Last July, the Oilers inked a pair of defenders from their 2016 draft class, Markus Niemelainen and Filip Berglund, to two-year, entry-level contracts.
Had either player not signed, they would have been eligible to become unrestricted free agents and pursue their NHL careers elsewhere. We saw Niemelainen put together a solid rookie season in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors in 2021 and Berglund will make his way overseas this upcoming season.
In the case of Berglund, he’s interestingly similar to another defender the Oilers selected in the middle rounds out of Sweden. Back in 2012, the Oilers took Erik Gustafsson No. 92 overall. He played a few seasons professionally in Sweden, the Oilers chose not to sign him, and he wound up becoming a solid NHL defender for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The hope is that Berglund can come overseas with a wealth of SHL experience under his belt and become a quality NHLer, just like Gustafsson did.
Date of Birth: May 10, 1997
Drafted: 2016, No. 91 overall (EDM)
Weight: 209 lbs
The comparison between Berglund and Gustafsson obviously isn’t a perfect one. The latter is a smaller and more offensively oriented defender while the former plays more of a physical, defensive game, complemented by his large frame and sound positioning. Still, when looking at their production in the SHL side by side, you can see how Berglund could follow in Gustafsson’s footsteps as a late-bloomer.
In his age 22 season in the SHL in 2014-15, Gustafsson averaged 19:15 per game and recorded 29 points and a plus-two rating in 55 games. Berglund, on the other hand, put up 20 points and a plus-four rating in 52 SHL games and averaged 18:20 in his age 22 season in 2019-20. Gustafsson made his way overseas the following season in 2015-16 and split his campaign with the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate in Rockford.
The 2020-21 season wasn’t quite as good for Berglund. He moved from Skellefta, the club he had been playing with his entire career, to Linkoping. He played an average of 19:37 per night, third on the team among defenders, and scored just eight points in 32 games with a minus-14 rating. Linkoping was one of the weaker teams in the league in 2020-21, so the combination of that and joining a new environment could be causes for Berglund’s ho-hum results.
Regardless, Berglund has a track record of success in a quality professional league, which generates valid optimism that there’s an NHL player here.
Back when he was drafted, the word around Berglund was that his size, positioning, and passing were his strong suits, while his skating was ultimately what would hold him back…
“A big and strong two-way defenseman with good hockey sense and passing ability. Valuable on the man advantage with a strong release and good puck control. Not a speedster and should use his large frame to his advantage.” – EliteProspects
In January of 2020, Scott Howson appeared on OilersNow with Bob Stauffer and spoke about how Berglund had improved his skating since being drafted…
“He’s a guy that has improved his skating. That was the big issue with him coming out of his draft year, could he skate? He’s improved his skating, it’s more than adequate now at that level and he’s a guy we’re going to have to decide on. He’s certainly put himself in a position to get strong consideration.”
As of right now, the Oilers have eight defenders slated to play on their big league roster: Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith, and William Lagesson on the left side, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Evan Bouchard on the right side, and Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek who can play both. After that, the organization has a handful of young defenders in the AHL who will be pushing for opportunities when they arise.
Niemelainen, who I talked about earlier, seems to have an inside track given his solid showing with the Condors last year. Given his professional experience, Berglund would also be a solid bet to see some time with the Oilers come 2021-22. Ceci is the only true right-handed shutdown guy on Edmonton’s roster, so a strong showing from Berglund could certainly earn him a cup of coffee.
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.