The Boston Bruins made a keen depth move by signing Elitserien Champion Niklas Svedberg to an entry-level contract last week. The deal came just days before Tim Thomas elected to take a year off from hockey, so while an American waved goodbye to the B’s, a Swede was already waving hello.
Boston has a legitimate cornucopia of goalies now; the organization has natives hailing from Finland, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Canada, USA (Zane Gothberg) and Norway (Lars Volden).
This signing also makes the Bruins’ depth in goal extremely competitive heading into next season. The heir to Thomas’ throne rightfully belongs to Tuukka Rask, the Finnish stud that has been waiting patiently for his chance to carry the “starter” label. There’s no stopping him in that regard, so from there, the backup job is ready for Anton Khudobin to take. The Kazakh native has also paid his dues in the minors, spending ample time with the Houston Aeros and Providence Bruins.
Furthermore, in his limited NHL action over the past two seasons, he has done nothing but prove to me that he’s more than ready to handle a full-time NHL role.
Of course nothing is set in stone yet, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has already stated that he’s more than comfortable starting the season with a Rask-Khudobin combo. I’m down with that; it would likely be successful enough to put the team in the playoffs again, and it would really help develop the organization’s goalie prospects.
The goalie fun and fireworks will continue in Providence, where a training camp duel will likely ensue between Svedberg and Michael Hutchinson, a solid prospect in his own right. Hutchinson played well in his limited AHL workload this season, and he’s more than capable of carrying a bigger workload for the baby Bruins again next season.
[As of today in my Top-150 Prospects Rankings, Khudobin was ranked 14th, Hutchinson was ranked 65th, and Svedberg was ranked 94th. With Thomas out of the picture, expect all three goalies to rise over the summer.]
When news hit that Svedberg was officially signed, many followers and readers asked me what type of upside Svedberg had. To be honest, I had no way of answering that, for I have never seen him play a full game. This is one of the obstacles I deal with as an independent scout, but fortunately, I had a few resources that provided me with insight on his technique, style, and overall game.
From what I’ve learned, I won’t be surprised if Svedberg really pushes Khudobin for the backup role in the preseason, and ultimately ends up as being one of the last players “cut” from the Bruins’ camp. I think he’ll eventually end up as the “starter” in Providence, but Hutchinson will still earn a fair amount of games over the course of the season. It could be a perfect split and a solid tandem, or one goalie could take over the crease as the season rolls along.
Either way, the potential Svedberg/Hutchinson tandem is solid from top to bottom. Projecting his upside is difficult due to the fact I haven’t seen him play, but spending one or two seasons in the AHL will certainly polish his technique to the point where he’ll be ready for the NHL when he begins to enter his prime around the age of 25.
Late last week, I was excited to have an opportunity to interview Svedberg over the phone. As we talked and introduced ourselves, I was really impressed with his demeanor. He exuded confidence over the phone, and I got the sense that he truly understands nothing will be handed to him. But at the same time, he has the skills and experience as a 22-year-old (he turns 23 in September) to make a sudden impact in the AHL.
He also speaks perfect English, lending a hand to him having a smooth transition in terms of culture, lifestyle, and making plenty of good friends.
More importantly, Svedberg comes over after receiving stellar guidance from Brynas goalie coach Per-Erik Alcen. The two years they spent together are monumental in terms of his long-term potential, and to further that point, I have heard nothing but praise and accolades for Svedberg’s play this season, especially in the SEL playoffs. He posted a 1.70 goals-against average, a .947 save percentage and four shutouts in 13 playoff games en route to Brynas’ first SEL title since 1999.
“I’m really excited to play over there,” Svedberg told me before our actual interview began, “and I’m going to keep on working really hard to work my way into the NHL.”
I’m not a beat reporter by any means, so I kept the following interview with Niklas short and sweet. You might want to check back in a few days, as I am hoping to have a little more information on Svedberg’s game, including some quotes from a well-respected goalie coach in the Elitserien. I’ll update you via twitter and facebook when that happens.
—[ A QUICK CHAT WITH NIKLAS SVEDBERG ]—
JG: Why do you think the quality of goaltending talent in the Elitserien is so good right now?
NS: “Well it seems like five years back, we started developing our goalie coaching in Sweden a lot more. Like 10 years ago, not all of the teams in the Elitserien even had a goalie coach. Now everyone has a goalie coach, and we have a lot of better goalie-oriented practices and training, and our techniques are really solid. It seems to work pretty good, so I think that’s the biggest reason.”
JG: On that note, how was working with Alcen this season, and what did you guys work on most?
NS: “First of all, it has been so great for me to work with him. He’s a really passionate guy, and was dedicated to providing at least 50 minutes of goalie practice before every team training session during my time with Brynas. What we we worked on the most this season was probably my skating, and being able to find the puck better in traffic.”
JG: Was there one point this season where you felt a huge surge in confidence, or was it gradual?
NS: “It’s so important to have confidence, and when you have good confidence, you play calmer in the net, and you make things easier for yourself. For goalies as you know it’s always up and down during the season, but I had good confidence throughout the season, so it worked out well when the playoffs began.”
JG: Do you have any experience playing on a smaller ice surface, or will camp be your first time?
NS: “I played a couple of times with the Swedish Junior National team on smaller rinks. We didn’t play in the States or Canada though…I believe we were in the Czech Republic and skated on a smaller rink for a few games. So just a couple of times. I know it will be a new experience for me and something I have to work on, but I think I just have to keep on playing my game, and it will work on the smaller rinks over there.”
JG: Is there a goalie that you really looked up to growing up and tried to model your game after?
NS: “Obviously Henrik Lundqvist was huge over here in Sweden and obviously he’s a great goalie so I looked up to him a lot. Also you know, some of the goalies in the NHL, but I would say mostly I looked up to Lundqvist.”
JG: For those that aren’t familiar with your game, what are your main strengths in the crease?
NS: “I would say I try to be a calm goalie, and try to be in pretty good position, while being as calm as possible in the net. Like a lot of the Swedish goalies right now, I’m pretty technical and strict with my game. Obviously I have to develop many aspects of my game heading to North America, but those would be my main strengths.”