Alex Appleyard provides weekly updates of Flyers prospects in Europe here at Sons of Penn. You can find him on Twitter at @avappleyard for live updates and conversation regarding the young guns overseas and the big club here at home in Philadelphia.
The Flyers have found great success drafting out of Sweden recently. This week highlighted that. Not only did Oskar Lindblom have another great week, but the young trio of Felix Sandström, David Bernhardt and Linus Högberg had great weeks of their own.
David Bernhardt (defenseman)
Off the ice this was a big week for the lanky blue-liner, as he was named to the Swedish provisional roster for the World Juniors. With likely only one cut coming on the back-end prior to the tournament, he has a great chance to make the team.
In his first game after the Swedish World Junior team was announced, Bernhardt showed why he made the team. Facing off against Växjö last Thursday, he played a great game all-around. His play meant he saw 17:39 of time on ice on the second pairing. He did a good job in the defensive zone, using his size to effectively battle on the boards and refuse opposition forwards space around the net.
But, as usual, it was at the other end of the ice that Bernhardt really made his mark. With just over a minute left in the first period and his side trailing 1-0 Bernhardt walked the blue-line with his team on the man advantage and fired a seeing-eye wrist-shot over the goalies glove into the top corner. It was the kind of shot that a veteran winger would have been proud of, let alone a teenage defenseman. But then again, one thing that no-one will argue with about Bernhardt is that the kid can shoot. Slap, snap or wrist-shot, he has an impressive arsenal at his disposal, and not only generates great power on his shot, but is fantastic at getting pucks through to the goal. The rest of the game he was one of the few bright-spots for his side, as they fell to a 4-1 loss.
Two nights later, Bernhardt had a quieter night. In a tight checking game against Leksands he played less than ten minutes, seeing ice mainly on the third pairing and on the power-play. His side put up a 3-1 win, with Bernhardt playing a quiet game in his limited ice time.
The odds are that Bernhardt makes the Swedish WJC team, mainly on the back of his power-play skills. He is a legitimate power-play quarterback in the SHL as a teenager, something very few his age can boast.
SHL: 21gp, 2g, 5a, 7p, +4
CHL: 4gp, 0g, 0a, 0p, +0
J20 SuperElit: 9gp, 4g, 8a, 12p, +4
Linus Högberg (defenseman)
Off ice, the week started with some disappointing news for Högberg. The reliable blue-liner missed out on selection for the World Juniors preliminary squad. He was certainly in consideration, having played for Sweden under-20’s in their most recent games, but missed out when the youngsters plying their trade in North America were also brought into consideration.
The smooth-skating defenseman soon put the disappointment behind him. Högberg played two games this week, the first coming against Djurgårdens on Thursday. Högberg put in an assured performance in the 4-1 win. The youngster saw 15:39 ice time on the second pairing, while also being relied upon to kill penalties. It cannot be overemphasised how mature a game he plays for a player his age, being remarkably calm, cool and composed irregardless of the state of the game. He was rewarded for his solid play with an assist. During the second period with the game tied 1-1 he received a puck at the blue-line, walked the line, wound up as if to shoot, and instead laid a slap-pass to a forward down low on the goal-line, who deposited the puck into the gaping cage.
On Saturday, Högberg once again played well in a chaotic game against Frölunda. An 8-5 loss was the final result, but the Flyers blue-liner excelled despite the score. His simple, measured and effective game resulted in two assists. Neither were anything to write home about, on both he made simple outlet plays that ended with the puck in the opposition net. But they came as a result of good decision making. It seemed as though the youngster hit every pass he attempted all game and constantly put his forwards up ice with speed. While two assists are always nice for any player it was at the other end of the ice that Högberg made the biggest mark. Despite his team being scored on eight times he was not on ice for a single goal against, a testament to his well-developed defensive game. There was however one negative moment for him in an otherwise great game. With his team already a man down he fired a puck over the glass on his back-hand while trying to clear the zone. The result was a 5v3 power-play for Frölunda, and by the time Högberg left the box the opposition had capitalised with two goals.
Despite being one of the youngest regular players in the league it seems Högberg has now cemented himself as a top four defensemen on one of the better SHL teams over the last few weeks. Had his play seen this uptick a few weeks earlier he could well have joined Bernhardt on the WJC roster.
SHL: 26gp, og, 4a, 4p, -1
CHL: 6gp, og, oa, +3
SuperElit: 7gp, og, 6a, 6p, +0
Felix Sandström (goalie)
As expected the agile goalie from Gävle was named to the Swedish Worl Junior team last Monday. He is the odds on favourite to be the starter, and his recent play in the SHL has done nothing to decrease his chances. Sandström has been in an impressive vein of form over the last month after a tough start to the season, and this week was no different.
He only saw one game of action for Brynäs, but that is nothing to be concerned by, as his team only played twice during the course of the week, and the games were back-to-back. Sandström saw action in the second of the games against Färjestad, after his side had lost in overtime during the first game. The young goalie helped to make sure that his home-town team cam out the victors on Saturday. During the first period he was nothing short of fantastic. His pad-work especially was impressive, as he extended both left and right legs on multiple occasions to deny the opponent down low.
When he is ‘on’ he looks unbeatable, and after the first period it seemed like nothing would come close to beating him. However, hockey is a fickle beast, and early in the second he gave up a shot from the circle while his team was at 4v4. The shot was one that simply seemed destined for the net. The young Flyers goalie extended his left pad as far as it would go, but the puck found daylight between his outstretched skate and the post, daylight that was likely only a centimetre or so bigger than the puck. The rest of the second period was quiet for Sandström, as his side pressed the advantage and spent most of the second stanza in the opposition zone.
That would not last for too long though. Sandström had to come up big on multiple occasions in the third period, and denied multiple chances from in close and prime shooting areas. The highlights were probably a save from inside the blue-paint while on the power-play and a shoulder save for an uncontested shot from the right edge of the slot. He did allow a second goal against during the final period of play, but he could have done very little to stop it. With his side a man down an opposition forward eluded both Brynäs defensemen to find himself all alone in the slot, when the puck came in he tipped the puck perfectly past the young goalie. That would be the last time Färjestad would get a sniff of goal for the rest of the game. Sandström stopped 26/28 shots through 60 minutes as he helped his side to a convincing 6-2 victory. If he can carry his play from the last month into the WJC Sweden could do what they have not managed to achieve since 2012 and win the whole thing, as he has looked unbeatable against men recently in the world’s third best league, and he currently has the best win record of any SHL goalie, with nine victories from eleven games.
SHL: 11gp, 9w, 2l, .919 sv%, 2.00 GAA
Ivan Fedotov (goalie)
Fedotov had the quietest week of all the Flyers European based prospects this week. His team Toros only played one game over that time-span, and he was on door-opening duty on the bench. Do not be alarmed though, he is now embedded in the goalie rotation and will see at least half of the games from here on out. Over the last few weeks the giant goalie has established himself as the best option for Toros in net, beating out the six other goalies who have at some point dressed for the team.
VHL: 5gp, 3w, 2l, .928sv%, 2.01 GAA
Come back next week, where we will hopefully find out if Bernhardt makes the final cut for the WJC roster.