The Detroit Red Wings have had a fortunate track record with European skaters. The European leagues have produced some of the best hockey players in history. Between the famed Russian Five and Swedish All-Stars Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings have benefitted.
Sweden’s Elmer Soderblom hopes to join the ranks of the great Euro imports. Drafted in the 2019 Entry Draft, he has been working diligently in his home country to measure up to the Red Wings’ standards.
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Soderblom has a legitimate chance of joining Detroit’s rebuild sooner rather than later. Though it’s no guarantee he’ll see NHL ice in 2020-21, his skill set is making a strong case for a North American debut.
Soderblom Finding His Stride
Soderblom has spent his entire career in Sweden and has climbed his way up to the country’s top league, the SHL, with Frolunda HC in the 2020-21 season. Before he joined Frolunda HC, he dominated the second tier Frolunda HC J20. He found his stride at eighteen and racked up 55 points in 36 games.
During his 10-game loan to Frolunda HC, Soderblom faced elite players like Joel Lundqvist (Henrik’s brother), Lukas Raymond, and fellow draft pick, Gustav Berglund. His towering 6-foot-7 frame was an advantage over the rest. He used it effectively and earned his place long-term.
Fitting into the NHL
Soderblom’s style of play is not dazzling in terms of finesse or fancy footwork. He’s a no-flash player but effective all the same. He knows his role and is decisive. His biggest asset, aside from his huge frame, is his ability to use it to his advantage. He’s great on the boards, and puck protection seems to be second nature. Though he still needs to work on controlling his limbs at an NHL-caliber level, his play in the SHL shows not only drive but an understanding of his deficiencies.
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Soderblom possesses a strong net-front presence which is a needed skill in Detroit. He’s versatile and can swap between right-wing and center, a position under heavy scrutiny in Detroit. He can play the slot and hold it but can also work along the boards if needed. As the NHL game changes, players who are flexible in their positions are becoming hot commodities. Soderblom is becoming one of those skaters.
Like any developing player, he has a few kinks to work out, but he is a quick learner which could expedite his arrival in the US. The Red Wings prospect pipeline is jammed, and many already in the US are hoping to make the jump to the AHL or NHL. It will depend on how the rest of this season plays out – but there are logistical issues for the international skaters.
The center position is full in Detroit and the AHL has Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno who are both near ready for a promotion. It’s a tight race but one that Soderblom has a fair shot at. The Red Wings centers are not on long-term contracts which means there’s room for a few major roster moves when those expire. The team will be getting younger which will also allow a fresh Soderblom to make his move when his time with Frolunda HC is up.
However, one roadblock is Soderblom’s growth. Physically, he’s likely tired of hearing about how big he is. He is very aware of his size and how it impacts his skating ability. He’s not terribly fast but he is good and he can work on his speed. Following his time with Frolunda, he’ll no doubt be faster.
Still a Few Seasons Out
Realistically, he’s two or three seasons away from making his North American debut. He’s got a ton of potential and has already shown high-level play. As most draft picks know, however, they’re competing against those vying the same thing – the NHL. He’s got a calm demeanor which will help when the prospect pipeline is squeezed a little tighter following the 2020 NHL Draft. (from ‘How Detroit Red Wings fared in 50 simulations of 2020 NHL draft lottery,’ Detroit Free-Press, 03/23/2020)
Frolunda HC is the best league in the SHL which will help his development. They expect all players to be professionals which is a fantastic thing for any young player.
The Red Wings will pick up some incredible skaters in the upcoming draft and many more in the system will continue to astound. Soderblom is not far behind. Though he’s an ocean away, his eyes are on Detroit and I won’t be surprised if we see him in the States very soon.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.