Photo Credit – Malmö Redhawks
The town of Helsingborg is a town of contrast. Survey it from the towers of Hamlet’s Castle, just three miles away in Denmark across the Øresund Strait, and you see both plumes of smoke and an industrial cargo port, as well as beautiful old buildings and rolling Swedish countryside. Anton Olsson is a son of Helsingborg, and his game mirrors the town. His transition play is akin to those rolling hills, while the rest of his game is utilitarian, much like one of the busiest ports in the world, just a stone’s throw from where he was born.
Helsingborg and the Øresund Strait have another indelible mark in history. Historically the waterway was close to impenetrable. A narrow stretch that could be defended and controlled. Which enabled Denmark and Sweden to control entry to the Baltic, something that was both financially and strategically profitable for them. It is only apt that Olsson, therefore, is a defenseman, and looks to follow Hampus Lindholm and Andreas Lilja from the mouth of the Baltic all the way across the pond.
The young Skåne native is already well on his way. He has shone at u-16 and u-17 international level, been one of the best defensemen at u-16, u-18 and u-20 domestic junior level, and is now holding his own in the SHL. In fact, at the time of writing Olsson has played over 16 minutes in his last two games in the world’s third best league, and just picked up his first point in Sweden’s top tier.
D.O.B – January 26, 2003
Nationality – Sweden
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –183 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Olsson’s Style Of Play
When it comes to the modern NHL the skill that is almost essential, especially for defensemen, is skating ability. That foundation is something that is already strongly cemented in place with Olsson. Not only is he mobile with good agility, he also has above average speed when in stride. His lateral ability and acceleration also allow him to get into open ice in all three zones with aplomb. He pivots well, and also possesses good backwards skating skill. All-in-all, a good four-way skater. The only minor issue is that Helsingborg native can get too wide and drift at times.
As has been the case with the majority of defensemen Sweden has produced in the last 10 years, Olsson has a fantastic transition game. This area is a stand-out ability for him. Not only is he extremely confident carrying the puck, but he also has some skill, and can deke past opponents at speed. The result is that he can carve through a neutral zone and make opposition players get on their heels.
His skating and puck-skills, as you would expect, also benefit him in the defensive zone. Not only is Olsson extremely poised under pressure, but he utilizes his skating and hands well in order to get out of trouble and effect clean zone exits with regularity. From the defensive zone he generally sees the ice in-front of him well, and if there are no options for him to break-out himself he can be trusted to use his team-mates, and has an accurate outlet.
Olsson’s gap control is good, and his defensive IQ is a plus even at the SHL level. He rarely puts himself in difficult situations and is adept at separating players from the puck either with his stick or shoulder. While not overly physical he has no issue getting involved around the net and holds his own in such positions against men, despite usually giving up a weight advantage to most SHL forwards. The result of this combination of skills mean he is a trusted penalty killer at both junior level and for the national team.
So, the Malmö Redhawks defenseman can: skate, play defense, and carry a puck. How about up ice?
In the offensive zone there are some things to really like about his game. On the cycle he is good at making himself available. He also constantly looks to make space for his partner and forwards. Additionally, he uses his skating well, especially laterally, to get into seams and make opposition forwards have to work hard not to allow a lane. He is also a nice passer with a good touch. However, he is not the most creative in terms of finding team-mates in the offensive zone.
Olsson also has a fantastic wrister with the release of a scoring forward. But it must be said that he is not the most accurate. He scores some highlight reel goals when his shot comes off, but this is not a common occurrence. In terms of his slapshot he can really hammer the puck when he steps into it, but rarely does due to his preference for quick wrist-shots. On the power-play his ability to create space and fire pucks means he is a good quarterback at the junior level.
However, there are some “down-sides” to his offensive zone play. Unlike in transition a lot of his work when set up in the OZ is “route one” stuff that keeps it simple. That is not an issue in itself, but he would likely be more effective there if he tried to do more with the puck. His mindset seems to be to generally make a safe play when at the line. His vision in the offensive zone also detracts from his positional awareness and skill. Too often for a player with a big shot do his shots miss or get blocked.
These issues limit his effectiveness on the cycle when the puck comes to him, and at times can detract from his great work to create space and lanes for himself and his team-mates. It is too common a sight for Olsson to do great work to get free, have a forward open, and just fire blindly instead of looking for a play. It can be strange to watch. He is poised and thoughtful in the offensive zone without the puck… but when on his stick? He gets tunnel vision. Though it must be said that it is rare these plays are not “safe”… but simply low percentage with better offensive options.
His approach in the offensive zone is similar to that of Radko Gudas. Think shot. Shoot often with volume, and some will get through. It does drive good results for him in terms of possession numbers. He has driven play well this season, with his 49.8% Corsi being second best on his team’s defense. However, at a higher level his offensive inflexibility may well limit his upside. He is more dangerous on the rush than when set up in the offensive zone.
There is a lot to like about Olsson. He is a smooth skating defenseman who is confident, has plus skills, and plays good two-way hockey. However, it is hard to see him being a consistent threat offensively outside the power-play at the next level, and there is no guarantee he will ever be an NHL power-play fixture. In turn, unless he adds more arrows to his quiver going forward, his upside is likely capped as a good number four defenseman. Still, defensemen with his skill-set are valuable in the NHL. As a result the young Swede will likely find his name called late in the first round of the 2021 draft.
Calvin de Haan, left handed defenseman, Chicago Blackhawks
Not only are de Haan and the young Swede both a similar stature. They also have great skating ability, and a similar all-around skill-set. Both can effect zone exits and entries and have good transition skills. Yet the two lack offensive zone creativity and have a tendency to just fire away. They also share a high defensive zone IQ and have good gap control and are reliable penalty-killers. At his peak de Haan was a good second pairing defenseman. Olsson has the ability to be at that level in future.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alexander Appleyard. If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @alexappleyard.
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