The debate of best defenceman in the 2019 draft class was over nearly as early as the season began, but the debate for second best defenceman is still alive and well. Among the candidates is Sweden’s Victor Soderstrom.
The Skutskar native played nearly the entire season in the SHL, Sweden’s top professional league. As a 5-foot-11 teenaged defender, that is no easy feat. He owes much of that to his ability to hold his own in the defensive zone. His offence is generated through high-percentage plays rather than flash.
A prototypical modern-day defenceman, Soderstrom is the subject of today’s prospect profile.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / February 26, 2001
- Birthplace: Skutskär, SWE
- Frame: 5-foot-11 / 179 lbs
- Position: Defenceman
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: Brynäs IF (SHL)
- U16 Elit (West) Most Goals by Defenseman (13)
- U16 Elit (West) Most Points by Defenseman (29)
- U16 SM Bronze Medal
- J18 Allsvenskan (North) Most Assists by Defenseman (16)
- J18 Allsvenskan (North) Most Points by Defenseman (19)
- J18 Allsvenskan (South) Most Assists by Defenseman (13)
- Hlinka Memorial Silver Medal
- SHL Most Points by U18 Junior (7)
- U18 WJC Gold Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
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Victor Soderstrom is the modern-day defensive defenceman. He may be under six feet in height, but that no longer determines the value of a defender in his own zone. Soderstrom excels with high-end processing, excellent positioning, timely stick checking and quick bursts of speed on loose pucks.
One of the most impressive things about Soderstrom’s defensive acumen is that he’s not only good for his age in professional hockey, he’s flat-out good at that level, period. A player that can defend against men at 17 is only likely to get better at it as he grows older.
In this first clip, we see Soderstrom (#8) battling his check in front of his net. Note how effective he is at keeping his opponent away from the goaltender and outside the low slot. At the same time, Soderstrom is processing the game so well that he beats that player, who he has been pushing toward the wall, to the puck as it comes down the wall. He then absorbs checks from a larger player, using a low centre of gravity to fend off the attacker, and pop the puck out to a teammate.
He is also quite adept at defending the rush: He angles attackers toward the outside of the ice, and uses an active stick to poke at the puck without committing his body’s momentum, which would then expose him to quick maneuvers from his opponent. In 2-on-1 situations, Soderstrom shows no signs of panic, calmly keeping pace and staying low, waiting to break up potential passes.
Soderstrom beating opponents to loose pucks in his own end is a recurring theme in his game, as are quick passes to available teammates. In the next clip, he makes a tidy stick check to strip his opponent of the puck, and before his victim has a chance to catch him, Soderstrom has turned and dished the puck to a wide open teammate.
This is part and parcel to how Soderstrom plays in the defensive zone. His strategy is largely built around processing the play quickly, jumping on jumps, creating space for himself, and passing the puck off to teammates. The two plays in the following clip show him utilizing a swift cutback to buy himself time and space before making a pass.
Below, Soderstrom again uses the cutback to create space for himself, but instead of passing, he carries the puck nearly the entire length of the ice, taking the offensive zone before whipping the puck around the end boards to a teammate.
Something to take particular notice of in this clip: Watch how Soderstrom keeps his head up the entire time, and how often he shoulder checks and surveys the ice to see his options. He does this at two key points: when retrieving the puck to see how close the forechecker is; and immediately before he banks the puck around the endwall, so that he knows the puck is going to a teammate and isn’t just hoping so.
While Soderstrom’s skating is good enough to allow him to make the occasional rush up ice, that’s not typically his forte. Preferring the pass instead of carry, even when Soderstrom does transition the puck through zones, he’s usually only doing so when space is afforded to him; you won’t see him try to beat too many forechecks one on one, and if he does, the results are usually mixed. Soderstrom can handle the puck quite well in tight quarters, but attempting to make moves at speed can lead to issues.
Soderstrom instead looks to carry only in low pressure environments, passing the puck before he’s forced into trying something he’s not comfortable with. Whether he passes in the defensive zone, the neutral zone or after entering the offensive zone depends on the situation.
Passing is a clear strength of Soderstrom’s, and he can dish the puck with reliable accuracy over both short and long distances, from a standstill or while moving. He keeps his head up while skating the puck, surveying his options before finding a safe play. Because he is so attentive in this way, he rarely gives the puck away when in breakout situations. In this manner, he is a very safe defenceman.
If someone does go wrong with a breakout, however, or at the opposing blueline, Soderstrom’s lack of foot speed may be exposed. In one-on-one footraces, his short strides don’t generate nearly enough power to keep him with speedy forwards, and he can quickly be left behind.
These occurrences are rare, because he doesn’t often allow himself to be put in these situations, but Soderstrom will have to improve his speed as he only face faster and more aggressive opponents in the NHL.
Soderstrom is capable of running a power play at the professional level. His shot does not pose much of a threat (if he’s scoring goals, it’s likely through heavy screens and with friendly bounces), but point shots are no longer requirements of successful power play quarterbacks, only a welcome bonus. Quick thinking, lateral movements and quick passing are presently more valuable, and those are the areas in which Soderstrom shines. He can draw in penalty killers and move the puck quickly and neatly to either side. Given some of his speed and strength limitations, he probably projects as a player that can take care of your second unit power play, rather than running a first unit.
From a statistical perspective, Soderstrom had a decent but not overwhelming season. pGPS, which uses mainly offensive metrics to judge prospects in addition to accounting for the impressiveness of playing the SHL at that age, provides an expected likelihood of success of 26%, with a 20% chance of becoming a top-four defender. These are numbers that you would probably expect from more of a high second-round player.
I do think that Soderstrom is being sold a little short here, as his value is less wrapped up in points and more in defending and intelligence. We’ll take note of the fact that a couple of impressive defensive players, Adam Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson, appear in his cohort. Still, teams should be aware of what this type of production has amounted to in the past.
If we want shift focus to an area besides offensive numbers, Soderstrom’s ice time is a good place to start. The young rearguard averaged 17:06 in ice time this past year (official time on ice is released on SHL.se), which was fifth-highest on Brynas.
Notably, that average was the highest among all junior-aged players (under 20), beating out drafted prospects like Adam Ginning (second round to Philadelphia in 2018; 15:56 of average of ice time), Martin Fehervary (second round to Washington in 2018; 15:15), and Nils Lundkvist (first round to New York Rangers in 2018; 12:43). This is a pretty clear indication of trust from his coaching staff. Moreover, his ice time was increasing as the season went on. Soderstrom topped 20 minutes in four of his last 12 games and played upwards of 18 minutes in five others of that sample.
That increased ice time can be a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as his lack of five-on-five points exposes a pretty dreadful hourly point rate that lags behind not only the forwards, but the rest of the team’s defencemen as well.
Again, we are reminded that Soderstrom isn’t necessarily here to put up points, but the above chart doesn’t reflect well on his on-ice goal share either. Brynas accounted for just 40% of the five-on-five goals while Soderstrom was on the ice, about 11% worse than when he wasn’t on the ice. Without on-ice shot data, it’s impossible to tell for sure, but I’d suggest that the imbalance was due to a lack of offensive push when he was on the ice, rather than being caved in defensively.
On the power play, things didn’t go much better. Soderstrom was on and off power play units, picking up a total of 69 minutes of man advantage time. With that, he managed two goals and an assist, while his unit scored a total of four goals. That works out to about 17 minutes of power play time per power-play goal, which was the second-worst such rate on the team.
We do, of course, have to remember that Soderstrom was 17 through a large part of the season and 18 through the rest. Most players his even, even highly regarded draft-eligible ones, don’t get regular playing time in the SHL. It would be unfair to expect him to drive possession and pace his team’s defence corps in hourly offence at this age.
There are enough good signs when it comes to Soderstrom to believe that he’s going to be a reliable defensive defenceman, even if the offence isn’t there. I wouldn’t eliminate the possible quite yet that he develops some offensive upside, but I wouldn’t be counting on that either. Whichever team is drafting Soderstrom should be doing so expecting to get a reliable puck-mover. Any upside on top of that should be considered a bonus.
In my estimation, Soderstrom would be a defensible selection as early as the edge of the top ten, but is probably better suited to a mid-teens selection. Earlier than that, and you’re likely passing on a number of players with higher upside.
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com, SHL.se and swe.hockey.se.
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Victor Soderstrom’s page here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.
Dad, husband, hockey fan. Founder/analyst/editor/admin of NextGenHockey.ca. Contributor at CanucksArmy and the Nation Network. Blending video analysis and statistical modeling. pGPS, SEAL, etc. The Minnesota Twins are finally good again!