Photo Credit: Linköping HC
Scouting Report written by Alex Appleyard
Defense is in Mattias Hävelid’s blood, literally. Both his father and his uncle played professional hockey, with uncle Magnus making it as high as the Swedish Allsvenskan, and father Niclas making it to the very pinnacle of the sport. Over a career that spanned more than 20 years Niclas Hävelid played over 600 games in the NHL, and picked up both an Olympic and World Championship gold medal. But Mattias cannot be mistaken for his father. The areas in which they excel are almost diametrically opposed.
Niclas made his name as a defense first player who played hard, block shots, was physical, was a go-to penalty-killer and shut-down defenseman. So far in his young career Mattias has made himself noticed more at the other end of the ice. His performance at the u-18 World Juniors, where he was second in tournament scoring with 12 points in just six games, made the hockey watching world sit up and take notice. For good reason too, given that no defenseman in the tournaments 23 year history had reached two points-per-game before Hävelid.
But bloodlines don’t always matter. And one tournament is just a small snapshot in time that says very little about a future career. More importantly, what are Hävelid’s skills and how does he project at the highest level?
D.O.B – January 1, 2004
Nationality – Sweden
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Right
Hävelid’s Style Of Play
The first thing that stands out about the man from the suburbs of Stockholm is his shot. It is not an exaggeration to say that he shoots like a scoring winger. He might not have the “biggest” shot, which is no surprise given his undersized frame, but he perfectly understands how to use what he has to cause havoc for goalies. His slap-shot is above average from the blue-line, and extremely accurate for a player of his age, with a great release that manages to combine accuracy with deception. It is a “good” slapshot, but nothing to really write home about. The way in which he unleashes wrist-shots though? Notable to say the least. He is the kind of player who seems to intuitively understand the movement of both the goalie and the opposition skaters, perceiving where they will be ahead of play and choosing the perfect moment to shoot through a screen, or to shoot as the goalie is slightly off balance. The result is that his shots can sail into the corner of the goal from all distances and all angles.
He combines this ability well with deceptive movement at the blue-line or on the rush, hiding the puck and changing blade position deftly, in turn he rarely ever “tips” the opposition to his shot, and the first they usually know of it is when it is already past their shins and on its way to goal. Furthermore, Hävelid is a defenseman who understands just how to use his team-mates to make his release even more deadly. A good screen is only as good as the shot that is dispatched towards it, and the young Swede seems to capitalise on that regularly. Very few of his shots are not in an area that is tippable or delfectable for a forward. He rarely gets under his shot and 95% of the efforts he directs towards goal are right between his team-mates calves and hips, where it easier to get a stick on. The combination of all this helps explain why Hävelid scores so much for a defenseman without an “express” shot, as few of his shots are blocked, most are on net, most are through traffic and many are awkward for a goalie to deal with.
There are some though who would argue that the Linköping defenseman is an even better passer than he is shooter. His passing ability is not just confined to the offensive zone as well, it starts on the breakout. He sees lanes that are only open for a second and dispatches pucks right to the tape of streaking forwards with regularity. When he is on ice, especially at the junior level, his team rarely spend too much time in the defensive zone as a result of his ability in this area, as clean break-outs are at times effortless for him. Against men at the SHL level he is not quite as efficient in this area, with less time and better opponents occasionally making him force passes that are not there, but still, even at 18 years old he outperforms the majority of his team-mates in that area.
He also effects neutral zone hand-offs with aplomb, choosing the right moment when streaking up ice to off-load a puck to a team-mate and in turn creating zone entries that are at high-speed, hard to defend, and often result in an overload down one side due to a winger getting caught flat footed trying to deal with the Swedish defenseman barrelling down the ice.
In the offensive zone his previously discussed penchant to continually move, hide the puck and realise lanes mean he can be devilish to defend in relation to exploiting passing lanes, especially on the cycle. His ability to read lanes and understand where both his team-mates and the opposition are going to be in the next few seconds can result in beautiful “alley-oop” back-doors plays right through the slot to the opposite circle and goal-line, as well as passes through to unmarked forwards in close that most defensemen would struggle to see, let alone execute.
His puck-skills themselves are not as high-end as his passing or his shot. But he certainly possesses a boat-load of confidence in his hands, even if it might at times get him into trouble. He is never scared to take on an opponent 1v1, no matter what the zone, and in turn he can effect some beautiful plays to leave the other team a man short in the areas where it matters. This can, however, result in some extremely ugly plays, especially at the SHL level. He has too often turned pucks over in areas that make it very difficult for him, or his defensive partner, to get back into the play, and going forward he will need to learn to pick his spots better with the puck on his stick to avoid the ire of team-mates, coaches, and fans.
As can be envisaged from the above, Hävelid is a terror on the power-play, and can dominate on the man-up in a myriad of ways. Alongside his shot, passing and deception, he walks the blue-line beautifully to create space for both himself and others. This is one area where he will need very little work going forward, and could be ready to quarter-back an NHL unit in the next few years, even if the rest of his game is not quite ready for the highest level at that venture.
With an offensive skill-set as described above, but not universally ranked inside the first round? Well, you can probably guess that some of the black marks against Hävelid are in relation to his play in his own zone.
But the overall picture is not one of neglect for his assignments, or a lack of understanding of tactics, structure or a willingness to work hard in the defensive zone. It is more just small issues in a number of areas that add up to negatively impact his ability to positively impact play at his own end.
First is to address the elephant in the room. A 5’10, European, offense first defenseman? Well, the stereotype would be a lack of physical game. But given who his father was, it should not really be a surprise that Hävelid the younger is not scared to get his hands dirty. Now, he will never be mistaken for a bruiser of any description, but he never shies away from the tough areas of the ice, and is more than happy to deliver the boom when necessary. That being said, he does struggle to win 1v1 battles against men. But that is really just a given at his age, size, in one of the best pro leagues on earth. His frame is certainly not “small” for his height. He has a solid build and can certainly, with age and maturity, at least hold his own in the corners and around the net.
His blue-line play could be described best as “inconsistent”. When he is at his best – often vs peers his own age – he maintains a consistent gap through the neutral zone, wages the angle well, and then pivots to cut off any legitimate path to danger areas, forcing forwards towards the boards or his active stick. The result is either the necessity of a dump play of a break-up that can send the puck the other way. However, at times the righty blueliner seems to err too much on the side of caution, pivoting early and simply trying to maintain his gap ad infinitum. This can mean that before he knows it he is in a compromising position near his own circles with a forward who has more speed and an array of options at his disposal, I.E. walking himself into a trap of his own making by choosing to do nothing instead of risking losing a 1v1 battle. In theory his gap therefore often looks good to the naked eye, but is in practice ineffective. For a player who excels so much with the puck on his stick trying to make things happen, he needs to transpose some of that mentality to his game when he does not have the puck.
Overall though, the issues that Hävelid has at this venture are correctable. Some will arguably correct themselves simply with the passing of time as he gets bigger, stronger, and sees more hockey at a high level. He will likely never be a defensive stalwart, but he can certainly round out into a player who has a net positive impact at the highest level on his own side of the ice.
Any analysis of Hävelid’s skating has to be nuanced in nature. First, for the good, and there is a lot of good there. His edge-work can leave opposition players stranded in danger areas and his lateral movement is a beauty to behold, both at speed and at a slower pace when on the cycle. He excels when skating the puck up ice and is the type of player who almost seems faster when the puck is on his stick, partially as he perceives the ice in front of him to such a high level, and partially as when he is dictating play he exudes confidence and is deceptive to the point that few can second guess what he will do next.
As expected with a player who has high-end edge work, this ability extends to his first step, and in turn acceleration. He can change the pace of the play at will, speeding up and slowing down as he wishes and making opponents dance to his tune. He showcases this exceptionally well in the final few feet of the neutral zone when heading up ice, often beating a man clean near the red-line, before virtually stopping play at the perfect time as his team-mates join him over the blue-line as he enters the offensive zone, while the opposition player who he beat not second ago then over-commits getting back into the play and handcuffs themselves into to deep a position to give Hävelid the space to start effectively cycling the puck. So many chances for his team come in the early stages of such cycles due to his ability here. He also pivots beautifully, which can give him time in the defensive zone that many other defensemen cannot afford themselves, and means he is rarely on the wrong side of a play.
The area that the young defenseman needs to improve on though is top end speed. He is at very worst average in that area, but with slightly more speed to burn he would be a true terror to defend, especially on the cycle, and be able to rely less on his hands to beat people in stride. There is really nothing overly problematic with his stride, so there is certainly a hope that with more maturity this will come naturally.
With really only his size and a few smaller issues to clean up across the rest of his game, Hävelid has a good chance to be an NHL player down the line. Upside wise there will likely be very few defensemen, if any, potentially available after the end of the first round who have what it takes to be better than the young Swede. If everything goes well development wise he could round out into a good number three NHL defenseman who can quarterback a top power-play unit. Furthermore, even if he simply keeps developing at a solid pace he could maybe find a home in the NHL as a #4-5 defenseman who can drive play and pick up points.
July 6, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alex Appleyard If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @avappleyard.
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