Several intriguing youngsters dominated Sweden's version of the American Hockey League, but it was a former NHL star who drew the most interest for Rögle BK. Find out what fantasy signifigance they hold in today's Bugg Bytes as we begin a review of lower-level European hockey.
One star forward, one star defenseman, and a star goalie. At most levels of hockey, that will get you pretty far. Such was the case in 2006-07 for Rögle BK of the HockeyAllsvenskan, a team based out of the coastal city of Ängelholm. Demoted from the Elitserien in 1996, a 99-point season and first place finish this year won the club a second shot at playing in Sweden's highest league. Their bid in the Kvalserien, or promotional, series came up short, but several noteworthy performances caught the eye of SEL teams:
At 5'7, left winger Par Albrandt is one of the smallest players at any level of hockey. But as small players must be to succeed, Albrandt is a offensive wizard. Rögle's leading scorer with a whopping 72 points in 45 games finished 27 points ahead of his nearest teammate. League-wide, those 72 points- and 47 assists- were tops in the Allsvenskan. An explosive skater with fine agility, Albrandt flashes shades of Martin St. Louis in his play.
2007/08 Outlook: Although Södertälje SK eventually beat out Rögle and two other opponents for a spot in the SEL, Albrandt gave them fits during the Kvalserien. And as the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, you may as well join 'em. The small, crafty winger will be suiting up with that club next year.
NHL Potential: Top-line winger, PP specialist; 25-55-80
Patrik Zackrisson, C (Age 19)
One World U18s, one WJC showing, two drafts, zero takers. That's the story of 5'10 Patrik Zackrisson. Considered a long-time project back in 2005 due to attitude and skating problems, Zackrisson fell victim to the then-new CBA and the shortened time European prospects remain NHL property. The skilled sniper was even derided in his own country until late last year, when Västra Frölunda decided to look past his issues and bring him directly to the SEL in the midst of a dominant junior campaign. While he put home only one assist in a ten-game stint, his ability to compete with men drew plenty of interest from Division I and HockeyAllsvenskan squads. Rögle won the Zackrisson sweepstakes, and cashed in big. Despite missing 16 games, a 16 goal, 18 assist campaign in just 29 contests was good enough for fourth in team goals and points.
2007/08 Outlook: Like Albrandt, breakout performances are usually a bad thing for lower-division teams anywhere as their stars move elsewhere. Zackrisson will play for Linköpings HC of the SEL next year. As far as the NHL goes, a team will likely bring him into their system this summer.
NHL Potential: Second/third line centre, 25-30-55
Cristopher Nilstorp, G (Age 23)
Want to know where to find the next great Swedish goalie? He's right here in this column. Despite being under the age 25, Cristopher Nilstorp is a well-travelled vet. Starting out in the Malmö IF organization, Nilstorp endured several mediocre junior rosters before finally getting a solid supporting cast in 2003-04. The 6
2, 196 lbs keeper ran with it, posting a 2.19 GAA and 0.14 Sv% for the Redhawks J20 squad, a performance which earned him a shot in the Elitserien. Bombed for 39 goals in 9 SEL games spread over two years, Nilstorp was lost in purgatory- too good for junior and too inexperienced for higher-league hockey. A three-year journey through Swedish minor league hockey culminated in a job with Rögle this past year, and with time running out, a stellar showing was all but required. Nilstorp delivered just that. The Allsvenskan's best goaltender with a mind-boggling 1.28 GAA and 0.957 Sv% in 37 games at age 22, Nilstorp dominated by taking away the bottom of the net with great padwork and cleaned up the top with his lightning-fast glovehand.
2007/08 Outlook: There are still questions surrounding the young keeper's play, especially after spending so much time bouncing around the minors with no suitors. If and when an Elitserien team casts aside their doubts, Nilstorp has the skillset to dominate. Two years from now, we could see him in North America.
NHL Potential: Starting goaltender
Kenny Jonsson, D (Age 33)
Last but certainly not least, NHL veteran Kenny Jonsson continued his steady fade into retirement with a 14-game showing for Rögle. With 21 points in those 14 games, the 33 year-old rearguard certainly showed that he still has the ability to dominate when healthy. But that's the big if. Jonsonn's veritable retirement tour has been interrupted numerous times due to injury. Still welcome on any team in Sweden thanks to his resume, Jonsson will continue raising his children and playing when able until his back finally gives out. At this point, no one has any business owning the former 40-point man.
2007/08 Outlook: Don't bite if any offers for Jonsson come your way, no matter the rumors you hear. He's not coming back.