Toronto Maple Leafs: Scouting the Swedes

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 5: Timothy Liljegren
BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 5: Timothy Liljegren /

With the 2018 Toronto Maple Leafs development camp underway, many players are fighting to prove that they deserve a spot on the Leafs roster.

In the past few years, quite a few of the team’s best prospects hail from the country of Sweden. With their 29th pick in this year’s draft, the Leafs opted to select another Swede, defenseman Rasmus Sandin. In addition to Sandin, last year the Toronto Maple Leafs first round pick was another Swedish defenseman, Timothy Liljegren, who was selected 17th overall.

A few other notable Swedes on the Marlies, who are trying to secure a permanent Leafs roster spot include, Carl Grundström and playoff call up Andreas Johnsson. Defenseman Andreas Borgman also spent some time with the Leafs this season. And let’s not forget one of their most notable young stars currently on the team, William Nylander. So, what is it about Swedish players that is so captivating for the Toronto Maple Leafs? There are two approaches to analyze this trend, a statistical one and an observational one.


In addition to raw statistics of individual players, one factor to consider while evaluating the country of Sweden as a whole are NHL translation numbers. Below are the NHL translation factors for 2017-2018. Translation rates depict the level of performance to expect from players when they shift to the NHL. So, if the AHL translation rate is 0.486 then expect players who come from the AHL to the NHL to play at 48.6% of the level at which they played in the AHL. So, for example, if a player scores one goal in the AHL, the goal expectation for the NHL should be 0.486.

Behind only the KHL, the SHL has a relatively high translation rate (in comparison) of 0.596. This is above the AHL’s translation rate of 0.486 and significantly above the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL which are near the bottom of the list.

Translation rates need to be taken with a grain of salt since they depend on the players going straight to the NHL from the league listed, whereas most players go from one league to another (ex. OHL to AHL to NHL) before making it to the show. However, translation rates are important to consider when drafting players because they attest to the environment they have played in. Liljegren played for Rögle BK, Andreas Johnsson came from Frölunda HC (the same hockey club that produced 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin), and Andreas Borgman came from Timrå IK.

All players who played in environments that had high NHL translation rates, meaning that even if they have a stint in the minors before making the jump to the NHL, they already have a statistical advantage over players coming from the Canadian Hockey League or American collegiate hockey programs.


Swedish hockey players play the game with intense precision and focus. Most of them have a very good Hockey IQ and teams are attracted to drafting guys who play smart hockey. Ken Holland, General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, a club that boasts numerous successful Swedish players, gave his thoughts to Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe in October of 2013 by stating “[Swedish players are] really good competitors” and “it doesn’t matter how hard the going gets. They don’t back off. There’s always an exception to every rule. But for the most part, they play hard. They go to hard areas. They’re respectful of the game. The ones that work their way through the system — through the Swedish World Junior, the Swedish national program, play in the NHL — they all can skate, and they’ve all got hockey sense” (Shinzawa 2013).

Each country has their own school of hockey that greatly differs from one to the other. The Swedish school of hockey very much focuses on perfecting skills and learning the game, as opposed to quick progression.

This has proven successful on the international stage as Sweden currently boasts back to back IIHF World Championships, and had a dominant performance at the most recent World Juniors. This attention to detail shows in things like the great skating ability of Swedish players and their ability to drive plays, creatively and effectively.

Next: Tavares Prediction

All of the Swedes in the Toronto Maple Leafs pipeline have the potential to really help this franchise, so overall their increased scouting in Sweden and drafting of Swedish players seems like a good decision.