The defence of the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning have a common thread: they're big and they can skate.
They have a lot of other things going for them — you don't become a perennial Norris candidate like Victor Hedman through size and speed alone — but it's something they all share. Every member of the Lightning defence is over 200 lbs and most are at least 6'2", but they're mobile, puck-moving defencemen as well.
Perhaps the example of the Lightning led the Canucks to focus on defencemen with size and tremendous skating ability. It started with their first pick of the draft in the third round, Joni Jurmo, who combines a 6'4" frame with blazing speed. Fifth-round pick Jacob Truscott is a little smaller at 6'1", but he's a great skater as well, who loves to jump up in the rush.
With their last pick in the 7th round, the Canucks completed the rule of three, taking another big, smooth-skating defenceman: Viktor Persson.
The right-handed Persson put up 5 goals and 18 points in 26 games in Sweden's top junior league, the SuperElit. That was good for 4th in points per game among first-time draft-eligible defencemen in the SuperElit, right behind three defencemen that got drafted much higher — Anton Johannesson (5th), Helge Grans (2nd), and Emil Andrae (2nd) — and ahead of William Wallinder, who was a second-round pick.
Despite his production, Persson may have escaped the notice of some scout for a couple of reasons: he hasn't played internationally for Sweden at all and injuries limited him to just 26 games this season.
Persson wasn't entirely under the radar, of course. Hockey Prospect liked him enough to rank him 42nd overall, suggesting he should have been a second-round pick with Grans, Andrae, and Wallinder. They particularly praised three aspects of his game: his skating, playmaking, and puck retrieval, suggesting he might be "one of the biggest sleepers for this year's draft."
"He uses his skating to aggressively rush the puck in open ice," reads the scouting report from Hockey Prospect. "There’s a poise to how he carries himself when holding onto the puck or when he’s making decisions at the offensive line. He doesn’t rush the play often, he takes advantage of the soft ice given to him, and he can thread some high end passes that land right on the tape."
Elite Prospects ranked Persson 95th overall and likewise hypes his ability to distribute the puck.
"With the puck, he plays in a smart and composed way and can quickly start the transition game for his team with precise long-range passes," reads their report. "Within the offensive zone, Persson maintains a high work rate off of the puck, with active feet and smart skating patterns. This makes him an option for his teammates, even when he's not activating off of the cycle."
Persson's season in Sweden has started already, but he intends to come to North America to play for the Kamloops Blazers, who selected him in the CHL import draft.
“Viktor is a big defenseman, mobile skater, moves around really well,” said Blazers GM Matt Bardsley. “He’s the type of defenseman that we look for, how we want to play. He can join or lead the rush — has a good offensive upside —- real good in his own end as well. Can kind of play in all situations — power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5."
Viktor Persson! 🇸🇪🇸🇪🇸🇪— Kamloops Blazers (@blazerhockey) July 1, 2020
#37 working the PP assist and then leading the rush! 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/h5mtJtfeT5
Of course, you don't make it to the seventh round without a few flaws. For Persson, those primarily come in the defensive end of the ice, where he's raw and needs development.
"The foundation to become a solid defensive piece is there," says Elite Prospects, "but the absence of any real aggression or decisiveness on his part sometimes limits his impact. The worst, most problematic component of Persson's in-zone defending is that he often gets caught puck-watching."
His scouting report from Elite Prospects suggests that these flaws can be fixed with proper coaching and structure, which is promising. A report from Elite Prospects scout Christoffer Hedlund notes, "Persson has a long reach but rarely uses it to his advantage. Once he learns how to do that, he will become a much more effective defensive player."
Persson represents the right type of gamble in the seventh round: a player with the skill of a higher pick who fell down the draft for reasons unrelated to that skill. With his size, skating, and passing ability, Persson has the potential to develop into a legitimate NHL defenceman.