Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is defenseman Timothy Liljegren the answer at No. 8?

Published by, 6-9-2017

Using  a long-lost, 50's style, Leave It To Beaver-type expression revived by former FBI Director James Comey to answer the above question, "Lordy," he sure does.

If the Buffalo Sabres, who are without a coach right now, do end up bringing in Phil Housley, one can easily see his eyes lighting up at the thought of them drafting Timothy Liljegren at No. 8. Housley was a slick offensive defenseman who's style was compared to the great Bobby Orr and Liljegren has many of those same qualities.

Housley is an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators and is kinda preoccupied with that Stanley Cup thing, but once they finish he'll have a job waiting to coach either the Florida Panthers, who seem to be odds-on favorites, or the Buffalo Sabres. With Buffalo drafting eight and Florida 10th, one shouldn't be surprised if either team plucks Liljegren, if available, at either spot (although Detroit sitting at No. 9 might have something to say about that.)

Whether Housley or any other coach takes the reigns of the Sabres, Liljegren should be of supreme interest to any team with the way the NHL is played today. Teams want and need active defensemen that can join the rush and create. Liljegren does that as he can go coast to coast but he can also thread a stretch pass, which is another need. He combines speed, skill, hockey sense and finish to the point where he's been compared to Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But on his way to becoming one of the top picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, Liljegren was sidelined by mononucleosis, a disease that causes fatigue and is not cured by antibiotics. The usual recovery time is 2-4 weeks but it would seem as if Liljegren had pretty bad case of mono. He missed the first two months (after trying to come back too soon) and played a partial season for Rogle BK in Sweden's top league. In 19 games he scored a goal and added four assists, the exact same stat-line he had the prior season for Rogle. Two goals and 10 assists in 38 games total might not seem like a lot, but for a 16/17yr. old teenager playing in the top men's league it's very respectable.

SB Nation's Raw Charge, a Tampa Bay Lightning blog, put Liljegren's production in perspective. "In Victor Hedman’s U18 season in the SHL, he had four points in 39 games," they wrote before adding, "due to Hedman’s December birthday, compared to Liljegren’s April birthday, Hedman did have another season in the SHL before being drafted, and put up 21 points in 43 games. Erik Karlsson has a similar birthday as Liljegren. When Karlsson was a U18 player, he only played in thirteen SHL games between the regular season and playoffs, and only had one point."

Regardless of the comparisons, Liljegren's rankings dropped from near the top of the first round to somewhere in the 8-10 range right now. Mono didn't help, nor did an underwhelming performance at the Under-18 World Championships where the assistant captain for Team Sweden could only muster two assists in seven games. Because of that drop, it puts Liljegren right in Buffalo's wheelhouse.

For those excited about the possibility of drafting a prospect like Liljegren, it's best to keep in mind that we probably won't be seeing him in the Blue and Gold for at least two or three years. Liljegren is under contract with Bogle for one more season and more than likely it will take at least a year or two for him to adapt to the North American pro game. He'll need to deal with a smaller ice surface which will limit his free wheeling and he'll also need to add some bulk to his frame to play against the grizzled vets of the AHL and NHL.

However, if the Sabres and new GM Jason Botterill are serious about acquiring talent and developing them at their own pace, this is a pick that could pay off handsomely a few years down the road.

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