So far, it has been a complicated season for 2017 NHL Draft eligible defenseman Timothy Liljegren. He has appeared at three different levels of hockey: mostly in SHL with Rogle BK, but he has also seen time in Allsvenskan on a short loan to Timra and has (at the time of writing) logged 12 games at the J20 level again with Rogle. He has also been a regular for Sweden's U18 team internationally and has dealt with a case of mononucleosis earlier in the season that sidelined him for some time. Safe to say, he has seen a bit of everything in his draft eligible season.
We received some heat for placing Liljegren as the third best 2017 NHL Draft eligible prospect coming out of Europe (behind Nico Hischier and Elias Pettersson respectively) back in September and more recently still receive questions about his "stock" as a draft eligible prospect. That has prompted us to offer an extensive breakdown that should illuminate how we see Timothy Liljegren's game.
We will start this breakdown with what we feel is the biggest question-mark in Liljegren's game and also one of the main reasons for why we dropped him all the way back in September. His biggest flaw this season has been decision-making. With that said, let us continue with visual examples and their analysis.
This sequence starts with Liljegren actually doing a good job evading the forecheck, as he turns and loses the Canadian forward he is left with quite some time to make a decision on how to move the puck forward. In frame III, it becomes fairly obvious that the right option to take is to pass along the green arrow, that said there is still a less than ideal orange path to take which would serve more just as an outlet to get rid of the puck not necessarily move the play forward in a productive way. Seeing as Liljegren isn't under pressure, it's not a particularly good option in this scenario. While Liljegren does not pass immediately, he still has ample amount of time to execute the green option pass in frames IV and V. Yet, Liljegren fails to do so and eventually loses the puck to the forechecker. In this sequence, we see something that has been fairly common in our viewings this season and that is the failure to make decisions that use obvious positive passing lanes (and simple quality options in general).
In example 2 we see something similar, though not quite the same (or as clearly erroneous as in the first example). This sequence shows off Liljegren's propensity to overhandle and overcomplicate things beyond what would make sense. Liljegren does not use his first option in the first two frames and instead opts to use his skating to turn with the puck. Up to this point nothing is wrong per-se. However, even as he turns he fails to complete a controlled pass in time to either of his options, only managing to dish the puck by the time his teammate is running out of room into the opposition's defensive pair on the offensive blueline. Again, Liljegren in our viewings this season has been guilty of at times picking options that are not only harder to execute but also carry less benefit than easier/more obvious options.
In example 3, we have a fairly obvious mistake within the same scope of decision-making issues that we've seen so far. Liljegren here misjudges his ability to outskate/outmuscle the Canadian forechecker while ignoring both the reverse pass as well as the forward option towards his linemate that is gliding backwards to get into the relevant position.
Example 4 is simply a highly risky play as Liljegren attempts to cut and avoid the forechecker getting hit in the process and has the puck trickle towards the blueline uncontrolled. While executing the pass to the open teammate in frame II could have been difficult, considering his teammate has barely turned by the time the forechecker is already extending himself to cover that lane, one could also argue it is something you'd want a projected top 5 pick be able to do. Even that aside, what Liljegren opted to do is a very high risk play that close to his net and illuminates another aspect of his game that we've seen, which is his willingness to at times gamble on plays that aren't worthy of gambling on.
This risk-management aspect becomes very obvious in example 5 where Liljegren simply commits an awful turnover resulting in a goal against. In frame I, he should have seen the two options of either passing/dumping the puck along the orange line out of immediate danger, or skating it back to buy some extra time to see whether the situation improves (considering the opposition is changing, that would likely be the case). Instead he tries to outmaneuver the opposition as a last man back with a move that has little chance of working. In frame II he actually has one last chance to avoid taking that useless risk with an easy drop pass, but probably doesn't realize his teammate is free behind him as the opponent forward went for a change. In the end, he loses the puck in the process and the opposition scores.
Example 6 is yet another sequence from the same root of questionable decisions. The puck is dumped back on the boards towards Liljegren, it's a fairly soft dump so Liljegren has plenty of time to decide what to do with it. He could have skate towards the puck and moved it up to his teammate who is presenting his open blade ready to receive a pass, or (if the forechecker below him opts to take a more direct straight route upwards towards Liljegren and the open teammate instead of approaching from under an angle on the boards) opted to move it back down behind the net to the other side of the ice. Instead, Liljegren waits for the puck to come to him and hopes he can fake his way out of pressure. With this, the forechecker has plenty of time to close the gap on Liljegren and strips him of the puck when the puck finally gets to that area.
Example 7 is another quite obvious sequence where Liljegren takes on unnecessary risk and fails to utilize easier and better options. In this case he has ample time and not one but two open linemates in good position with speed to hit them with a pass, but instead opts for a complicated diagonal stretch pass through three Czech players hoping to hit a teammate on the offensive blueline that is already covered by a Czech defenseman to boot. Even if he managed to complete that pass, his team would have been in a worse position than had he opted to pass to either of his teammates in front of him. So, not only is the risk significantly higher, the reward is lower as well.
While decision-making has been a key factor in Liljegren's stock going down in our eyes, we will also take a look at other components of his game. The next one being defensive coverage.
Example 1 starts with what is not an unusual concern with young defensemen. We would like to see Liljegren become better at controlling the space in front of and around the net and pushing the opposition outside of it. In frame III, Liljegren actually loses the ideal position and had the rebound gone the other way it could spell trouble. Later in the same shift, Liljegren ends up chasing the play and to end it off after chasing him out, he ends up being late on picking up his man who beats him to the net.
In example 2 Liljegren shows off his skating which allows him to easily close the gap on the forward and poke the puck away from him. Being a strong skater, that is something that certainly can be used in defensive situations as well. That said, we would like to see Liljegren finish the play off by obtaining the puck or eliminating the forward out of play. While the forward was stopped from proceeding further on the initial play, he still manages to obtain the puck and control it on the second effort play.
Example 3 has a similar start as example 2 as Liljegren is defending a zone entry play. In this one Liljegren ends up guilty of puck-watching. While he doesn't struggle in keeping up with his skating and attempting a pokecheck, he doesn't really look to use his body in this instance at all and ends up being fooled on a nice play by the forward. Seeing it is a 2 vs 1 (with the 3rd Rogle player changing) situation in frame I, it is obvious Liljegren should have been less naive here and made sure he effectively closed down the forward, forcing a dump-in at worst that would easily be picked up by his backchecking teammate. In frames V and VI he bites hard on the move by the same forward who cuts inside on Liljegren.
While we would like to see Liljegren use his body better on a consistent level as far as tying up forwards and closing them down goes, we have seen him occasionally throw his body around and go for hits. In this sequence, you can see him completing a nice hipcheck.
Like with puck-movement, we would like to see Liljegren pay attention to all the options on ice. In this case, he is unaware of a big hole developing behind him and oncoming opponents who will take advantage of it (though, it is clearly the fault of Team Sweden as a whole considering there are 3 unmarked USA players coming into a prime scoring area, Liljegren still carries his share of blame in this sequence, especially as he is moving towards the 2 Swedish players who already are paying attention to the puck-carrier and instead isn't aware of the space behind him).
In part one of the breakdown we took a look at Liljegren's decision-making and defensive coverage which tend to be some of Liljegren's weak points. In part two we will take a look at his skating, transitions and offensive play which are obviously some of the stronger aspects in Liljegren's game.