In his inaugural draft as GM of the Edmonton Oilers, Ken Holland selected Swedish defenseman Philip Broberg eighth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. This was met with mixed reactions from Oilers fans, myself included, as we are well aware of the team’s need for forward and scoring depth. In addition, their defensive pipeline is actually looking very strong, with players like Evan Bouchard, Dmitri Samorukov, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, Joel Persson, and William Lagesson hoping to soon join Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Darnell Nurse on the Oilers’ roster.
However, it seems what Ken Holland is following here is the philosophy of never having too many good defensemen. Not only will you then be able to have a strong top 6, but your depth and minor league defensemen will also be strong enough to jump up and play expanded roles when needed. This logic, combined with understanding the need for big, physical, mobile defensemen (which is all in Broberg’s scouting report as positives on him and his play) and knowing that the immediate winger help the team desperately needs will come from already drafted prospects, or trades and free agent signings, Holland is taking a slower and methodical approach to setting this team up for the future. That is how the Oilers came to drafting Philip Broberg at this year’s draft.
Moving forward to today, we have recently learned of Broberg’s plans for the 2019-2020 season. According to this tweet from Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, Philip Broberg will remain in Sweden playing with Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2019-20 season. Once again, this is being met with mixed reactions and strong opinions on both sides.
To help look at each side of this decision, we will be covering some of the pros and cons of Philip Broberg staying in Sweden instead of coming to North America to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL.
1) Quality of Competition
The SHL has a much higher quality of competition than the OHL. By staying and playing in Sweden, Broberg will be playing with and against much better players. The SHL is a professional league (and generally considered one of the best in the world) so Broberg will be getting the chance to play with and against older, more developed and experienced players. They will provide him with much more of a challenge and opportunity to develop within a professional system, rather than in juniors.
2) The Comfort of Home
He will get to stay with friends and family. This is a huge comfort thing for a guy who just turned 18 as he begins to transition into his hockey career. Yes, he will have to move away eventually to make it in the NHL, but there is nothing wrong with taking it one step at a time.
3) No Need to Rush Development
There is no need to rush him up. Us Oilers fans have been calling for this for years to stop rushing prospects through development and skipping over important steps. Ken Holland knows this, we have seen it in his past with players being given years to develop their skills before being brought up to the NHL.
The team knows what Philip’s skillset is, what he can do, and what he needs to work on. Let him have time to do that at each level, from the comfort of being closer to home, rather than continuing to set players up on the fast track to make the NHL roster, often before they should/are ready. The organization can afford to give him time to develop, then come over and adjust to the North American game, instead of doing it all at once.
4) Gotta get Paid
Even though Philip Broberg has signed his entry level NHL contract, by playing in a pro league in Sweden instead of the OHL, he will actually get paid for his efforts, which is always an appealing option from the player’s perspective.
1) Delaying Getting Used to North American Game
He won’t be getting used to the North American ice size and play style. This is often one of the bigger challenges of the transition for prospects from European leagues. The smaller ice surface makes the game quicker and removes a ton of options for skating and passing lanes causing the player to have to make different decisions at times. Although he will still be able to adjust later on, especially if he knows now to start anticipating the change, it could add another season to his development as he adjusts. But, as we’ve just discussed, Ken Holland does not like to rush players anyways.
2) Less Significant Team Role & Ice Time
He will get less ice time in the SHL compared to the OHL. In the OHL, he would be a top pairing defenseman playing 25 + minutes per night in all situations. In the SHL, he is more likely to be a 4-6 defender playing 15 minutes per game with limited special teams ice time. Factoring the quality of minutes played makes this comparison a bit tricky, but it may end up being approximately the same anyways. Either way, that is still a lot of ice time lost at an important stage in one’s career.
3) Distance from NHL Organization
There will be more distance from the Oilers’ development staff. Although there is no doubt that the Oilers will be keeping tabs on Broberg through the season and working with him in his development, the distance between the player and team while he is in Sweden may make it a bit more difficult to watch or meet with him in person, compared to if he were playing in North America.
Overall, we think the pros outweigh the cons quite significantly because of the slower approach to development that Ken Holland is ready and willing to take with Broberg.
Although he loses some time getting used to the North American ice size, game, and lifestyle, he gets to spend an extra season playing with a professional team and learning the lifestyle of a professional hockey player. If the team does not project Broberg to be an NHL regular for three (or more) seasons, that would still give him two-plus years in North America (likely in the AHL) to adjust.
He would project to be a getting top pairing minutes if he played with the OHL’s Bulldogs, but the quality of competition and quality of ice time would be significantly lower. With Skelleftea, he may get fewer minutes, but he will be playing against other professionals rather than junior/amateur level players, which has its own advantages to his development.
The comfortable environment surrounded by the familiarity of home, family, and friends will give some breathing room into this stage of his life where he can focus on hockey this season and moving across to North America in the future.
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