The mighty have fallen.
Timothy Liljegren entered the 2016-17 season as the undisputed best 2017 NHL Entry Draft eligible defender with the chance at pushing for first overall for all skaters. Now some establishments have dropped him as far as within the 20s.
Obviously from where we rank Liljegren you can already tell that we view him highly; Lily comes in at number six for our prospect profile series.
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-04-30
- Birthplace: Kristianstad, SWE
- Position: RD
- Handedness: Right
- Height: 6’0″
- Weight: 192 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Rögle BK
“Liljegren (6-0, 191) missed two months because of mononucleosis earlier in the season but is a solid prospect with great upside. He’s calm, smart and creative, and can move the puck with authority.”
“Very strong and matured puckmoving skills, delivers at both ends of the ice, has a booming shot and competes real hard in his own zone. A leader on the blue line who is competing against men in Sweden for the second season.”
“Liljegren was the early second overall ranked prospect for the 2017 draft. He missed time due to Mono and injuries which cost him a shot at the World Junior and subsequently he has slipped down some rankings. He is a mobile two-way puck moving defender that moves the puck up ice either by crisp, smart passes or carrying the puck with his long powerfuil skating stride. He hakes [sic.] good reads and reacts smart and quickly processing the game at a high level. Liljegren has shown well playing against men at the pro level in Sweden as well as in international tournaments such as the U18 in North Dakota and the Five Nations most recently. Don’t let Liljegren fall down your draft rankings as he should be the first defenceman selected in any draft.”
“When healthy, he’s one of the most dynamic offensive defensemen of the past few draft classes.”
“He’s quite creative and quite skilled. He can make the in-tight plays and control the puck in ways that distinguish him as a puck mover. LIljegren skates very well and can get up in a rush, but it’s his skill and offensive mind that elevate him to the highest levels.”
Liljegren missed the start of the season due to an infection of mononucleosis. Historically speaking, players infected with mono the summer prior or at the start of their draft eligible season perform below their true talent level. Again historically speaking, these players tend to be undervalued by both statistical models and the scouting community.
This is not always the case, but it has been a historical pattern.
Despite the handicap, Liljegren still had a solid season. He put up five points in the SHL in nineteen games played. That does not seem like much, but Liljegren was playing in one of the toughest non-NHL leagues to produce.
Liljegren is about average age for the draft, but what makes him so impressive is his that four of his five points were primary points and that these points were scored in the SHL. The SEAL model attempts to adjust for those factors, putting Liljegren’s production in terms more understandable and comparable to the larger data set in North America.
SEAL suggests that Liljegren’s production was the third most impressive of first time draft eligible defenders. The only two higher scorers were Juuso Valimaki and Conor Timmins.
With such high scoring at a relatively young age, we’d project Liljegren to have a fairly small but successful cohort set.
There are only two players that matched with Liljegren, and both of them produced less and one was substantially older. The one player that did match was NHL first pairing defender Tobias Enstrom. The other cohort is Oscar Hedman, a fifth-round pick in 2004 and Victor Hedman’s brother.
Enstrom peaked as a bona fide first pairing defender, although size and durability may have limited the length of that peak. Hedman meanwhile never travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, but a veteran of 703 Swedish pro-level games.
We can add some more information and create separation of these statistical cohorts by introducing qualitative information — ie: the eye test.
Liljegren is a wonderful skater. He’s quick, fast, and mobile. He can change directions with ease, accelerates efficiently, and produces an extremely powerful stride. His skating mechanics are a thing of beauty. He uses this to move the puck down the ice, join the rush, and create offense.
While both Hedman and Enstrom were well respected for their skating mobility, Liljegren definitely ranks far greater overall due to superior explosiveness and top gear.
In terms of offense, both Hedman and Enstrom were well-respected passers, but rarely shot and lacked any heaviness behind their shot. Liljegren has plus-level puck skills but carries an additional weapon in both his wrist and slap shot.
The one area scouts seem to be fairly uncertain over is hockey IQ. There are those that find Liljegren highly intelligent, while others think otherwise. I believe this controversy contrives from Liljegren’s playstyle. Liljegren is a dynamic offensive talent, who produces creative high-quality plays. This causes many to view him as highly intelligent. However, the right-shot defender also is a risk taker, which can cause some high-profile blunders.
Personally, I’m not as concerned about high-profile blunders. One thing hockey analytics has taught us is that a risky player should not be defined by the risks they take. It’s a tradeoff of risk, reward, and relative overall value versus the alternative choices. Some of the best players in the NHL make risky plays that cause high-profile giveaways. Some of the worst players in the NHL are also the safest.
The overall trend in the NHL is that both teams and players are risk averse to a fault. It handicaps them. There are times and places for the safe plays, but they can actually be worse off in the long run with tradeoffs.
Defensively Liljegren plays well enough. He is not viewed as a defensive liability and the term two-way defender follows him around, not offensive specialist. His skating and ability to read the game as it unfolds places him in the right places at the right time. The biggest weakness is his weakness, as in he lacks strength. Strength, especially at this age, is the easiest variable to change (heck, I’m over 30 and I’ve moved from nothing to a 405+ lbs deadlift in two years).
Then add in the mono variable. Loss of muscle, fatigue, and soreness are all medium-term symptoms of individuals recovering from mononucleosis. We expect Liljegren to be weaker physically (which makes his powerful skating all the more impressive).
This of course brings up the question: how good will Liljegren be when he rebounds from a full offseason?
It’s a tough question to answer. We do know is that Liljegren put up an impressive point pace according to SEAL, yet he actually put up similar numbers the year prior. Without mono, it is highly reasonable that Liljegren could have surpassed Timmins and Valimaki for being the top producing defender in the draft, while also being the far more dynamic player.
This is why we view Liljegren so highly and why he ranks as our top defender in the draft.