In each draft, there will be a player who suddenly rises on most draft boards. A player who might not have cracked the top 100 but suddenly are within a chance of being selected in the first round. This year that player is Anton Wahlberg from the Malmö Redhawks in the SHL.
Coming into the season, Wahlberg was expected to spend the season in the J20-Nationell. However, midway through the season he got a call-up to the struggling SHL team and helped turn around their fortune. After joining the team, he played 22 games and scored five points. He was also a part of the reason Malmö managed to win their relegation series and stay in the SHL next season. His presence on the ice was noteworthy throughout his stint in the SHL. It quickly had him climbing the draft boards in record speed.
Given the fact that Anton Wahlberg is 6-foot-3, it’s not a big surprise that skating isn’t considered his greatest strength. Especially his acceleration needs a lot of work, as he struggles to generate power in his first few steps. However, once he gets going, he is a surprisingly competent skater with many upsides to his game.
This upside primarily comes from his strong edges and movement on the ice. This allows Wahlberg to become an extremely effective forechecker. It also enables him to create a lot of space for himself and his shot offensively. He also has the ability to become a good transition player, as his strong hockey sense and off-the-puck movement allow for him to become a good outlet pass for defenders.
Wahlberg is also a player from the Swedish hockey school, which is clearly shown in his work rates. The Swede will play a responsible and hard-working game in all three zones. A style that ended up earning Wahlberg a spot on Malmö Redhawks’ second line in the last half of the SHL season. For a 17-year-old that is a feat that’s nearly as rare as a solar flare.
One of the most noteworthy parts of Anton Wahlberg’s game is his hockey sense. He has a great ability to scan the ice and make the right decisions. Both when he comes in with speed or wins a battle along the boards. He is also great at finding the right lane where he can use his great size and physicality to cut through the defense or bully his way inside for the chance to score.
He also has an incredibly strong net-front presence where he was able to win most battles when facing off against his age group. In the SHL he got tested more physically. However, he was still able to be engaged and win battles for rebounds and deflections. While his hand-eye coordination still needs a bit of work, he does get into the positions where he can score the greasy goals.
A point of criticism on Wahlberg’s game would be his puck control and overall skill. It needs a lot of work and while he is good at getting into position to get the puck, he will often struggle to smoothly get it under control. This lack of a second does limit how effectively he can use his good shot. For that reason, a lot of Wahlberg’s offense often ends up from his physical style and size. An area that he relies far too much on and does bring worries about his ability to translate his offensive production to the pro leagues.
Anton Wahlberg’s physicality and size are a part of his game that he uses in both zones. Defensively he will often use it to apply pressure to the puck carrier. Forcing them into a battle along the boards where he can slow the play down for teammates to get repositioned or to try and regain position by outmuscling the attacking player off the puck.
Wahlberg is also capable of creating a ton of turnovers with his great awareness in his own zone. He will see the play well and keep his legs moving, to get into position to win the puck. Often, he will get into the right lane to block a shot or pass. He also uses his stick smartly to force turnovers with his long reach.
Previously it was mentioned that Wahlberg quite clearly comes from the Swedish hockey program. In this program, there is a lot of focus on a player’s two-way game. This requires a good backcheck which is something Wahlberg also possesses. He takes his responsibility on the defensive zone seriously and will be one of the first forwards back. The one thing preventing him from getting fully back at times is his weaker acceleration.
Comparable and Prediction:
Players like Anton Wahlberg won’t ever steal the spotlight in the NHL, nor will they have the greatest highlight reels. However, the reliability of these players in all zones can be vital for a team’s success. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, where Alex Killorn has been a key part of the dynasty they created. Killorn is an example of a power forward with great size, work rates, and a good shot, but lackluster skating. Something which could be a style that Wahlberg will attempt to emulate in the NHL. He certainly has the tools to become the Swedish version of Killorn.
Main photo by: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports