2019 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Victor Soderstrom

He’s a John Klingberg fan who has the potential to be the best right-handed defenseman in the draft.

Name: Victor Soderstrom

Team: Brynas IF (SHL)

Position: Right-handed defenseman

Stats: 44 games played, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, 22 PIMs, -11 plus/minus rating

NHL Central Scouting ranking: 3rd (European Skaters)

Comparable NHL player: Anton Stralman

There’s a discussion that always skewers any serious debate about a prospect. You know the one. “Best player available versus need.” I contribute to this discussion as much as the next person. And I have strong opinions about it, which Will Scouch has smoothly articulated for me. But it’s a discussion that has its own orbit by setting aside the actual identity of the player. That’s kind of unfortunate.

Especially when it comes to nuanced players. That’s how I’d describe Soderstrom: a player of exquisite nuance.

Despite being a consensus first-round pick, Soderstrom plays a very simple, yet very effective game. He’s a defenseman in name and craft. More than being “two-way,” his focus is being smart about where the puck is. Here he is playing on his off-side against a zone entry.

The most consistent part of Soderstrom’s game is his ability to use his smooth skating to stay in front of his man. On this play, he keeps the puck carrier boxed in. The forward doesn’t have an outside option because Soderstrom gets in front of him quickly, forcing a bad shot that ends up being blocked. He makes a slick move to pressure the point. It’s here where his movement is magnified. By making a move toward the point, the defenseman is forced to go D-to-D (or back to the forward who made the initial zone entry). But it’s also a bluff. Right away Soderstrom swiftly drops back to his initial man, which allows the supporting forward to reset, keeping the play moving along.

It’s also a reminder of how talent is just as crucial to playing in the corners as size and strength. Without the speed and skating ability, a defender can’t make the second play of moving toward the point. On such a big ice surface, it’s even more impressive. It’s also just a good read. Soderstrom knows where his support is, that his team has the numbers, and that he can be aggressive on this play.

It’s the same story in this clip, and Soderstrom is now on his natural side. The puck goes to the left point, and Lulea tries to cycle in the left corner. When the point-man gets the puck to the player behind Soderstrom, he immediately pressures him. But he doesn’t overcommit, recognizing that the strong side is not his. When the puck does go to his man near the half-wall, that’s when he pressures. The most impressive part of this play is that even with the cut back from behind to the net to the front by his man, Soderstrom ends up with inside position, mirroring him with precision, and lifting the opponent’s stick just as the puck is passed back into the crease.

This is the bulk of what makes Soderstrom a good blueliner. He’s always moving in the defensive zone. He’s a great tracker. Wherever he is, he always has his head up, always pressures, but always pressures intelligently. And sometimes physically as well. Despite his lean frame, he’s wiling to lower the boom on forecheckers.

“Okay but what about offense? I like goals, bro.”

Soderstrom doesn’t project to be an offensive defenseman. At least not by modern-day standards. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have handles and ability. Here he is making a calculated ankle-breaker against Switzerland.

The ability is there to produce. The reason why I don’t like calling him a “PMD” is simple: as the game progresses, we’re starting to see less reasons to think in archetypes. That’s because development systems in minor leagues are a lot better now than they were five or 10 years ago. Maybe this is all semantics. But when you watch Soderstrom, it’s his decision-making that informs his talents rather than the other way around.

This isn’t a great shot, mechanically, but he makes all of the right decisions to put the shot on net. His coaches have described him as “ice cold,” which is apparent in this clip. Soderstrom’s goal-scoring ability might be limited, but he’s good at getting open, and gets legitimate velocity on his shot. Then there’s this pass below. It doesn’t look like much at first glance but this is vision and execution at a high speed. Under pressure (and off a missed shot), he slaps the puck to the open man. The defender gets a piece of it, but breaks don’t go your way unless you’re playing the odds.

He’s more than capable of an end-to-end rush as well.

Still, he played big minutes in the SHL, sometimes going over the 20-minute mark, which included power play time. While you’d expect more offense from him, that’s not Soderstrom’s primary game, however. Critics might ask why you wouldn’t just pick a bigger guy with equal mobility if he doesn’t have big time offensive potential — players like Matthew Robertson, Moritz Seider, Alex Vlasic, or Thomas Harley?

Let’s talk about this. You’ve probably heard this before. “If the skill is equal, and the difference is size, take the bigger kid.” Sorry. You lost me. Consider the “player comparable” shortcut. Unlike plus/minus, it’s not useless. But is there anyone in the NHL that’s truly comparable to their peers? Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson are two young centers who scored 22 points in the regular season. Are they at all alike? Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov were two functional point-per-game forwards for Dallas. Are they at all alike? Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell are both young blueliners who scored just a tick over 30 points. Anything similar in their games? Even actual doppelgängers, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, have drastically different playing styles.

So not only are no two players ever the same, but no matter how similar, systems and structures will always make them look different (sometimes drastically so).

But let’s dispel this notion even further. Does character distinguish players from one another? I think that’s a reasonable assumption. Character can influence on-ice behavior. And it can influence the interaction players have with team personnel. Coaches have to trust you. Leadership qualities go a long way in establishing that trust. It’s a little superficial, but it’s worth pointing out because here, Soderstrom stands alone. He watches a ton of games, is a tape nerd, loves John Klingberg, and isn’t thin-skinned against criticism (preferring to use it as analysis). According to Brynas head coach, Magnus Sundquist ,  during an intermission in one game, Soderstrom walked up to his team, told them how they’d fix the power play, and began drawing up plays. More than a prospect, he’s a confident leader, and he’s already confidently leading men.

My long-winded point here is that you don’t draft broad categories of talent, needs, scoring, or defense. You draft players. I don’t think that’s as obvious as it sounds when you consider the mistakes that teams make at the draft. Any thorough analysis of a player will tell you exactly what their skills are, how those skills connect to that player’s unique hockey nervous system, and how that identity forecasts what they can contribute for the team that picks them.

There’s a lot to like about Soderstrom’s game. He may not be the big “weighty” man Dallas would like next to Miro Heiskanen in a few years, but he’s the skilled man who prefers to make good decisions, and plays efficiently rather than fit into convenient archetypes.