Euro Experiment of Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland pays off with clever, skilled signings

Euro Experiment of Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland pays off with clever, skilled signings

Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Nov 12, 2020  •   •  6 minute read

Philip Broberg

Article content

I can’t say with certainty that Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland has a secret master plan to build the depth of his team, but it sure looks like that.

It goes like this: scout the major European leagues each year, identify the fastest skating free agent veterans who also possess high levels of competitive fire and hockey IQ, then try to sign them to bargain, short-term NHL deals.

In 2019, Holland made two such signings who fit that exact description, Gaetan Haas from Bern SC of the Swiss League and Joakim Nygard of Farjestads BK Karlstad of the Swedish Elite League.

Both Haas and Nygard did enough to merit new contracts with the Oilers for the coming season.

This year, Holland has done it again, signing Theodor Lennstrom, 26,  of Frolunda HC of the SEL to a one-year Entry Level Contract for $925,000.

My first impression of Lennstrom from watching Swedish League games this year is that he’ll push hard to make the Oilers this year, just as Haas and Nygard did last year. I would not be surprised if Lennstrom wins a new contract as well down the road.

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He’s got “solid pro hockey player” written all over his game.

Here are my latest game grades on Lennstrom and other Oilers signings and draft picks now playing in Euro leagues:

Theodor Lennstrom, Frolunda, 2, vs Lulea, 0. Nov. 10. Grade 7. On his first shift, Lennstrom got the puck in the o-zone near the blueline, got his feet moving, faked a pass into the middle of the ice to throw off one checker, kept moving towards the corner, faked a shot on net to fool another defender and open up a shooting lane, which he then used to get a tricky shot on a screened goalie. That’s Lennstrom, full of smarts, guile, deception. He’s also a fast, agile skater, which allows him to dart quickly up on the attack with full confidence, knowing if things break down he can get back to defend.

Lennstrom does everything fast on the ice, walking the line, breaking up plays in the neutral zone, getting back to the puck on dump-ins. It’s as if the man is all fast twitch muscles. But he’s also got those hockey smarts, for example when he covered the attacker without the puck on a two-on-one, knowing that this attacker was the real danger man, and allowing the goalie to take the shooter. He did lose one battle in tight to allow a good chance against. He’s not perfect but he’s got plenty of game. Against Luluea, he played just 15: 51. He’s getting two or three minutes less per game this year than last year. Could this decrease is because he’s soon moving on to North America?

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Evan Bouchard of Sodertalje, 4, vs Karlskoga, 3, Nov. 8. Grade 8. If Lennstrom is all fast twitch, Bouchard is the opposite, Mr. Slow Twitch. But they’re both excellent in Sweden this year, Bouchard playing in the Second Division, where he’s now got 13 points in 17 games, putting him in the Top 20 for league scoring.

I hadn’t seen Bouchard play since January and had forgotten just how talented this player is. Yes, he’s playing in a lower quality pro league here, but he’s crushing it with his eerily accurate passing and shooting game. I’d hate to play darts against this guy.

He put up three points this game, one on a highlight reel goal where he circumnavigated the o-zone before barging into the slot and firing home a shot. But all game his play was marked by pass after pass right on the tape and by hard shots directed towards the net. Twice he put passes right on the money but also right through the skates of opposing players. It’s almost as if his passes were guided by lasers. While Bouchard never looks hurried, he did move awfully fast while jumping up into the rush, moving faster than I recall him going in the past. He also showed some fire; after a player tripped him, he got up and roughed him up a bit. But it was his passing that wowed me this game, so much so that every time his team had the puck in the offensive zone I was thinking they were nuts not to pass it to him at every opportunity because you just knew something good was going to happen.

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William Lagesson of Vita Hasten, 5, vs Vasby, 2, Nov. 9 . Grade 6. Wild Bill, too, is in the Swedish Second Division and he’s also thriving, with nine points in nine games, good for 43rd in league scoring. He rarely played the power play in Bakersfield of the AHL but he is getting that chance in Sweden this year. On a strong Vita Hasten unit, he plays the Oscar Klefbom role, quickly and efficiently moving the puck from the point, and he’s doing it well. However, after watching Bouchard’s passing display, Lagesson’s work in this department seemed pedestrian at even strength, though he generally got the job done. He showed his usual battle in front of his own net, threw one nasty hit, and skated the puck out of trouble when needed. He played 23: 25 this game, about his average for the season.

Joakim Nygard

Joakim Nygard, Farjestad BK, 3, vs Leksand, 2, Nov 10. Grade 6. Nygard broke his hand in a game against Calgary last January, then re-injured it in late September in Sweden, but he’s back in action now. Many elements of his fast, pesky and smart game are already back, but the timing that made him a top SEL scorer two seasons ago is still absent. This game he was digging in, throwing his body and stick here and there to break up plays, and making tricky cuts with the puck, then firing off passes, but he still appears to be lacking that bit of polish that will allow his close calls near the net to end up as goals. In six games this year, he’s got just one assist and no goals. His best moment against Leksand came when he used his blazing speed to break down the wing and set up a dangerous shot. The legs look fine, the hands appear battle ready and tested. The points will come.

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Philip Broberg of Skelleftea, 1, vs Linkopings, 2, Nov. 10. Game Grade 6. Former Oilers goalie Mike Zanier has said on Oilers Now that he projects Broberg as maybe a four, five or six NHL d-men. I project him as a one or a two. He’s a 19-year-old with good skill, great size, even better skating ability, and he’s already playing solid hockey as a Top 4 d-man in the SEL. In this game, he fired seven shots at net, getting four on goal. He did a good job covering off the danger man on a two-on-one and letting the goalie take the shooter. He picked off passes and made defensive stops all over the ice. On the downside, he got undressed by a slick stickhandler on one rush. He was also maybe a bit too static on Linkopings winning goal, sticking too close to his own man even as another attacker rushed dangerously into the slot to score. But he was out on the 6-on-5 when his team needed a goal in the final minutes. Overall, he’s now playing a smart, safe game, quickly and efficiently moving the puck when he gets it. I’d prefer to see him rush it more, trying to better exploit his magnificent speed, but perhaps it’s best that he (the youngest player on his pro squad) play it safe for now, as he’s generally doing.

Ryan McLeod of Zug, 5, vs Biel-Bienne, 4, Nov. 10. Grade 4. On the plus side, McLeod won nine of 13 faceoffs in his 11: 21 of playing time. He also showed plenty of hustle, set up a teammate for a Grade A slot shot with a sweet backhand pass, and had a few shifts where he was buzzing and flying, as he’s capable of doing with his size and speed. But when he got out of the penalty box in the first period, he was also the culprit who allowed a cross-seam pass on a goal against, hence his lower mark.

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