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2018 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Jonatan Berggren

Flying under the radar for most of the season, a stellar performance at the U18s has put the Swedish forward in the spotlight.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Name: Jonatan Berggren

Team: Skelleftea (SuperElit)

Position: Center / Right Wing

Stats: 38 GP, 18 goals, 39 assists, 57 points, 34 PIMs, +24 rating

NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 30th (European Skaters)

NHL Comparable Player: Kevin Fiala

**Editor’s Note: Apologies for not using a photo of Berggren as our header. We had a whale of a time finding a licensed photo of him, so we resorted to one of our trusty GM Jim Nill instead.**

In the world of amateur hockey scouting, big international tournaments are important events.

Beyond getting to watch some of the world’s top prospects compete against one another while representing their home nations, it also provides a rare opportunity for scouts to watch and evaluate European players who play thousands of miles away, sometimes in leagues with less access and exposure.

It’s one thing to follow a prospect who plays NCAA hockey in the Boston area or suits up for one of the many OHL teams just a short drive away from Toronto, but it’s an entirely different thing altogether to follow a guy playing in a junior league in Jyväskylä, Finland or Växjö, Sweden. Sure, NHL teams and independent scouting services employ watchers all over Europe to observe players and take meticulous notes, but these organizations and most members of their scouting departments are, by and large, based out of North America.

How lesser-known European prospects perform at events such as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (which has recently been renamed the Hlinka Gretzky Cup) and the IIHF World U18 Championship can go a long, long way. This is especially true for the U18s, which is the last international tournament every year before the draft.

The 2018 U18s wrapped up at the end of April, and few other players did as much to boost their draft stock as Swedish forward Jonatan Berggren. And boy, did he put on a show.

Before the tournament began Berggren was a prospect who generated a lot of questions in the scouting community, but not a lot of answers. Playing for Skellefteå in the SuperElit, Sweden’s top junior league, Berggren torched opposing defenses and racked up points at a ridiculous pace all season long. He finished the year with 57 points in 38 games — a total that led the entire league.

His point-per-game average from this season raises eyebrows when you compare it to how other top Swedish players performed in the same league at the same age:

It should also be mentioned that Lias Andersson, who was drafted by the New York Rangers 7th overall in the 2017 draft, had 59 points 37 SuperElit games at age 17.

Based on what data we do have, Berggren also rates quite well when looking at some of the advanced metrics and comparable success rates:

Despite his prolific scoring totals, Berggren was a challenging player to follow throughout the year because he didn’t spend very much time in either of Sweden’s two professional leagues, the SHL and the Allsvenskan. It wasn’t really Berggren’s fault: Skellefteå was one of the best teams in the SHL this season, advancing all the way to the league championships (before ultimately falling), so ice time was hard to come by. He dressed for 10 SHL games, but only averaged 7:17 of minutes in those contests; in three of them he played two minutes of ice time or less.

You can find highlights, and in some cases full recordings, of SuperElit games online, but they are inconsistent and the quality is low. To get a really good look at Berggren meant watching him at international tournaments. Luckily for scouts, he played for Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka last summer and then the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in February, performing very well at both events.

It wasn’t until the U18s in April, however, that Berggren really showcased the true extent of his abilities.

Simply put, Berggren was dynamic. Utilizing a fantastic blend of skating, puck control, and hockey IQ, the 5’11”, 180-pound forward was an offensive force to be reckoned with, dominating the puck at even strength and generating chance after chance after chance on the power play. He finished the tournament with 10 points in seven games, tied for third among all players, and did so despite having very little offensive support. The wide majority of Sweden’s offense in the tournament either started or ended on Berggren’s stick.

He was an absolute treat to watch at even strength. With a head of steam and the puck on his stick, Berggren displayed an incredible ability to gain entry into opposing defensive zones, moving laterally around defenders and playing keep-away as he waited for his teammates to come join him. He’s not an explosive skater, but his feet are always moving because he has a non-stop motor.

Kevin Papetti of the SB Nation site Pension Plan Puppets captured a number of these moments in GIF form, but he would have been a very busy man if he tried to get all of them. These can be found on his Twitter timeline, but here are a couple good ones to give you an idea about just how smooth and effective Berggren was:

Berggren was just as dangerous when working the man advantage for Sweden. He used the same mobility and stickhandling in the offensive zone to escape pressure and maintain a comfortable gap against the penalty killers. More than just a dangler, Berggren displayed sublime vision and playmaking ability, patiently waiting for small gaps to appear before threading passes to teammates through traffic. His point totals at the U18s would have been even higher still if he had teammates more capable of finishing the chances that he created more them. Watching him at this tournament made it crystal clear how his scoring totals in the SuperElit got so high.

Berggren played on the wing at the U18s, but he is listed in a number of places as being a center. While he will most likely end up being a winger in the NHL, it’s not out of the question that he could also become a successful player down the middle one day. With his package of skating, puck skill, and advanced ability to read the play, an NHL future similar to that of someone like Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson is realistically not out of the question.

With regards to weaknesses, size and strength are the obvious ones. Not only is he short, he’s also thin and lacks muscle in both his upper and lower body. His escapability with the puck is exceptional, but there are inevitably going to be times in the NHL where defenders are draped all over him, and Berggren isn’t going to win most of those battles. There were also times at the U18s where Berggren tried to do too much with the puck, trying to go through defenders one-on-two or even one-on-three when there were safer options available (it should still be noted that he was actually successful on an impressive number of these attempts). Perhaps some of his desire to do too much came from knowing that he didn’t have much help around him. Either way, that should be coachable.

There is always risk involved when putting too much scouting value on a single tournament, but in the case of Berggren, when you also take into consideration his SuperElit scoring totals and his style of play, it’s hard to not come away thinking that there is a very special player here based on what he showed at the U18s. Skating ability and puck management go a long, long way in the NHL these days, and Berggren has those in spades. In recent drafts, many skilled players have been undervalued because of their smaller size (Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny, Anthony Beauvillier, Sebastian Aho, Alex DeBrincat, and Brayden Point to name just a few), so it seems foolish to not take Berggren seriously as well.

Based on wider scouting consensus, Berggren seems like he would be a huge reach for the Dallas Stars at 13th overall, an off-the-board pick. Really dig into what the skilled forward brings to the table, however, and that notion becomes less far-fetched. Despite the risk, the Stars don’t have any prospects who excel in the areas that Berggren does, which just might make him a perfect complement to their prospect pool.