Over the last several years, the Edmonton Oilers have been successful with their first-round draft pick selections — Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard — to name a few. But when the team selected defenseman Philip Broberg eighth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, he became a controversial pick amongst their fanbase.
When it was time for the Oilers to make their selection at the No. 8 spot, Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield — two highly touted offensive prospects — were still on board and many felt the team would surely choose one of the American prospects. However, the Oilers selected the smooth-skating Broberg, and Zegras would be picked directly after him ninth overall to the Anaheim Ducks and Caufield would fall to the Montreal Canadiens at the 15th spot.
There has been increasing criticism of the Oilers’ decision to select Broberg, with both Zegras and Caufield already making their impact on the NHL. Yet, with Broberg’s most recent call-up to the Oilers, it’s the Swedish defender’s chance to show his skeptics that the team made the right choice.
Broberg’s Road to the NHL
When Broberg was drafted he was playing in the HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-highest league out of Sweden. He was a 17-year-old defenseman playing with men, registering nine points in 41 games. The Oilers were able to see a glimpse of his talents when he recorded three goals in five games for Team Sweden at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament, that was held in Edmonton in 2018.
Last season, Broberg returned to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), with Skelleftea AIK, where he had an up-and-down year. Broberg suited up for Team Sweden for a third time at the World Junior Championships (WJHC) in Dec. 2020 and was named the team’s captain. He started his first game strong with three assists, but he suffered a knee injury that would affect his play the rest of the season. Additionally, his injury caused him to miss 10 games with Skelleftea AIK, and he wasn’t able to gain traction the rest of the year.
Zegras & Caufield Have Already Made an Impact in the NHL
Comparing the other two draftees in the 2019 NHL Draft — Zegras had a stellar season in his draft year in the United States Hockey League (USHL), but he raised his stock even more in last year’s WJHC. He led the Americans to a gold medal while leading the tournament in points (18) and being named MVP. He spent time in the NHL last season, registering 13 points in 24 games. He’s been more impressive this season, with six goals, four assists in 16 games. On Nov. 16, he went head-to-head with Alex Ovechkin in overtime and buried the winner for the Ducks.
Like Zegras, Caufield has achieved some incredible feats since being drafted. He played for the University of Wisconsin in the Nation Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) (the same team as Oilers’ prospect Dylan Holloway) and he won the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player. Following his college season, he joined his NHL team and he was impactful throughout the Canadiens playoff run, recording four goals and eight assists. He had a slow start to the season — which eventually saw him demoted to the American Hockey League (AHL) — but he has since been recalled to the Canadiens.
Broberg’s Play Earned Him a Recall to the Oilers
This season, Broberg had an impressive start to his North American debut for the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, producing 10 assists in 13 games. He was playing in all situations, and excelled on the power play. His passing ability on the man advantage has been second to none, finding lanes for his shot and gaining the offensive zone with speed (from “Lowetide: Philip Broberg is Ready For His NHL Audition,” The Athletic, 11/19/21).
Broberg’s splendid campaign to start the year earned him a call up to the Oilers, due to injuries to Darnell Nurse and Slater Koekkoek. Last Saturday the Swedish defenseman played in his first NHL game and he was calm under pressure— even collecting his first NHL assist on Ryan McLeod’s goal. In the third period, he evaded a big hit by Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Erik Gustavsson, and moments later delivered a hit of his own, knocking down Alex DeBrincat.
He played a stellar first game, logging 14:24 time on ice (TOI) and even received praise from head coach Dave Tippet, “Broberg was solid, which was good to see. He played with poise, he played within his game. He was very much in control. The little things he should’ve got done, he got done. He was just solid in all those areas.”
As Broberg’s NHL career is just beginning, he will always be linked to his fellow draftees Zegras and Caufield. Yet in today’s NHL, the game has changed and young smooth-skating defensemen are valuable pieces to building competitive teams. If his play on Saturday night is a glimpse of what we can expect from him, he’s well on his way to proving the doubters wrong.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.