Oilers prospects turning heads during Swedish playoffsMAKING PROGRESS. Oilers prospects William Lagesson and Filip Berglund have had great seasons in Sweden. Photo: Bildbyrån
Edmonton Oilers’ fans didn’t have a whole lot to cheer about this season. Outside of Connor McDavid‘s second straight Art Ross Trophy, which is an amazing accomplishment, the team didn’t live up to the high expectations that last year’s playoff success had left them with. As the regular season ended past weekend, the team was 17 points away from another post-season adventure.
The Oilers might have missed the playoffs, but two of their Swedish prospects did not. In fact, they’re facing one another in an intriguing battle right now. Defensemen Filip Berglund of Skellefteå and William Lagesson of Djurgården are in the midst of a fierce semifinal series where the winner gets to play heavy favorites Växjö Lakers in the finals. Skellefteå is up 3–1 in games and could secure a ticket in the finals with a win in Stockholm on Wednesday.
Both Berglund, drafted 91st overall 2016, and Lagesson, chosen 94th overall 2014, have had great seasons in the SHL, but even more so in the playoffs.
The soon to be 21 year-old Berglund was a spare part for Skellefteå last season, playing less than ten minutes a game. This year he averaged more than 17 minutes a game during the regular season and in the playoffs, he’s playing more than any other defender on his team at even strength.
The right-handed rearguard has evolved into a steady two-way defenseman with really good underlying numbers, suggesting he’s on the rise to become a stud in the SHL.
“I had a really good summer last year and felt really strong from the get-go. Right from the time we stepped on the ice I felt like I was a more powerful player with better stamina. That has really helped my confidence”, Berglund told Swedish website hockeysverige.se last week.
Photo: Bildbyrån/Ola Westerberg
Skating used to be what prevented Filip Berglund from becoming a more respected prospect. The hard work he put into his foot speed both before and during the season has paid off. He realizes it needs even more work, but acknowledges it’s no longer the issue it used to be.
“It’s something I need to continue to develop, but I feel like you can see progress in my game. It’s getting better and better.”
As for his communication with the Edmonton Oilers, Berglund said he’s talking to their Swedish scout Pelle Eklund every once in a while.
“There’s a lot of texting back and forth. They want to see how I’m doing. I also actually meet (Senior VP of Hockey Operations) Craig MacTavish earlier in the year. He was in Skellefteå to see me play and that was obviously nice”, Filip Berglund said.
The young defenseman has been in Edmonton for two straight summers at the annual development camps. Although the capital of Alberta is much bigger than his hometown of Skellefteå (with a population of around 72 000 people), he can see similarities between the two.
“Edmonton is one of these classic NHL teams and it’s all about hockey in that city. That’s why it reminds me of Skellefteå. Both are places where hockey is number one.”
Filip Berglund is under contract until the 2019/20 season, but could leave for North America earlier if he signs with the Oilers as all SHL players have out clause for NHL in their contracts. With that said, he’s in no hurry to move overseas and make Skellefteå native Adam Larsson company.
“I don’t feel like I’m done in Skellefteå yet, but I think I’m making progress and I hope to make even more progress next season. Then we’ll see what happens after that”, he said.
Photo: Bildbyrån/Andreas L Eriksson
WENT FROM COLLEGE TO THE SHL
While Berglund is likely to play in the SHL another season, it seems more reasonable that William Lagesson will play in North America this fall. For starters, the smooth-skating defenseman is already signed by the Oilers and has spent this year on loan with Djurgården.
The 22 year-old, who spent two seasons at UMass Amherst in the NCAA, won’t wow the crowds with his point totals or highlight-reel dekes. Instead, he is a modern day defensive defenseman who skates really well, has a good outlet pass and is strong around his own net. Those are qualities that has become even more prominent during the year in Sweden.
He was third on the team in ice-time during the regular season, averaging 19:27 a game. During the playoffs, he’s second on the team with 21:19 minutes per game. For those following the NHL, that might not be considered much, but SHL coaches usually spread the ice-time over more players and most teams also play seven D every night.
“It’s been really good for me to come here and play as much as I have”, Lagesson said. “I think my defensive game has become even better thanks to the ice time, especially on the PK.”
Lagesson explains that he made the choice to go to Sweden and gather more experience because Djurgården presented him with a good opportunity that he couldn’t really get with the Oilers organization at the time.
“Djurgården showed a lot of interest and was in need of a player like me”, he said. “They had a lot of defensemen (in Edmonton and farm team Bakersfield), and couldn’t really offer me a clear cut role on the team.”
Djurgården could, and that could actually turn out to be a win for the Oilers in the long run.
“We talk a lot and (the Oilers) are really happy with my progress. I really felt I needed a year like this, because when you make the jump, you want to be sure that you are ready to fight for a spot in the NHL. I think this will benefit me”, Lagesson said.
Whether he’ll play in North America or spend another year in Sweden is something he can’t answer in the middle of a playoff run.
“I don’t know exactly what’ll happen. I’m focused on the playoffs now. We’ll see what happens after that.”