Anders Nilsson was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NHL draft. He played two more seasons in Sweden, before coming to North America to play in the New York Islanders organization. He played 75 games in the AHL and 25 in the NHL over three seasons with New York, but left of the KHL last year.
The Oilers acquired him from Chicago on Monday and promptly signed him to a $1 million, one-year, one-way contract.
I knew very little about him, other than watching him play for Sweden at the World Championships, so I asked goaltending guru, Kevin Woodley, for some insight on Nilsson.
Gregor: What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Woodley: His size is his strength. He has a really good athletic
base, he moves very well for his size. That is the strength, the weakness, at
least early in his career in the NHL was that he moved too much. When you are
that big and that long and you move too much you are opening up holes. Pucks go
through you as opposed to using your size effectively, and you tend to open up and
create more holes than you need to.
It is a fine line for bigger goaltenders, in terms of how
long it takes them to realize how to use their size efficiently. When you move
as explosively as Anders does, sometimes the saying less is more is applicable, it can take a
while to figure it out and learn it at the NHL level.
Gregor: Devan Dubnyk told me last summer he realized he needed to move less, so how will a
goalie coach go about teaching Nilsson to move less?
Woodley: There are a couple different parts here.
One is positioning. That is the tactical side of the game.
You have the technical side which is how you move, how you track pucks and how
you close up holes. The tactical side is where you play in certain situations
on the ice. For a guy with Anders size there really isn’t much need to play near
the edge or on top of the crease. You can play a more contained, controlled
In theory, that should allow you to move less and open up
fewer holes, because everything is shortened, all your movements are shortened.
Play inside the blue ice, shorten the movements, shorten the distances you have
to travel and minimize the holes you open up. The bigger the goalie is the more
that principle, in general, comes into effect. Unless of course you are Pekka
Rinne who is huge, and yet he is so explosive and can get away with playing a more
Within the technical framework you have many different
elements. One of the elements is how you track the puck. It is interesting you
mention Devan Dubnyk, because I’ll be on the ice with him tomorrow. One of the
things that he changed in his game from being almost out of the league two
years ago to being a Vezina trophy finalist last year, and again I’m not saying
it is all of it, but it is part of it, is the new buzzword and a new way of
tracking the puck called head trajectory.
Anders has been exposed to it. In layman’s terms it is not
just following the puck, it is how you move your head when you follow the puck.
It affects all the physiology of a goaltender…whether we close down on the puck
and keep those holes closed, or whether we turn off of the puck, imagine
pulling away from it with our shoulders as we move to the left and open up
Anders was exposed to this his last season with the New York
Islanders when he was in the American League with Steven Valiquette, who is one
of six coaches who has learned this technique. Anders learned it. I talked to
him about it and he really seemed to adopt it well and embrace it. He went on a
really good run using it and got called up to the Islanders, and unfortunately
the Islanders I don’t think they had anyone in the NHL level to teach him to
use his size. They really do have a
philosophy for their goaltenders to let them figure it out on their own. He
goes on this run, he is using this new technique and it is helping him in the
AHL, but he arrives in the NHL and he has no support for it, and is on his own
to figure it out. And the next year he is in the KHL.
A long winded story here.
I don’t know how much he followed
up with head trajectory in the KHL, but the interesting connection is…When I
said there is a half dozen goalie coaches who are on the inside of this
philosophy, one of them is Dustin Schwartz, the goaltending coach with
the Oilers. He would be aware of the work that Anders did with Valiquette and
the way he embraced it. It is a foundational piece for all goaltenders, but it
can really be a massive difference maker for big goaltenders. It teaches them
to move without opening their frame, track pucks better and use their size more
efficiently, both in terms of tracking the puck off the release and the way
they move around on the ice as the puck is passed.
I wonder how much of Schwartz knowing he had been exposed to
head trajectory played a part in the Oilers acquiring him.
A few things.
The Oilers haven’t officially announced anything, but I’m told Schwartz will be staying on as their goaltending coach. They are very high on him and believe he is an excellent young coach. Combined with Woodley telling us he is one of a few goalie coaches who specialize in head trajectory training it makes sense to have him on staff.
It will be interesting to see Nilsson in training camp. If I was him, I’d come to Edmonton early and spend more time working with Schwartz. Cam Talbot is a student of the head trajectory philosophy as well, having learned it from Benoit Allaire in New York, so he too won’t have much of an adjustment working with Schwartz.
The best part of the Nilsson acquisition is it creates real competition for the both goaltending spots on the roster. Those two along with Ben Scrivens will come to camp knowing only two of them will stay in the NHL, and I believe competition makes players better.
For far too long the Oilers haven’t had much competition for roster spots, and Peter Chiarelli has added depth in goal, on the blueline and up front so players will compete, not only for a spot on the roster, but also for icetime.
For those going to the Eskimos game tomorrow, read this for a recap on rule changes, but also positioning changes for the officials.
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