The general consensus regarding Swedish prospect Timothy Liljegren is that he’s the NHL’s top defenseman going into the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. A lot of scouts are saying his gameplay is similar to that of Drew Doughty, one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. This is quite a prestigious comparison that deserves some attention. Could Liljegren really be the next Doughty? After all, if he is selected at No. 2 at the Draft, he’ll go in at the same spot as Doughty did in 2008.
Before we discuss their commonalities, let’s take a look at what Liljegren is doing in his draft-eligible year.
Liljegren’s Draft-Eligible Year
Currently playing for Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), the 6-foot, 198-pound blueliner had a rocky start to the 2016-17 season. He got mononucleosis, which resulted in the loss of nearly two months of gameplay.
He failed to make Team Sweden for the 2017 World Junior Championships and was then demoted to Timrå IK (Allsvenskan), a lower-ranking European team after struggling to produce in the SHL. On Jan. 19, 2017, though, Rögle called him back to play against the Scania Malmö Redhawks, a long-standing rival. At the moment, it’s unclear how long he’ll be staying with Rögle.
Despite Liljegren’s series of setbacks, he’s still the most-talked about defenseman six months before the draft. The next question people have with him is not so much to do with his skill-level now but rather, his skill-level down the road.
Liljegren Vs. Doughty: Commonalities
Commonality #1: Offensive Tendencies
One of the biggest things these two players have in common is their offensive tendencies.
The Swede is the undisputed top defenceman in this draft and, at this point, it’s not even close. Scouts say his offensive game is far more developed than his defensive game. He is an elite skater, both in terms of speed and agility, and adept at running a power play. He is seen as both a puck mover and an offensive point producer. No one is suggesting he’s the next Erik Karlsson, not by any means, but scouts say he has some of the same qualities and, therefore, has the potential to be projected as a possible top pairing defenceman in time. – Bob McKenzie, TSN Hockey Insider
Liljegren definitely has a tremendous offensive game. Before Doughty was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, he played three seasons in the OHL for the Guelph Storm. During his first years in Guelph, he described himself as being “just an offensive player.” He spent much of his final season with the Storm developing into more of a complete player, focusing on the defensive aspects of his game. Like Doughty, Liljegren shares a similar knack for offensive play and may be using his draft-eligible year to work on his defensive game as well. Unlike Doughty, though, he’s doing this in Europe.
Commonality #2: Slapshot
When Liljegren returned to the SHL on Jan. 19, 2017, against IF Malmö Redhawks ( Liljegren: No. 12 in green and white), he scored an impressive slapshot goal. His speed in taking the shot is evident and the shot looks quite familiar.
If you compare it to a power play slapshot goal by Drew Doughty (on May 16, 2013) against the San Jose Sharks, the two look nearly identical:
If only the NHL would track the speed of shots on goal.
Gauging the average speed of Doughty’s slapshot at various distances from the goal is valuable information. If this data had been tracked throughout his career, we would learn if he had entered the NHL with that speed, or if it progressed over time. We could then compare it to prospects like Liljegren, which would give us a more accurate projection of his defensive capabilities down the road.
In the following video profile of Doughty (No. 8 in red and white) playing for the Guelph storm in 2008, you’ll see him score a slapshot goal 1:13 minutes into the video.
It’s quite similar to Liljegren’s slapshot goal against AIK (Allmänna Idrottsklubben) of the Allsvenskan league from Jan. 7, 2017:
Here, Liljegren (No. 12, also in red and white) delivers a slapshot after walking the blue line to find a shooting lane. He keeps his face up the whole time and takes a couple steps in before releasing the shot. One might say he possesses that Euro flair, similar to Erik Karlsson.
Liljegren is a dynamic player capable of controlling the game and making a considerable impact both offensively and defensively. An outstanding skater with great sense and feel, he has a style similar to Drew Doughty with some Erik Karlsson offensive flair sprinkled in. – Craig Button, TSN Director of Scouting
Commonality #3: Physicality
Liljegren is very good at using his body to protect the puck from opposition. He has an ability to pivot himself around the puck quickly to gain and maintain puck control, especially in the corners. In this 19-minute video below, of Liljegren’s shift-by-shift game against Linköping HC on Nov. 22, 2016, you’ll see an example of how he shields the puck in this manner (skip ahead to 7:41).
Here, Liljegren had support from teammate No. 16 Christopher Liljewall, who assisted in retrieving the puck from the corner.
Doughty shields the puck in similar ways. In a game against the San Jose Sharks back in December 2008, we can see Doughty protecting the puck from Patrick Marleau and Ryan Clowe, using his legs.
If you go back to Liljegren’s shift-by-shift video again and skip forward to 10:15, you’ll see No. 41 Broc Little of Linköping (who happened to be leading the SHL in scoring at this time) skate into the offensive zone with the puck during a 4-on-4 situation. Liljegren defends the goal by using his body to hip-check Little, forcing him to cough up the puck and ultimately lose the scoring chance.
Similarly, Doughty defends his team’s scoring opportunities and performs this act on Pavel Datsyuk during a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 10, 2013.
I think one of the biggest differences between Liljegren and Doughty is their ability to play under pressure. Doughty seems to thrive under pressure, whereas Liljegren may not. Doughty also appears to be a bit more offensive than Lijegren, but that could be because of Doughty’s handling of pressure-packed situations. It could also have something to do with the system he plays in.
Swedish Hockey League at the age of 16, contributing one goal and five points – no small feat for such a young player in a very demanding league. There is always a tendency to compare a player to another from the same country, but Liljegren has a game similar to Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. If he can achieve that level, his impact in the NHL will be great. – Craig Button
The evading question regarding Liljegren’s potential in the NHL really comes down to the team who drafts him. It was the same situation for Doughty back in 2008. When he got drafted into the NHL, he was full of raw talent. He wasn’t relying on the structure of the Kings’ system. When he played in the OHL, he didn’t need that structure because he was talented.
With the fusion of structure into Liljegren’s game, it’s very likely that he’ll indeed reach his full potential at the NHL-level. After nearly a decade, the NHL may have found their next Doughty in Sweden. Depending on who drafts Liljegren, he might end up being a generational player.
I’m a Hockey Journalist based out of Barrie, Ontario, a Contributing Writer for The Hockey Writers covering OHL, and NHL prospects with an insatiable thirst for all things LA Kings, and PR gal for Abel Sports Management.