed this out first. But I truly digress. Other highlights of Lindholm’s play that can be seen from the video are his puck control, SHOOTING(!), faceoffs (which he is apparently good at when he’s playing center, but has been more recently playing on the wing) and battling for the puck. He seems to always know where the puck is, is always trying to get there and is small enough to maneuver through a lot of guys and make that happen. These aren’t just layman’s observations on my part; this seems to be the general consensus about Lindholm’s skills.
While I certainly hope no prospect is disappointed to be drafted anywhere in the draft (except for Nathan Beaulieu, #17 overall in 2011 who complained that he should have been drafted earlier), Lindholm’s dream may be that he be drafted by Detroit like his cousin Calle Jarnkrok or by Los Angeles where his dad played 18 NHL games. Sadly, it’s probably not going to happen for him. With their first top-5 pick in 15 years, if the Predators pass up a Finn, Russian or even a Canadian, no one should be disappointed if they pass over any of those guys to snatch up Elias Lindholm.
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Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua