With the Stanley Cup finals starting next Wednesday, the off-season is set to begin in earnest with most teams (especially those who missed out on the playoffs) focusing on the lead-up to the NHL Draft.
There is little doubt that the Flames addressed a glaring need last summer when they selected Sven Baertschi 13th overall in the draft, and in slightly less than a year's time, that selection is already looking very good for Jay Feaster and Co. Baertschi, who led the WHL in playoff scoring this spring before his Portland Winterhawks bowed out to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the league final, was very impressive in his short Flames debut, and now has his sights set on a more permanent transition to the NHL.
But a single skilled forward prospect does not a promising future make, and the Flames will need to continue to utilize their current predicament to the best of their ability in selecting the player(s) that will hopefully help them turn their fortunes around and make it out of this mess looking better than they did going in.
Enter Pontus Aberg.
Aberg is one of the trio of "Bergs" making an impression ahead of this year's draft, and the NHL Numbers mock draft by The Copper n' Blue's Derek Zona has yours truly, the Calgary Flames selecting him with their first round pick in about a month's time. After the jump, some more information about the Swedish "sparkplug."
Eighteen-year-old Aberg, a native of Stockholm, spent the majority of last season playing with Djurgarden of the SEL, putting up eight goals and 15 points in 47 games with Sweden's best league. Although his squad has now been demoted to Allsvenskan league, the Tier II of Swedish hockey, Aberg is still gaining valuable experience playing against men, and finished seventh on his team in scoring in 2011-12, as per THW. NHL Mock Draft compares Aberg's production with that of Mika Zibanejad, who scored only nine points (five of which were goals) in 26 games for the same team ahead of being drafted sixth overall by the Ottawa Senators last June, and returned to play with Aberg for the same number of games this past SEL season.
Despite missing this year's World Junior tournament due to injury, Aberg has still received quite a bit of attention and praise from scouts as an extremely fast, versatile, two-way forward who can play both wings.
Across the board, Aberg is described as being on the smaller side (approximately 5"11) and very speedy with an accurate shot and a nose for the net and other rough, crowded areas of the ice who has demonstrated a willingness to work hard in all three zones. Like most players his age (Aberg is notably on the older side of this year's draft class with a September '93 birthday), he needs to work on his consistency and there seem to be varying reports on his passing game.
Aberg's playmaking abilities have been critiqued by those who have seen him live and he has thus far been labeled as more of a shooter than a passer, which is not necessarily a bad thing depending on preference (i.e. whether or not Alex Tanguay's virtual refusal to shoot the puck makes you want to pull your hair out). For the Flames, whose shortcomings in the way of top-end players who have yet to surpass their peak performance age has been well-documented, a little selfishness with the puck shouldn't be a deterrent, especially as the team has begun to venture out of its long-standing comfort zone where drafting is concerned, selecting smaller, non-North American born players in recent years.
Overall, Aberg is considered to be a mature player with top-six potential who is worth the risk to the team that selects him--although as always, there are no guarantees when it comes to the entry draft, even less so when picking outside of the top five to ten.
He certainly fits in with the Flames' needs up front, but whether or not he will be the best player available to fit those needs when Feaster takes the stage of if there will be another player better suited to fit other needs the club may now have (say, on the back end) remains to be seen (and will provide me with material for another post).