The list of the top 10 or so players in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft remained mostly stagnant throughout the year, with some players shuffling up or down the list but few new players jumping into the conversation. All that has changed in the final weeks leading up to the draft, with a handful of names leaping up the rankings due to a combination of their playoff performance, international tournament success, and positive impressions made at the NHL scouting combine.
As a result, quite a bit has changed. American forward Cutter Gauthier is now expected to go in the top-10, if not in the top-5. Marco Kasper also improved his draft stock as the season went on. We also have defenseman Kevin Korchinski who helped lead his Seattle Thunderbirds to the final round of the WHL playoffs. However, one player who could vault up from the top-20 into the top-10 is Swedish playmaker Noah Östlund.
Östlund is a brilliant playmaker who turns his teammates into serious scoring threats as soon as he touches the puck. He boasts one of the smartest hockey minds in this draft as he sees the ice as few others can. Östlund is considered by many to be a pure playmaking center similar to fellow Swede Henrik Sedin, though everything would have to go perfectly in his development for him to reach the same heights that Sedin did in his NHL career. Östlund also has an incredibly high compete level which, when paired with his great skating, helps him win close footraces to get back on defense or find open space in the offensive zone.
Some have argued that Östlund should be a late first-round pick because he isn’t much of a scoring threat on his own, but I don’t buy it. The reason he has focused so heavily on playmaking is to complement the strengths of his linemates, who are both excellent finishers. He has shown excellent puck skills while cutting to the middle, especially at the U18 World Junior Championships (WJC), where he showed a willingness to cut through the opposing defensive coverage when a goal was needed.
Östlund was wildly successful this season with Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish junior league (J20 Nationell), along with his linemates Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Liam Öhgren, who are also excellent prospects. He scored 42 points in 32 games while his line dominated the opposition. He earned a call-up to Djurgårdens’s Swedish Hockey League club (SHL) for part of the season, where he played in 11 games but earned no points with very little ice time.
Djurgårdens IF was toward the bottom of the league standings and hoping to avoid relegation to the second tier of Swedish hockey, Hockey Allsvenskan. Therefore, the team was not in a great position to try out young and unproven players against SHL competition when they needed every win they could get. Unfortunately, they were relegated, but that should be great news for Östlund and his linemates.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
The lower stakes of playing in the second-tier league paired with an extra year of development mean that Östlund is much more likely to play a larger role on the team next season. He is expected to spend his entire 18-year-old season in Allsvenskan rather than in the junior league. It also doesn’t hurt that one of Djurgårdens’ best playmakers, William Eklund, could be on the move to North America after being drafted sixth overall in the 2021 Draft by the San Jose Sharks.
Östlund followed up an already excellent season with a cherry on top. He was near dominant at the U18 WJC in May, where he was named one of the top three players for Team Sweden after stunning the Americans and winning gold. He wasn’t named to the media All-Star team or named MVP of the tournament, but he may have been the best player there. He scored two goals in the gold-medal game, where his killer instinct as a finisher was on display.
For most of the season, Lekkerimäki was expected to be drafted near the top-10, with Östlund next, somewhere in the first round, and Öhgren at the end of the first or start of the second round. However, as Östlund and Öhgren’s stock continued to rise, Lekkerimäki’s has slid down ever so slightly. Though it seemed impossible a few months ago, there is a chance that Östlund could be the first of the trio to be drafted n July 7.
“Ostlund has the hockey sense and the playmaking abilities that many just dream about. He reads the game at a very high level and seems to put himself in the right spots all the time, both with and without the puck. He has a high intensity on the ice and moves the puck fast. When Ostlund gets the puck, he never seems to get stressed, even though he gets forechecked a lot. He creates time and space for himself in an almost unique way and does find passes that hits the stick on his teammates…Besides his offensive skills, Ostlund does not cheat in his defense. He works really hard both ways, and you often see him use his pace from the slot where he circulates to maintain speed back home. What he needs to improve is his strength, which will most likely come in a few years.” – Fredrik Haak, FC Hockey (from ‘Noah Ostlund Player Report – Orebro J20 vs. Djurgarden J20’, FC Hockey, 1/20/22)
“The first thing that stands out about Östlund is his high-end skating ability and the pace at which he plays the game. He is a technically sound skater who can carve up the opposition as a puck carrier, weaving through checks in transition and dicing in and out of traffic off the cycle. Östlund has fantastic hands and is able to quickly string pass receptions into slick dekes, which he layers on top of his agile skating stride, giving him an explosive element to his game.” – Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects
“Östlund is one of the smartest forwards in the draft class. While other players display their hockey sense in their ability to manipulate the opposition, in their playmaking and scoring instinct, Östlund’s intelligence for the game is more subtle. He is a supportive force on the ice, the link between all of his teammates’ plays and often the reason why the offence of the under-20 squad of Djugårdens flows.” – David St-Louis, Elite Prospects QMJHL Scout (from ‘Scouting Notebook: Evaluating the Djurgårdens trio’, EP Rinkside, 2/4/22)
The only risk in drafting Östlund is his relatively slight frame and the fear that a team may have passed up on a better player because they got excited at eighth overall. Of course, general managers can’t look back at previous drafts and get misty-eyed about the better picks they might have made.
About Östlund’s size, I’ve heard from a few different sources that the biggest thing he needs to work on is adding some muscle over the next year or two so that he can be more successful at the NHL level. I can understand that since he measured 5-foot-10, 164 pounds at the NHL scouting combine this month. While that is on the smaller side for a center, there are more players of his size playing meaningful roles in the NHL each year, so scouts should be too worried.
Östlund is one of the smartest players in this draft and, paired with his skating, he has a ton of skills that will project very well to the NHL. He seems like the kind of player whose offensive game will translate very well to the NHL since his best skills are not reliant on the weaker competition that he has faced thus far. Playing with the right wingers, I could see Östlund as a top-six forward with high offensive upside, somewhere in the range of 60-70 points in an 82-game season.
Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage
Many seem to think that Östlund will fall to their team and that he will be a steal in the mid to late first round. There comes a point when we have to acknowledge that if every team wants him, maybe that slide doesn’t happen and he ends up drafted in the top 10.
How Would Östlund Fit in Detroit?
Östlund would fit in very well on the Detroit Red Wings. I would confidently project him as an excellent third-line center who provides plenty of offense while being serviceable in the top six. However, that is essentially the floor of his potential, with his ceiling being a great top-six center who, with the right linemates, could play on the Red Wings’ top line. If he is provided a consistent triggerman or two (Tyler Bertuzzi and/or Lucas Raymond?), then he will easily rack up the points in the NHL while providing a consistent defensive effort.
The two biggest needs that the Red Wings have currently is team defense and center depth. Östlund would fill both needs as a potential top-six centerman who never takes a shift off and is a plus defender. Shoot, he could even end up on the penalty kill eventually if none of the other top-six forwards take that step forward.
Why Östlund Should Be Selected Eighth Overall
Truthfully, he probably shouldn’t be. It would certainly be viewed as a reach by most, and if a team wants him that bad, they would likely be better off trading for a pick in the early teens to select Östlund. I imagine he will still be available if the Red Wings trade for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ second pick at 12th overall or even the Buffalo Sabres’ second selection at 16th overall.
Nevertheless, this would not be as “off-the-board” as it once seemed. Östlund has the potential to become a very good top-six centerman in the NHL, and I expect him to become at least a good middle-six center in just a few years’ time.
Other Red Wings Draft Targets
Though Östlund may be a bit of a reach at eighth overall, the Red Wings could do a lot worse than selecting a centerman who is one of the smartest players in the draft class with elite playmaking skills and the speed and skating to play in the NHL. Also, try imagining a scenario where the Red Wings drafted Lekkerimäki at eighth and then traded up for a pick in the 12th-18th overall range to select Östlund as well. Wouldn’t hurt to draft a few Swedes with built-in chemistry.
How would you feel about the Red Wings selecting Östlund at eighth overall this year? Does his excellent playmaking do enough to offset the fact that he is not a very dangerous scoring threat himself? What is your dream situation for wingers that he could set up? Should Microsoft Word make it easier to capitalize an “Ö” with an umlaut above it? Sound off in the comments below!
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Logan is the director of prospect coverage (including the World Junior Championship and NHL Draft) for The Hockey Writers, and he’s also a part of the Detroit Red Wings writing team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing.