Developing hockey players is no easy task. It takes years of moulding players the right way to turn them into stars, and it doesn’t always pan out. Players can be ranked very high ahead of the NHL Draft, but never end up playing an NHL game. Developing prospects takes patience, adaptation, and communication on every single layer.
Teams across the world try their best to produce high-end talents and develop them as they reach higher ranks. It’s an extremely difficult art that carries a high level of respect from those in the hockey world. One organization in Sweden has become the gold standard for developing prospects, and they are only getting better at doing so.
Frölunda HC has produced numerous stars over the years, and their players have been taken higher and higher in the draft. That reached its peak in 2018 when the Buffalo Sabres drafted Rasmus Dahlin – yes, a Frölunda alumni – first overall. But he is just the tip of the iceberg in a long line of players that sets Frölunda apart as a prospect hotspot.
Getting to Know Frölunda
Frölunda HC (the Frölunda Indians) is a professional hockey organization in Gothenburg, Sweden. They play in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where they have been for the majority of their existence. They have become one of the premier hockey clubs in Europe – but that wasn’t always the case.
Västra Frölunda Idrottsförening (VFIF) was founded in 1932 and introduced hockey in 1943-44. However, due to mild winters and less-than-stellar players, they didn’t play their first official game until 1946. They started gaining power in the 1950s, winning their first championship in 1965. They had some struggles after that though which continued through the ’80s. But, in the 1980s they got one thing right – they developed a youth program.
That program paid off massively. After many up-and-down decades of relegation and promotions, the 1990s (1995 to be specific) saw the club secure their spot in the country’s top league. It was then called the Elitserien and is now the SHL. They’ve never looked back, collecting four Swedish Championships since then and becoming a perennial threat. They’ve also won another four titles in the Champions Hockey League tournament since its introduction in 2014-15.
While Frölunda has had great success, many of the players drafted to the NHL actually come from their junior program, the Frölunda HC J20 club which plays in the SuperElit. That group has won 10 Anton Cups as the league champions, more than any other club in Sweden.
Understanding the Frölunda Way
Frölunda uses what they call an integrated approach in their player development. A large factor of this was in implementation of Campus Frölunda in 2009, a space where all of the club’s teams could be hosted and those teams could communicate throughout a player’s development as they climb the ranks.
Assistant general manager Björn Liljander touched on this in an interview with former The Hockey Writers writer Johannes Wheeldon. He noted that coaches of the various programs (U16, U18, U20, and A-team) meet weekly and that “…coaches from both men’s team and the academies share information and communicate amongst themselves and with managers. The coaches in the men’s team are often working in the academy and academy coaches work with the men’s team. This is how we can utilize the same playbook with all our players.”
As Wheeldon writes, “This integrated approach has three principal components. One involves coaches who are part of a broader team, who share a playbook, strategies, and tactics. As players move up in the system, they know the coaches, are clear on expectations and can build on their existing knowledge of the system, as opposed to starting from scratch. Second, and related to this, is an approach to player development that actively involves players in practices, elicits feedback and tries to find solutions together. Third and finally, these components, when combined are part of a culture at Frölunda that permeates all aspects of the organization.”
On top of this integrated approach, the organization keeps three main goals:
We have three goals: to recruit players, keep as many as possible in the sport for as long as possible, and make hockey a life-long interest for them.Daniel Eriksson, Director of Youth Development Program
This is an interesting approach, in that their goal isn’t to always win (although of course, that’s in the plans) but to find players and make them fall in love with the sport. As these young players learn to truly love the game, the development aspect becomes a much easier task. They want to continue to grow in the sport.
Another large part of their success on the ice and in development has been the hiring of head coach Roger Rönnberg. Rönnberg was brought in in 2013, after coaching the national team and the U20 team for a number of years. He won two bronze medals and silver with the national men’s team and led the U20 team to a gold medal in 2012 and silver in 2013.
It’s all about development for us. If we have trouble scoring goals, the GM won’t just acquire a new player, he’ll tell me to coach the players and use the resources we have. Use a skating coach, use the sports psychologistRoger Rönnberg, head coach
Rönnberg brings a great deal to the organization, including a full focus on development, winning and very clear communication towards the players about what it takes to win. This brings another level to the development process, in creating a personalized development plan for each player. The organization believes in mentors, not bosses, and keeps the players involved the entire way.
Frölunda holds its culture and philosophy to the highest of standards, and everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, buys in. On top of this, a focus on hard work, and what they consider the basic skills: high-speed skating, short shifts, blocking shots, driving to the net, and having discipline. Through their hard work though, they ensure that they support their players every step of the way.
Frölunda’s Long Line of NHL Elite
To date, 82 players have been drafted into the NHL after playing for Frölunda the season before. This doesn’t include players who play here after they’ve been drafted. The organization acts as a “finishing school” for Swedish players and neighbouring countries’ players after being selected into the NHL. Clearly, Frölunda’s process is working and NHL teams have taken notice.
Frölunda has become a fixture on numerous NHL teams over the years, and it continues to do so. Here are a few players that have stood out, made their mark on the NHL, and represented Frölunda extremely well in the process.
While this may not be a name you recognize right away, Calle Johansson was an NHL veteran of 17 seasons, playing for the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s most known for his time with the Capitals, where he spent 15 seasons. He was drafted by the Sabres in 1985 as the 14th overall pick. He was just the fourth player selected from Frölunda and second to go in the first round.
Over his career, he was one of the most reliable defensemen in the league, starting with his rookie season where he collected 42 points and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. He went on to play 1,109 games in the NHL, collecting 119 goals, 416 assists, and 535 points. He sits second in Capitals history for games played and is in the top 10 for assists and points. Johansson was the first in a long line of stellar defenders to come out of Frölunda.
The face of the Ottawa Senators for 17 seasons, Daniel Alfredsson blossomed into one of the best players to ever come out of Frölunda. He was a late-round steal, being drafted in the sixth round, 133rd overall in 1994. The long-time captain of the Senators played 1,246 games in the NHL between Ottawa and the Detroit Red Wings, scoring 444 goals, 713 assists, and 1,157 points. He’s second all-time in Senators games played, and first in goals, assists, and points.
Often in consideration for many awards in the league, Alfredsson came out strong, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1995-96, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2011-12 for leadership on and off the ice and humanitarian efforts, and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2012-13 for leadership. It shouldn’t be long before “Alfie” is in the Hockey Hall of Fame where he’ll be the first players drafted from Frölunda – but certainly not the last.
Another player that is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame is New York Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The netminder has been a solid presence in net for the Blueshirts since he was drafted 205th overall in 2000 and broke out in 2005-06. He’s remained one of the best goalies in the league ever since his rookie season.
Like Alfredsson, Lundqvist has been in the conversation for awards his entire career – especially the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goaltender. He won the award once, in 2011-12, and has twice been named to All-Star Teams. All-time, he’s in the top-10 for goaltender games played, wins, and top-20 for shutouts. He’s also played a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career.
Another draftee of the Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson was taken 15th overall in 2008. Just like Alfredsson, he went on to become the face and captain of the franchise, leading the organization for nearly a decade before being traded to the San Jose Sharks.
He’s been one of the best defensemen in the league since coming in, winning two Norris Trophies as the league’s best defender, and being named to the All-Star Team four times. He’s still in the middle of his career, with lots of time left to further build his resume. Already though, he’s a testament to Frölunda’s development process.
One last player of note is the organizations first and only first-overall pick in the NHL Draft. Rasmus Dahlin was selected with the top pick in 2018 by the Buffalo Sabres and is just starting to build what looks to be a very promising career.
In his first season, he finished third in Calder Trophy voting but was named to the All-Rookie Team. He looks to lead the way for the next generation of defensemen entering the league and has already proven that he is up to the task during his short time in the NHL. By the end of his career, Dahlin could very well be the best player to ever come out of Frölunda.
Other Notable Frölunda Draftees
Among the long list of Frölunda draftees, a few others that stand out are Alex Steen, Loui Eriksson, Viktor Stålberg, Lars Eller, Simon Hjalmarsson, Robin Lehner, John Klingberg, and Fredrik Andersen. There are also many draftees who have yet to break into the league, including Kristian Vesalainen, Samuel Fagemo, and Karl Henriksson.
There’s also a number of very talented players available in the coming drafts. Froölunda seems to have found the recipe for success, and it will continue to benefit the NHL.
Full List of Frölunda NHL Draftees
- D Robert Nordmark – Detroit Red Wings – 1981, 10th round (191st overall)
- RW Mikael Andersson – Buffalo Sabres – 1984, first round (18th overall)
- D Stefan Larsson – Detroit Red Wings –1984, seventh round (133rd overall)
- D Calle Johansson – Buffalo Sabres – 1985, first round (14th overall)
- RW Thomas Sjögren – Washington Capitals – 1987, eighth round (162nd overall)
- RW Patrik Cambäck – Montreal Canadiens – 1988, sixth round (125th overall)
- LW Niklas Andersson – Quebec Nordiques –1989, fourth round (68th overall)
- D Joakin Esbjörs – Hartford Whalers –1992, 11th round (249th overall)
- RW Daniel Alfredsson – Ottawa Senators – 1994, sixth round (113th overall)
- RW Peter Ström – Montreal Canadiens – 1994, eighth round (200th overall)
- RW Peter Högarh – New York Islanders – 1994, eighth round (203rd overall)
- LW Per-Johan Axelsson – Boston Bruins – 1995, seventh round (177th overall)
- D Ronnie Sundin – New York Rangers – 1996, ninth round (237th overall)
- D Christian Bäckman – St. Louis Blues – 1998, first round (24th overall)
- LW Jari Tolsa – Detroit Red Wings – 1999, fourth round (120th overall)
- LW David Nyström – Philadelphia Flyers – 1999, eighth round (224th overall)
- C Joel Lundqvist – Dallas Stars – 2000, third round (68th overall)
- G Henrik Lundqvist – New York Rangers – 2000, seventh round (205th overall)
- C Tim Eriksson – Los Angeles Kings – 2000, seventh round (206th overall)
- RW Magnus Kahnberg – Carolina Hurricanes – 2000, seventh round (212th overall)
- RW Fredrik Sjöström – Phoenix Coyotes – 2001, first round (11th overall)
- LW Jens Karlsson – Los Angeles Kings – 2001, first round (18th overall)
- D Mikael Svensk – Edmonton Oilers – 2001, sixth round (185th overall)
- C Alexander Steen – Toronto Maple Leafs – 2002, first round (24th overall)
- C Jonas Johnson – St. Louis Blues – 2002, seventh round (221st overall)
- C Fredrik Johansson – Edmonton Oilers – 2002, ninth round (274th overall)
- LW Loui Eriksson – Dallas Stars – 2003, second round (33rd overall)
- RW Kalle Olsson – Edmonton Oilers – 2003, fifth round (147th overall)
- D Richard Demén-Willaume – Colorado Avalanche – 2004, fifth round (154th overall)
- RW Fred Wilker – Calgary Flames – 2004, sixth round (182nd overall)
- LW Anton Axelsson – Detroit Red Wings – 2004, sixth round (192nd overall)
- LW John Wilkner – Ottawa Senators – 2004, ninth round (284th overall)
- RW Morten Madsen – Minnesota Wild – 2005, fourth round (122nd overall)
- LW Fredrik Pettersson – Edmonton Oilers – 2005, fifth round (157th overall)
- C Kirill Starkov – Columbus Blue Jackets – 2005, sixth round (189th overall)
- RW Robin Figren – New York Islanders – 2006, third round (70th overall)
- D Jonas Ahnelöv –Phoenix Coyotes – 2006, third round (88th overall)
- LW Viktor Stålberg –Toronto Maple Leafs – 2006, sixth round (161st overall)
- C Lars Eller – St. Louis Blues – 2007, first round (13th overall)
- G Joel Gistedt – Phoenix Coyotes – 2007, second round (36th overall)
- LW Simon Hjalmarsson – St. Louis Blues – 2007, second round (39th overall)
- C Joakim Andersson – Detroit Red Wings – 2007, third round (88th overall)
- D Jens Hellgren – Colorado Avalanche – 2007, sixth round (155th overall)
- D Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators – 2008, first round (15th overall)
- C Anton Gustafsson – Washington Capitals – 2008, first round (21st overall)
- RW Nicklas Lasu – Atlanta Thrashers – 2008, fifth round (124th overall)
- D Philip Larsen – Dallas Stars – 2008, fifth round (149th overall)
- RW Carl Klingberg – Atlanta Thrashers – 2009, second round (34th overall)
- G Robin Lehner – Ottawa Senators – 2009, second round (46th overall)
- D Peter Andersson – Vancouver Canucks – 2009, fifth round (143rd overall)
- D John Klingberg – Dallas Stars – 2010, fifth round (131st overall)
- C Johan Sundström – New York Islanders – 2011, second round (50th overall)
- LW Michael Schumacher – Los Angeles Kings – 2011, seventh round (200th overall)
- D Henrik Tömmernes – Vancouver Canucks – 2011, seventh round (210th overall)
- RW Sebastian Colberg – Montreal Canadiens – 2012, second round (33rd overall)
- G Fredrik Andersen – Anaheim Ducks – 2012, third round (87th overall)
- C Erik Karlsson – Carolina Hurricanes – 2012, fourth round (99th overall)
- G Fredrik Bergvik – San Jose Sharks – 2013, fourth round (117th overall)
- RW Markus Søberg – Columbus Blue Jackets – 2013, sixth round (165th overall)
- LW Anton Blidh – Boston Bruins – 2013, sixth round (180th overall)
- LW Andreas Johnson – Toronto Maple Leafs – 2013, seventh round (202nd overall)
- D Julius Bergman – San Jose Sharks – 2014, second round (46th overall)
- RW Anton Karlsson – Arizona Coyotes – 2014, third round (87th overall)
- D William Lagesson – Edmonton Oilers – 2014, fourth round (91st overall)
- C Christoffer Ehn – Detroit Red Wings – 2014, fourth round (106th overall)
- D John Nyberg – Dallas Stars – 2014, sixth round (165th overall)
- G Hugo Fagerblom – Florida Panthers – 2014, seventh round (182nd overall)
- LW Pierre Engvall – Toronto Maple Leafs – 2014, seventh round (188th overall)
- RW Kevin Elgestål –Washington Capitals – 2014, seventh round (194th overall)
- D Jacob Larsson – Anaheim Ducks – 2015, first round (27th overall)
- RW John Dahlström – Chicago Blackhawks – 2015, seventh round (211th overall)
- RW Kristian Vesalainen – Winnipeg Jets – 2017, first round (24th overall)
- D Filip Westerlund – Arizona Coyotes – 2017, second round (44th overall)
- C Joni Ikonen – Montreal Canadiens – 2017, second round (58th overall)
- C Jacob Peterson – Dallas Stars – 2017, fifth round (132nd overall)
- D Kristoffer Gunnarsson – Vancouver Canucks – 2017, fifth round (135th overall)
- D Rasmus Dahlin – Buffalo Sabres – 2018, first round (first overall)
- LW Samuel Fagemo – Los Angeles Kings – 2019, second round (50th overall)
- C Karl Henriksson – New York Rangers – 2019, second round (59th overall)
- G Erik Portillo – Buffalo Sabres – 2019, third round (67th overall)
- RW Elmer Söderblom – Detroit Red Wings – 2019, sixth round (159th overall)
- D Gustav Berglund – Detroit Red Wings – 2019, sixth round (177th overall)
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.