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SHL Hockey- Season 2018/9 Preview

This weekend sees the start of the SHL, but who will will win the Le Mat Trophy? Here's your preview of the up and coming season.

It's always a safe bet to go for Frölunda Indians and Skellefteå AIK in the top places in the SHL. My reasoning for that this year is that they both have very stable teams and managers. Of course, they've lost a few players to the NHL, not least number one draft choice, Rasmus Dahlin, from Frölunda to Buffalo Sabres. But both are able to retain and recruit such talented players that means, for me, they are the strongest teams this year.

Djurgarden IF, Växjö Lakers, Brynäs IF, Farjestad BK, Malmö Redhawks and Timrå IK have all dropped significant players and I can't see any of them doing as well as last year. But I placed Djurgarden top of this group as they signed the talented Dick Axelsson from Farjestad and Jakob Lilja from Linköping HC, who are game changing goal scorers.

HV71 and Örebro HK are my 'dark horses' for the championship. HV71 have a totally new squad compared to last year. That includes the return to Sweden of 30 year old Andreas Thuresson (above, in Malmö Redhawks colours). He has a c. 0.5 Points Per Game from more than 650 games in an 11 year career in the SHL, KHL and the AHL. By my reckoning one of the best signings of the pre-season.

At the same time someone on the board at Örebro HK has decided that they no longer want to be a team that only just manages to survive in the top division each year. The cheque book has come out for a number of high scoring talents, not least former Brynäs forward, American Aaron Palushaj. Both these teams have the potential to pull off amazing success or completely implode - only time will tell.

At the bottom I think the teams that have come up from the Hockey Allsvenskan in recent years will struggle. For example, both Rögle BK and Mora IF have lost their top scorers from last year. But my biggest concern is for newly promoted Timrå IK. They have lost their top three points scorers as well as their goalkeeper from last year's successful team.

PLACES 1-6

1. Frölunda Indians

2. Skellefteå AIK

3. HV71

4. Djurgården IF

5. Växjö Lakers

6. Örebro HK

PLACES 7-10

7. Linköping HC

8. Brynäs IF

9. Farjestad BK

10. Malmö Redhawks

PLACES 11-14

11. Rögle BK

12. Luleå HF

13. Mora IF

14. Timrå IK

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -6. Marcus Svensson

Markus Svensson (FBK)

Of the 28 keepers in the SHL all but four are Swedish and, indeed, Swedish netminders also have made inroads into the NHL and KHL. Just look at the Swedish World Championship 2018 Gold medalist keepers Anders Nilsson of Vancouver Canucks and Marcus Hellberg, then of Red Star Kunlun.

Svensson himself returns to Sweden and Färjestad BK after two years in the KHL. Now 34 and has worked his way up through the Swedish leagues so that by 2011/2 he played his first games in the SHL. But it was the move to Skellefteå AIK the following year that he began to show his true class. In the four years he was at the club they won the regulation series every year, were in the playoff final every year and won the Championship twice. Talking of consistency- in those years he had a Save Percentage of between .919 to .922! He also got to play his three games for Sweden in The Euro Hockey Tour.

All this is to say that Färjestad have made a great signing of a player who knows how to play his part in a winning team. Whilst I'm not convinced of the team's credentials on offense, they have one if the best Swedes available between the posts and it may be enough for the team to finish in the top six again this year.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -5. Daniel Rahimi

Daniel Rahimi (VLA)

It would be almost impossible to pick a team of Swedes without someone from Växjö's championship winning team being in it, so I have gone for defenseman Daniel Rahimi. The 31 year old had undoubtedly his best season by almost any count - most goals in a season, equal highest Total Points, highest Points Per Game and, perhaps most remarkably, he came second in the whole SHL for plus/ minus behind teammate and wonder kid, Elias Pettersson.

Drafted in 2006 by the Vancouver Canucks, Rahimi then played two years in the AHL, but did not get a chance to play a NHL game and he returned to Sweden for the 2009/10 where he has played all but one year as well as gaining experience in the national team. He played for Linköping HC for four years from 2012/3 and he also gained experience by being part of the national team for Sweden all season that time. For the club he had a more traditional back role, dishing out the big tackles and rough stuff whilst others found the net. But at Växjö he has found different role as the team plays a more mobile form of hockey and the defense is required to play the puck out of trouble. This partly explains the Björklöven trained player's rise up in terms of points and plus/ minus as he moves from destroyer to creator. Whilst I believe this season has seen a more disciplined Rahimi compared to his Linköping days, it is still his main area of weakness. He received a match penalty for two games in a row in November.

 

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SHL 2018/9 - Team Preview - Örebro

Örebro HK

Örebro for the first time since they gained promotion to the SHL might be a top six team and are my surprise package to topple some of the big names of Swedish hockey this year.

The chequebook has been out to create a team that wants to score goals.

They retained Anton Hedman (above) who came in from Luleå to rescue the team at the end of the season, scoring 8 points in just 10 games. But more significantly, have bought in the top scoring back from HockeyAllsvenskan, Marcus Björk as well as one of the top scoring backs already in the SHL, Kristian Näkyvä from Linköping HC.

At the back they have brought in 27 year old Finn, Rasmus Rissanen who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009. The big hitter is more used to collecting Penalty Minutes than goals played nearly 300 games for the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) collecting 357 PIMs. He has similar stats his two seasons for Jokerit in the KHL.

Perhaps the person who'll remind him that in Sweden you have to keep the gloves on is his former teammate from 2009/10, Shane Harper. The American has a very successful career in the AHL with nearly 400 games, 85 goals and 183 points.

But if Harper is an unknown quantity, they have goal scoring certainty with the brilliant Aaron Palushaj. He was an unknown in Sweden before playing for Brynäs, but had his best year since 2013/4 when he played with Rissanen for the Checkers in the AHL.  

He joins a team designed for success and only time will tell if the ambitious attacking re-build gamble pays off.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -4. Marcus Björk

Marcus Björk (ÖHK)

Shortly 21, Marcus Björk will be joining Örebro HK this autumn for the biggest step in his career. Originally from Norrbotten, it was last year with IK Oskarshamn that he had his breakout year not just leading the league in points as a defenseman but the whole team with 34. He was only 10 points behind Jonathan Dahlén, who will be starting in the AHL/ NHL circus shortly and he scored more than seasoned players like Mattias Ritola of Leksand IF. Oskarhamn finished 7th in the league but surprised many by getting to the semifinals stage of the qualifiers for the SHL. They nearly caused the shock of the season when the beat Leksand and took the Dalarna club to sudden death then beat them at home before eventually losing the series 2-1. Björk impressed with one goal and two assists in the series. He will be joining a new look Örebro and playing alongside Kristian Näkyvä, an experienced points scoring back in the AHL, Liiga, SHL and at international level. I'm hoping the young defenseman can make a success transition to the SHL and make his mark as a top back in the league. He's already had a small taste of North American hockey where he played a handful of games in the USHL as a junior. So who knows how far this young Swede can go?

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Champions Hockey League (CHL) - weekend 2 review

The second weekend of the CHL has come to an end with every team playing another two games, leaving only just two remaining matches in the group stage of the tournament.

The only teams to maintain unbeaten record are Czech Republic's HC Pilsen (four wins out of four in regulation) and Swiss SC Bern (three wins in regulation and one in overtime). Meanwhile Skellefteå AIK (SWE) and HV Zug (SWI) remained unbeaten in regulation having both won three games, but losing one match in overtime.

Three players have scored 8 points in four games, but Red Bull München's Trevor Parkes leads the Total Points competition by virtue of also being the CHL's Top Goal Scorer with 6. The Canadian forward is in his third season in the German DEL but has previously played over 200 games in the AHL. Those have primarily been with Detroit Red Wings development team, Grand Rapid Griffins.

Unexpected losers in the competition are Finnish TPS, Swedish champions Växjö Lakers (both with 3 losses) and Germany's Eisbären Berlin, who have lost all four matches. These teams will struggle to make it into the knockout stages now. Likewise, Storhamar Hamar, the Norwegian team of Patrik Thoresen (pictured above) who are bottom of Group E.

This has been the most exciting CHL since it started in 2014/5, mainly because the gaps between the teams are far less than before.

Cardiff Devils (GBR), for example, may not have won a game, but are at a whole other level to the team that lost 10-1, 7-3 and 5-1 in their away games last year. The Elite League champions were leading top team, SC Bern 2-1 with 16:06 to go in the game until a late run of goals lead to 3-2 to the home side at the final whistle.

Surprise of the tournament remains Italian, HC Bolzano who have beaten Finnish legends Helsinki IFK home and away as well beating Skellefteå AIK in overtime at home. I use the word "surprise" cautiously, however, because this is team has nearly 2000 AHL games of experience. Wins against Polish GKS Tychy, who so far have lost every match, will guarantee the EBEL champions qualification to the knockout stages.

The final rounds of the group phase of the competition will take place on 9/10 and 16/17 October and will feature back to back matches against the same opponents. So, see you then to find out who's in and who's out of this year's Champions Hockey League.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -3. Marcus Davidsson

Marcus Davidsson (DIF)

Soon 20, the centre has already two seasons in the SHL with Djurgården having come through the team as a junior. Last year he played in Sweden's Junior World Championship team that won Silver and scored in the match against the Czech Republic as well as serving up two assists.

As well as the World Championships, the 2017 Buffalo Sabres drafted player had a breakout year, as did the whole club, and Davidsson finished the season with 21 points in 39 games in the regular season. An attack minded centre, he's always dangerous in the last third and he has a knack of being in the right place at the right time, as well vision to see when he should release the puck to teammates. The younger of the Davidsson brothers also plays smart, staying out of the penalty box.

Especially with the Swedish junior team, but also with Djurgården he was in a milieu of talented players playing at the top of their game. Marcus won't necessarily have those kind of players around him this year, such as his brother Jonathan. So this season will see him develop as an individual and if he maintains the upward trajectory can expect to join many of his Junior World Championship colleagues in North America soon.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -2. Simon Hjälmarsson

Simon Hjälmarsson (FHC)

Hjälmarsson is one of those many talented, but underrated, Swedes who provide skill and experience to teams enabling some of the more famous names around them to shine. The youngest, but most successful of three hockey playing brothers, Simon is now in his third season at Frölunda where he played at Under 20 level. He also played for Sweden every year between 2010/11 and 2014/5 and earlier in his career at the Junior World Championship two years in a row which lead to him being drafted in 2007 by St Louis Blues. However, this has never lead to time in North America and at 29 years old Hjälmarsson is now unlikely to play on the continent. Although he has had success in the KHL with CSKA Moskva it is in the SHL he has excelled the most, first at Linköping where he was part of Pär Alverbrant's incredible 2013/4 when he scored 71 points and teammate Chad Kolarik won the top goal scorer with 30 goals. But now with Frölunda he has picked up so that his average fit his seven seasons in the league is an impressive 0.63 PPG. He probably won't be on the top line with the likes of Lasch and Rakhshani on the team, but he be knocking in goals on a regular basis.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team Sweden -1. Joakim Lindström

The Swedish Hockey League is naturally dominated by homegrown players and differing stages of their careers. The young wannabes hoping to join the NHL, the 20-somethings who have settled in the rhythm of European hockey and the 30-somethings returning from North America hoping to feel their way back into the Swedish game.

I'm going to make a Fantasy Team from this year's crop of Swedes playing in the SHL - two forwards, a centre, two defenseman and, naturally, one keeper. I've not always chosen who I think is the best in each position, but tried to a variation of clubs, backgrounds and stories to give you a feel of the talent on offer this season.

 Joakim Lindström (SKE)

Who wouldn't want to have Lindström in their team? The 34 year old, playing in his hometown club had played in the NHL, AHL and KHL and his statistics in the SHL are simply phenomenal- since 2010/11 when he returned to the country after his first stint in North America he has scored more than 1 Point Per Game every season, except one - where he also played in the NHL - that is 300 points in 283 regular season games in total. It means every single game he plays he either scores a goal or creates a game. I think it fair to say he is one of the best Swedish players outside the NHL. Lindström's major weakness his discipline- he consistently picks up more Penalty Minutes in a season than matches played and you can almost guarantee that each year he will pick up a match penalty or two for Checking to the Head or Boarding plus subsequent suspensions.

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SHL 2018/9 - Fantasy Team North America - 6. Justin Pogge

Justin Pogge (RBK)

Imports players often come in and support or provide specialist services to a team, especially goal scoring. You might have thought that this would lead to a lot of netminders coming in but, no, Justin Pogge is the only North American of all 28 SHL keepers.

The 32 year old Canadian was drafted by Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004 after he had played for the national team in the Under 18 World Cup. He then followed that up by playing in the Junior World Championship the following year, where he minded net in a Gold winning team that included future stars, Jonathan Toews of Chicago Blackhawks and Kris Letang of Pittsburgh Penguins. Pogge had set a new tournament record with three shutouts and was been billed to be the "next big thing" in the Leafs illustrious history.

But having played brilliantly in his first NHL match, it simply did work out in the remaining six starts he was given. Instead he was "sent down to the minors", playing three years at the Leafs AHL development team, Toronto Marlies.

Pogge continued to seek take first keeper places in the AHL over the next four years until he took a risk before the 2012/3 lockout and moved to Europe aged 26. And it has been Sweden that his become his home. This is his second season at Rögle BK at he will be hoping to improve on his SVS% of .898 - the worst of his European career. The team will need him to be at the top of his game to not get ensnared in the relegation fight, as they did last year. The team has great ambitions and hope sparked by their remarkable second half of the season that saw them move up from bottom to tenth place. But will that drive be enough to produce results or will it be the fearful drop zone again for the team from Skåne?

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