On Thursday, I kicked off the top of Edmonton’s farm system by ranking puck-moving maestro, Evan Bouchard, as the team’s No. 2 prospect. That leaves us with Philip Broberg at No. 1.
There’s certainly a valid argument to be made that Bouchard is the Oilers’ top prospect, but I ultimately went with Broberg because of his elite physical toolkit that offers true No. 1 defenceman upside.
With Bouchard, you have a player with excellent vision and offensive instincts who has produced at a high level in both the OHL and AHL, which indicates future success as an offence-driver at the NHL level. The high-end comparable here is something along the lines of John Carlson while Keith Yandle is another more middling projection.
With Broberg, you have a player who has all of the talent in the world. He’s an excellent skater, he has good puck skills, and he has a big frame. That kind of package allows one to dare to dream about Broberg following along the path of other Swedish defencemen who were selected with top draft picks, such as Victor Hedman and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Regardless, both are excellent prospects and, if all goes well and both players reach their potential, they could form the Oilers’ top defensive pairing of the next decade.
With all that in mind, let’s dive into Philip Broberg, the hopeful No. 1 defenceman of the future in Edmonton.
Date of Birth: June 25, 2001
Drafted: 2019, No. 8 overall (EDM)
Height: 6’3″ / 191 cm
Weight: 203 lbs / 92 kg
When Ken Holland selected Broberg with the No. 8 pick at the 2019 draft, the decision was met with a bit of skepticism from fans. Given his pedestrian production in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second league, in his pre-draft season, the Broberg selection didn’t scream big-time upside. There was also some frustration that highly-skilled forwards like Trevor Zegras were left on the table.
Over the past year, though, the perception around Broberg has completely changed. Broberg went on to put together a good season as an 18-year-old in the Swedish Hockey League in 2019-20, which is an impressive feat, and he wowed over the summer when he came to Edmonton to join the Oilers at their pre-playoff training camp.
At a glance, Broberg’s rookie SHL season with Skellefta doesn’t seem like much to write home about. He played 45 games, put up eight points, and had a minus-one rating.
But it’s important to remember that looking at statistics in Europe isn’t the same as looking at statistics in the AHL. These are two very different leagues. Playing a third-pairing role as Broberg did in the SHL, the third- or fourth-best league in the world, as an 18-year-old is a very good sign in itself.
Both CHL and AHL stats are worthwhile indicators of future success at the NHL level, while SHL stats are more of a shot in the dark. Oliver Ekman-Larsson putting up 27 points and Victor Hedman putting up 21 points as rookies in the SHL might make Broberg and his eight points look very underwhelming, but a handful of other 18-year-olds in the league who went on to become excellent NHL players suggest otherwise.
For example, as an 18-year-old in the SHL, Erik Karlsson put up 10 points over 45 games. He went on to become one of the best offensive defencemen in recent history in the NHL, winning himself two Norris Trophies. And then there’s an even more familiar name in Oscar Klefbom, who scored just two points over 33 games as an 18-year-old on the SHL before becoming a very good NHL defenceman.
Where Broberg really turned heads and started to have his hype train pick up steam was when he travelled to Edmonton back in the summer for pre-playoff training camp. I mean, playing intra-squad games as everyone is getting back up to speed after taking a few months off amidst a global pandemic is sort of a bizarre circumstance so we probably shouldn’t allow this situation to carry too much weight, but, again, it was Broberg’s elite toolkit and physical skills that generated this hype.
The plan was originally for Broberg to come to Edmonton to meet the other players on the team and get some valuable experience, but he performed so well there was some legitimate discussion that he should crack the roster and play against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
Fellow Swedish defencemen Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom were both impressed with their young countryman’s skills, as was head coach Dave Tippett…
“The sky’s the limit for the guy,” said Larsson, a Skelleftea alum. “He skates really well for being such a big guy. He’s big, strong, with good hockey sense. He’s got all the keys and all the tools to be a really, really good player in this league.
“I’m impressed,” said Klefbom.
“If you watch the practices, he looks good out there,” Tippett said. “He doesn’t look out of place at all. Everybody’s pleasantly surprised. This is the first real look we’ve had of him here.”
Since then, Broberg has returned to Sweden for his second SHL season. Through 23 games, he’s already matched his 2019-20 production total with eight points, though he has a minus-nine rating.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the negative goal differential. Broberg is playing 19 minutes per game, which is a pretty huge jump from the 14 minutes per game he played as a rookie. There’s inevitably going to be a learning curve there taking on a larger role. As I pointed out on Thursday, Evan Bouchard was much better in the second half of his AHL rookie season in 2019-20 than he was in the first.
Ultimately, the fact that a coach in the Swedish Hockey League trusts a 19-year-old to play a 19-minute-per-game role is a very good sign for Broberg. Remember, this isn’t a team-affiliated development league. If Broberg is playing this role on an SHL team, it means he’s doing so on his own merit.
So, what’s next for Broberg? He’ll head to Edmonton to play a key role on Sweden’s World Junior team, his third go-around at the tournament, and then he’ll go back to Sweden to finish off the year with Skelleftea. Maybe he can join this impressive list of Best Defenceman Award winners at this year’s WJC.
Come 2020-21, we’ll likely see Broberg spend time in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors. I would imagine that Broberg will be good enough to crack an NHL blueline next season, but we know that Ken Holland and Co. are inclined to take a conservative approach with this young defender.
In the year since he’s been drafted, Broberg has done nothing but impress. Let’s hope that trend continues as he finishes off his season in Sweden and makes his move over to North America.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.