There are a lot of question marks about the 2021 NHL Draft, but one thing is certain: it’s front-loaded with talented defencemen.
Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes and Simon Edvinsson are all expected to go in the top 10, if not earlier. Sportsnet colleague Sam Cosentino’s most recent mock draft has the quartet all being selected in the top seven.
Beyond Power — who seemingly has a firm grip on the consensus No. 1 title — it’s up for debate how the other three stack up. But Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, says he could easily see the rangy and skilled Edvinsson being next among the group to have his name called on July 23.
“Well, he certainly belongs in the conversation of being top five, top 10 in this draft class,” says Marr of Edvinsson, who is second among European skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings, behind forward William Eklund.
“Right now, you can concede the No. 1 spot to Owen Power, but there's five or six names that could go No. 2. And if he was one of those names, it wouldn't surprise me.”
Here’s what you need to know about the defenceman who has drawn lofty comparisons to fellow Swede and Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman:
Team: Frölunda (J20 Nationell)
Age: 18 (born Feb. 5, 2003)
From: Onsala, Sweden
Weight: 207 pounds
Here’s the thing about Edvinsson: he has the size that tantalizes NHL scouts, but he also has the skill and speed.
While the game may have changed, with less of an emphasis on measurables, a 6-foot-5 defenceman who has both size and skill is exactly what all teams are looking for.
“He really has exceptional skill assets for his size and his position, because the hands that he has and the moves that he shows, particularly when he enters the offensive zone — they're quite impressive,” says Marr.
Case in point:
Marr also raves about his puck control and protection when he’s down low in the offensive zone and along the boards.
“When he's being checked by a player there he's got the hands and, naturally, he's got the accompanying hockey sense to see the ice and make the plays,” Marr says.
Battles to the end
What can often stand between a top-end skill player and their potential is a willingness to battle on the ice as they face stiffer competition in higher levels of hockey. But with Edvinsson — who also trains as a mixed martial artist, as detailed by The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler in this piece — that shouldn’t be an issue, far from it.
“He plays such a high-character game … with his determination, his poise, his competitiveness,” says Marr.
Marr says that was on full display in Sweden’s second game at the under-18 men’s hockey championship, an eventual 12-1 blowout to Canada.
“He wasn't taking any of that and he competed right until the last second. He tried to get things going and tried to get his team going, tried to make things happen. He did not like the way that the game was going,” he says.
“He did everything he could to try and change it and to rally his team … So he has that take-charge style that he utilizes whenever the situation dictates.”
2020-21 a learning experience
It was a difficult year for many prospects, Edvinsson included.
After starting the season with Frölunda’s junior team, where he notched six points in 13 games, the J20 Nationell was suspended due to COVID-19, forcing a jump to the big club. But in the SHL, a then 17-year-old Edvinsson struggled to carve out a full-time spot in the lineup, averaging 5:48 of ice time in 10 games and picking up just a single assist.
This promotion, necessitated by the pandemic, is unusual in the Swedish development system where “they let the players develop at their own pace within their age group,” says Marr, and Edvinsson’s difficulties were to be expected.
“That's normal, it's night and day between playing with your peers and playing in a pro league,” he says.
“For a defenceman, the position itself is a lot more difficult to step into and play a meaningful role than if you were a forward ... you've kind of got to get it right the first time or else it's a mistake. And everyone's confidence levels are different. You can be a man child and be bigger and stronger than everyone, but you've got to have the confidence that goes along with that.”
Eventually, Frölunda found a solution by loaning Edvinsson to Västerås IK in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan at the end of January. It was there that the mobile rearguard appeared to regain some of that confidence, putting up five assists in 14 games, and tacking on another three points in six post-season contests.
“He learns from mistakes, he doesn't repeat mistakes (and) he learns how to adapt,” says Marr.
A mix of Hedman and Karlsson?
A towering Swedish defence prospect garnering comparisons to basically a viking on skates in Hedman seems inevitable...
But while he shares the same “competitive nature” as the Tampa Bay Lightning star, Marr says Edvinsson lacks the same physical component and it’s actually the skill side of his game that stands out, making him a closer comparable to fellow Frölunda product and 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin. Though, when asked the question himself, Edvinsson said he's a mix of Hedman and another Norris Trophy winner and Swede — Erik Karlsson.
Regardless, his talent measures up with some of the best of them.
“You can go way back to a lot of the Swedish defencemen that have come up through the years here that have played in the National Hockey League with success, and he's right up there,” says Marr.
An ‘NHL package’
While his standing among the draft’s upper-echelon of defencemen has yet to be determined, there’s no doubt whatever team ends up selecting him is getting a potential top-pairing blue-liner.
“He's (got) an NHL package: he's got size, he's got skills, he can skate, he's got compete and his hockey sense is very good. So he checks all the boxes to be a player that's going to play for a long time, play well and get established in the NHL really quickly,” says Marr.