On the face of it Niklas Hansson is having a good season. He's in the first year of a two year extension with Rogle and has improved upon his totals from last year. At 19 he was named one of the alternative captains for Rogle, an impressive achievement to say the least.
In 45 games this season he has 21 points. He leads his team in defensive scoring and is 14th overall in defensive scoring in the Allsvenska. This is an improvement upon a 17 point season last year. With four games left in the season Rogle are right in the mix to fight for a promotion spot, just like last year.
But all isn't well for Hansson. He wasn't selected for the World Junior Championship, something that came as a surprise to most observers of Swedish hockey. In the games following his non selection he received reduced minutes as his play suffered. This bump was overcome and he returned to regular minutes on their second defensive pairing.
In the last few weeks however Hansson has suffered another period of poor play. His offensive instincts have him jumping ahead of the play, and his defensive work has suffered. He has been benched for most of the games that Rogle have played recently and his time on ice has reduced to ten minutes or less.
While he admits in this piece that he has to not get bogged down by his period of poor play and limited minutes it is troubling to watch from afar. It's especially worrying considering the recent troubles of fellow Dallas Stars prospects Ludwig Bystrom and Emil Molin to get ice time in their native Sweden. It also raises questions on when would be the best time for players to make the jump to North America.
Ludwig Bystrom has been in Sweden for longer than it was expected, and his troubles with ice time have continued. Emil Molin couldn't get the ice time with Brynas and was moved to Rogle. Even here he has had trouble getting ice time or getting on the ice at all. Now Hansson is having difficulty with ice time.
Allowing European players to develop in their home leagues and not to push them to North America too early can help their development. However there is also an argument to be made that overseeing their development directly in North America could be a better idea for other players.
Could Niklas Hansson be heading to the Texas Stars or the Idaho Steelheads next year? It is a possibility but one that is quite unlikely. The Dallas Stars have in the past shown a lot of patience with players from European leagues. Niklas Hansson was drafted after the new CBA and the Dallas Stars have another two years before they lose his rights.
Is it worth having him develop directly within the organisation or should they take advantage of the extra two years and keep him in Sweden playing with Rogle?
I believe that the Stars will be patient with Hansson and hope that these periods of poor play work themselves out as he grows older. Rogle provides stability for him and he is still having a career season, despite two stints of reduced ice time and scratches. With Bystrom and Esa Lindell, along with potentially Dmitry Sinitsyn, heading to the Texas Stars will there be room for Hansson?
For most of the season Hansson has played well and has improved. It is entirely possible that these periods are simply anomalies from his normal play. With time it might pass and he could continue to improve and develop. Pulling him from Rogle could be an over reaction to something that isn't that uncommon for young defensemen. But with the problems that Molin and Bystrom have had it might be tempting.
For now it seems the plan will be that Niklas Hansson remains in Sweden, at least until the end of next season. The situation with his ice time and poor performance will have to be carefully monitored. Hansson still has the time to smooth out his game and to earn and keep bigger minutes.