At around dinnertime in Sweden, Vilmer Alriksson sat in front of the television with his family watching as over 7,000 kilometres away NHL teams were potentially deciding his future.
The big winger wasn’t sure he would get selected in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, even after he felt he had a good interview with Bobbie Hagelin, the Vancouver Canucks’ Swedish scout. Public draft rankings largely didn’t predict he would get picked after limited production in Sweden’s under-20 Nationell league.
So, there was a massive sense of relief and release when Alriksson saw his name come up on the screen: 107th overall in the fourth round to the Canucks.
“We were jumping around and hugging each other,” said Alriksson. “I was just really happy.”
"I want to be a goal-scoring power forward."
Watching Alriksson on the ice at the Canucks’ prospect development camp at UBC, it’s easy to see what the Canucks’ scouts saw in him. The 6’6” winger towers over his peers on the ice but has little of the clumsiness that often accompanies that type of size.
In skating drills, Alriksson’s powerful strides stood out in skating drills but there was also an agility and explosiveness that belies his size.
What really jumps out, however, is his shot. The big winger has a remarkably quick release and the puck pops off his stick with authority. He has a knack for dragging the puck in towards his skates to change the angle before a shot but he’s not predictable with it, occasionally snapping the puck unexpectedly from an outside position to catch a goaltender off guard. There’s a certain NHL quality to his shot that isn’t shared by all of the prospects on the ice at UBC.
“I like to score goals,” said Alriksson with a grin. “I want to be a goal-scoring power forward.”
Still, Alriksson is clearly a project. As intriguing as the size and skillset are, there’s a rawness to Alriksson’s game and scouting reports question his hockey sense, puckhandling in tight spaces, and whether he puts his size to best use.
That last point is something Alriksson himself readily admits. When asked what the Canucks coaching staff told him he needed to work on, he didn’t hesitate.
“I’ve got to use my size to my advantage more and utilize my reach,” he said. “My goal is to be a power forward with good hands. But I want to be skilled too and use my power to my advantage.”
"The game now is about finding space."
Something that was pressed upon all of the prospects, not just Alriksson, was the importance of creating time and space with the puck. That’s particularly true for prospects coming out of Europe, where space on the larger ice surface is more readily available.
“The game now is about finding space,” said Abbotsford Canucks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “As a skilled player, sometimes at a lower level you know you’re gonna get your chances, you know you’re gonna get your space. Hopefully, as a skilled player you can make your own space, make your own room.
“So, that’s a lot of the stuff we’ve been working on — puck protection once you get it and get yourself a little bit more extra time but also when you don’t have it, how can you help the team get it back?”
Much of the focus in the drills during the first two days at camp was on the little details that lead to winning puck battles, such as body positioning, stick positioning, and edge work. Alriksson, with his size, could be a nightmare in those battles, but the details that would allow him to leverage his size don’t seem to be there yet.
Fortunately, with a multitude of coaches on the ice, there were plenty of opportunities for players like Alriksson to get one-on-one attention. At one point, the Canucks’ cameras caught a mic’d-up Chris Higgins relating advice to Alriksson that the Sedins gave him about using the back of the net to angle off defencemen.
“When you're running things, sometimes it's harder to get detailed and individual with players because you're trying to keep the pace going and trying to manage things,” said Abbotsford Canucks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “But when you're not doing that, then you can have those little two-minute exchanges with a player and I think that's really important.”
The Canucks bet a fourth-round pick that Alriksson can figure out those details with the right development and create a better marriage between his size and his skill. If he can figure out that connection, he could turn into an impactful player for the Canucks in a few years’ time.
As for now, Alriksson is simply thrilled with the experience of being at camp.
“Really awesome camp. Met a lot of good good people and nice staff. Really good facilities,” said Alriksson. “Just a great experience so far.”