The Chicago Blackhawks signed Swedish free agent forward Jacob Nilsson last Thursday to a one-year deal for the 2018-19 season. Nilsson is a 24-year-old, left-handed shot, who stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 181 pounds. He can play both center and left wing and is known for his strong skating, backchecking and skill.
Nilsson played for Mora IK last season, where he registered eight goals and 10 assists in 40 games, ranking fourth on his team. In 2016-17, he scored 20 goals and 22 assists in 46 games, a career high, and his numbers helped Mora IK get promoted to the top division of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
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Nilsson joins a contingent of recent European free agent signings by Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks organization. A week prior to signing Nilsson, the Hawks announced the signings of defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh, forward Dominik Kahun and goaltender Kevin Lankinen, all to entry-level contracts. This continues a recent trend of stockpiling assets, for both the NHL club and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford Ice Hogs.
Ice Hogs head coach and ex-Islanders player, Jeremy Colliton is considered a key reason why Nilsson chose to join the Blackhawks, even though other teams, like the Arizona Coyotes, were interested. Colliton was the Mora IK coach, and specifically Nilsson’s, during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, before he joined the Ice Hogs for the 2017-18 season.
Nilsson will likely play or at least start with the Ice Hogs, although the Blackhawks will get a chance to take a hard look at their newest Swedish import during training camp. If he ends up playing next season primarily with the Ice Hogs, he will join a team loaded with young, hungry and explosive forwards including the players who closed out last season with the Blackhawks before returning to the AHL to help the Ice Hogs compete for the Calder Cup.
The Hogs were eliminated in the Conference Final by the Texas Stars a few weeks ago. Names like John Hayden, David Kampf and Victor Ejdsell have both AHL and NHL experience and will push Nilsson for ice time in Rockford or an eventual spot on the big club. Regardless of who plays most or gets a shot in the NHL, an abundance of talent is always a good thing.
Nilsson is only 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds. While not the biggest player and maybe not the best suited for battles along the boards, his offensive consistency in Sweden should be noted. Even though his numbers dropped off a little in the SHL’s top division last season, Nilsson has never registered below 15 points since turning 20. It is this constant production and perhaps familiarity with his former coach that ultimately convinced Bowman to take a chance on the young Swede.
This may be a way for management to stockpile fast skating and offensive assets for the Blackhawks and Ice Hogs. Assets, particularly fast ones like Nilsson are a valuable commodity. Some scouting reports on Nilsson list him as a bit of a dazzler, who is agile and has good hockey sense with a strong defensive game. Only time will tell if that will be enough to translate into an NHL career. If not, signing him to a one year contract was low-risk anyway. Keep stocking them up Stan.