The 2017 NHL draft has a lot of fluidity to it right now. And yes, I recognize that the season hasn't even started yet, but still: In 2016 we knew Auston Matthews would be on top, Jesse Puljujarvi wouldn't be far behind and Matthew Tkachuk would be top-10.
Right now, we've got Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick in front (though he's recovering from sports hernia surgery) and then a whole lotta names in a blender. Maxime Comtois is a good one, as is Kristian Vesalainen and Eeli Tolvanen.
Sweden boasts a couple nice defensemen in Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brannstrom, but the player that really caught my eye this summer is center Lias Andersson. And Sweden's world junior coach agrees with me.
Tomas Monten said Andersson was his best center in most games at the recent world junior summer camp tournament in Plymouth, Michigan – and the Swedes had some nice talent there. As it turns out, the coach has been following Andersson for awhile.
“I watched him during the season – he played a couple men’s games and he was impressive," Monten said. "He played the same style of game against men as he did in junior. And at the world under-18s, he was really good. He showed he can be an offensive center, play the power play and create offensive chances.”
Andersson prides himself on playing a responsible two-way game like his role model, Sidney Crosby. But the kid definitely has a great offensive component, as evidenced by the 59 points he put up in 37 games with HV71's under-20 squad last season.
"I try to work hard in the offensive and defensive zones and push the guys on the bench," Andersson said. "I want to be a leader. I want to run the power play, play big minutes, make space for my teammates and score some goals.”
The son of former NHLer Niklas Andersson, Lias spent the first few years of his life in North America, living in Chicago and Calgary before moving back to Sweden when he was three years old. Gothenburg is home, but his off-seasons are spent in Smogen, the summer town he was born in, where he hangs out with friends at the beach and plays soccer.
“It’s like Swedish West Coast," he said. "Mountains and sea and summer houses.”
But don't let his breezy environs fool you: Andersson is a gamer. On the ice, you can see the compete level and physical strength that allows him to break plays and shake off checkers. And like so many top prospects of late, his pedigree shows. On top of his father, Andersson's uncle Mikael played in the NHL for more than a decade, while grandfather Ronnie was a goaltender for Vastra Frolunda. Did Lias ever get to shoot on him?
“No," he said. "Maybe sometimes when we played floorball, but not on the ice.”
Though Andersson was supposed to go through the Frolunda Indians system like his dad, a call from HV71 when he was 13 changed his course. Lias was impressed with the team's gym and facilities and has spent the past two seasons working his way up the ranks.
Now it's time to make his mark. With scouts watching, Andersson's task will be to help HV71 get past the quarterfinals, something the squad has failed to do in the past five attempts. He got his feet wet with 22 SHL games last season but didn't record a point. Still, the experience sharpened him and there's no reason to believe he will fail to make an impact in 2016-17. They key? Motivation. His dad tells him about the path, but the son is learned as well.
“He talks to me every day, telling me how hard you have to work," Andersson said. "But you need to have it yourself; you can’t have your dad tell you. You have to get up every morning and work hard for yourself.”
And that is music to an NHL scout's ears.