A look at Toronto Maple Leafs first round draft pick Timothy Liljegren with our McKeen's NHL Draft Guide write up and a detailed scouting report from Jimmy Hamrin out of Sweden.
A tough season saw him drop out of the top 5 discussion from the beginning, but could end up being a steal if he reaches his considerable potential.
McKeen's 2017 NHL Draft Guide
Coming into the season, Liljegren was generally the first defenseman named when people talked about the 2017 entry draft. To some, he was in the opening conversation about the first pick of the draft, regardless of position. The past eight months did not live up to the expectations of that early hype. It is common for unmet expectations to cause people to underrate what is still there, and we should not make that mistake.
Despite the relative sense of disappointment, this is still a top tier prospect and someone that will make one NHL organization very happy to welcome him into their system. The raw skills that earned him 19 games in the SHL at the age of 16 are still here. They simply did not peek out often enough as Liljegren was shuffled between the SHL, the Allsvenskan and the SuperElit in his draft year.
His skating ability and puck skills are both exceptional, calling to mind the inevitable Erik Karlsson comparisons (a name we hear a lot in this draft class) when he is at his best. His speed comes easy, with great balance, and top shelf acceleration and agility. He can thrill with his puck rushes, adding his quick hands and strong puck control to his aforementioned skating chops. He has a series of impressive fakes and dekes that allow him to get into position for a clean shot on occasion. The shot is also a plus weapon. He has a quick wrist shot and a powerful slap shot.
Amid all of those superlatives, there is the sense of stalling potential, as he did not show as much improvement year-over-year from last year to this one to avoid suggestions that he has a higher bust rate than many others with his high end skills. A lot of that has to do with his defensive decision making and his proclivity for reverting to a solo game, stepping away from his team’s over-arching structure.
For the team that believes that his struggles this year were a result of mid-year illness and the lack of stability over his environs, they will be happy to gamble that Liljegren will turn into a first pair blueliner in two or three years, risking that he may have already peaked. His tool set is rare enough to place that bet within the first 20 picks.
A detailed scouting report from Jimmy Hamrin, January 31st, 2017
Skating: Liljegren is a strong skater. He has great balance on his skates and good lower body strength. He doesn’t seem to need much energy to skate fast. He accelerates with ease and great control. His top speed is excellent and already at an NHL level. The agility is good and he can move smoothly across the offensive blueline or make quick turns along the boards with the puck. If there is something he could develop extra it is his ability to move quickly from forward skating to backward skating, which is hard at elite senior level but sometimes he gets beaten or caught out of position that way. Grade: 65
Shot: Liljegren has a quick wrist shot with a quick release. Sometimes his shots tend to get blocked often but he is also pretty good of getting the shots through the traffic. He can one time his slap shots with great power and has scored goals that way, even at senior level. At junior level his shot is really dangerous suggesting that when he becomes more comfortable at senior level he can become a great threat from point. Grade: 60
Skills: Liljegren has quick hands and good control of the puck at high speed. He can deke his way through and surprise his opponents. Across the blueline he is really comfortable and can fake and deke to get open space for a shot. He uses his body well with quick turns and faking to fool his opponents. He can make both great breakout passes as well when decides to pass the puck. Grade: 65
Smarts: If there is any question mark on Liljegren’s potential is that he yet has not shown to have elite potential in his decision making on the ice and he does not seem to commit to the team strategy in individual games and situations. Often, he seems to want to do too much on his own and he does not always make smart decisions, either offensively or defensively. Most of it can probably be related to a lack experience as a 17-year-old defenseman at elite senior level but I still want to put a question mark on this. With all that said, Liljegren is still a smart player, especially in the offensive part of the game where he really can see the ice well and create nice plays. Grade: 55
Physicality: Liljegren is strong for his age. He is strong on the puck, he has great balance and lower body strength. He can get knocked of the puck but mostly he can skate away from physical contact holding off his opponent with one arm and using his lower body strength and good skating ability. He is not a typical physical defenseman but has nice timing in his hits on open ice. In his own zone and along the boards he could show more aggression and determination. Grade: 55
Summary: Liljegren is a raw talent with really high potential in his game. He can become a top pair defenseman in the NHL in the future, but it is not a sure thing. He needs to show a better understanding of the whole game and he needs to figure out how to use his talents best to reach his full potential. Before this season, he was a consensus choice as a top 2 player in the upcoming draft but he has had a tough season. It started with him missing the first half with mononucleosis and then he has been playing for the worst team in the SHL with big pressure of not losing games rather than trying to win them leaving Liljegren with few opportunities to use his full potential. He has been benched for trying to play his game in situations where the team needed him to play a safe game. That led him to play some games in Allsvenskan where he was the best player on the ice some games and made too many mistakes in other games. For my part, I like the potential and I like that he is trying to use his potential to win games for his team since that is probably the best way to learn and develop, even if it means making mistakes from time to time. Defenseman usually needs more time than forwards to figure out how to use their potential in the smartest way. If you want an exciting offensive defenseman in your pipeline, Liljegren is a good top 10 pick in the upcoming draft, maybe even top 5. That said, he does not currently look to be NHL-ready on day one.