A few years ago, the Vancouver Canucks didn’t have a single Nils. In other words, their number of Nilses was nil.
The Canucks remedied their Nils deficit in 2019 when they drafted Nils Höglander. Now, the Canucks are poised to have the most Nilses in the NHL with the signing of Swedish free agent Nils Åman to an entry-level contract.
The signing was announced on Tuesday and represents the second free agent signing of Patrik Allvin’s career as a general manager after signing Arshdeep Bains out of the WHL and his first free agent signing out of Europe.
Canucks want to add depth with European free agents
Allvin indicated his desire to add to the Canucks’ depth with free agents out of Europe right from when he was first hired. As a Swede himself and the former director of European and amateur scouting with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Allvin has plenty of connections in Europe that might help him when it comes to negotiating with players looking to come to the NHL.
“In order to be successful, you've got to be able to find players outside the first round in the NHL Entry Draft,” said Allvin. “You need to complement the organization with college and European free agents.”
Åman fits the bill. Drafted in 2020 as a 20-year-old in the 6th round by the Colorado Avalanche, Åman was left unsigned by the June 1 deadline and became a free agent. The Avalanche’s loss could be the Canucks’ gain, as Åman could be exactly the type of cheap forward depth that the team needs.
“Nils is a smart hockey player who plays with speed and has a strong work ethic,” said Allvin in the Canucks’ press release. “He possesses a good two-way game, and we look forward to seeing his continued development on both sides of the ice with the Canucks organization.”
The 6’2” Åman is a versatile forward that can play on both the wing and at centre. The 22-year-old played on the third line in the SHL this past season, averaging 13:41 per game with Leksand. He had 6 goals and 14 points in 51 games.
It might seem evident from his paltry point totals in the SHL that the Canucks should not expect much scoring from Åman but he was significantly more effective offensively in the under-20 SuperElit league in the year he was drafted, putting up 14 goals and 47 points in 30 games.
With his decent hands and dangerous shot, there might be some untapped offensive potential there that could see Åman providing some depth scoring at the NHL level in the future.
Scouting reports on Åman are all universally impressed with his skating, which bodes well for his NHL potential and fits with Allvin’s desire for more speed in the Canucks’ lineup.
“I’d rather play in Leksand than in the farm league in the AHL.”
There are typically no guarantees that free agent signings out of Europe jump directly into an NHL lineup but president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford previously suggested that they would promise free agents exactly that: a spot in the lineup.
“Our sales pitch to those people is that we can guarantee guys spots on the team,” said Rutherford. “It's not like we're coming off going to the Finals. We're a team that's still trying to build the team up and when we say to those free agents, you're going to be on the team, our word is good — they're going to be on the team.”
“We'll see what happens. It's always been a dream to go over and play in the U.S. or Canada, so of course, you'll take that chance if you get it,” said Åman. “But I'd rather play in Leksand than in the farm league in the AHL.”
Perhaps that is why Åman couldn't come to terms with the Avalanche, who, as a Stanley Cup favourite, have a much more difficult NHL lineup to crack than the Canucks.
If Åman can generate separation speed at the NHL level the way he does in the SHL, it’ll make it a lot easier to get him in the Canucks’ lineup.
Åman has a strong defensive game
Beyond his late-blooming offensive potential, Åman has a reputation as a strong two-way player, who uses his high-level skating and intelligence to put himself in an ideal position away from the puck to take away passing and shooting lanes.
“He can anticipate passing lanes before they happen, which helps him steal pucks in the middle ice to bring back up for a scoring opportunity,” reads a scouting report from FC Hockey. “Defensively, he uses an active stick to break up passes and his stickwork helps him in battles along the boards where he can win a lot of battles.”
For those who appreciate advanced statistics, Åman had a 50.92% corsi with Leksand last season, with the team out-shooting their opponents 551-to-531 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
For those who just want to know about the goals, Åman had a +5 goal differential at even-strength, good for fourth among Leksand’s forwards.
Åman was occasionally used on Leksand’s penalty kill, which is where the Canucks will likely want to use him if he’s going to be a bottom-six forward. He also got a bit of time on Leksand’s power play but didn’t record a single point on the man advantage.
In the faceoff circle, Åman was below 50% for Leksand but only just. His 49.14% faceoff percentage was actually the best among Leksand’s regular centres.
Representing the Tre Kronor
Beyond the SHL, Åman represented Sweden at the 2022 World Championships, where perhaps his teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson put in a good word for the Canucks. Åman played a depth role for Sweden, averaging 9:40 per game on the fourth line, but he did manage 2 points — both assists — in 7 games, while also posting a +3 plus/minus.
His first assist of the tournament came against Team USA. It was a smart play away from the puck, as Åman — wearing number 66 for Sweden — slipped into the right spot on the ice in the offensive zone to pick off a breakout pass. He then neatly moved the puck to Oskar Lang, who set up Rasmus Dahlin in front.
A quick pronunciation note
Like Höglander, Åman has a diacritic in his name — a ring or overring above the “A” in his last name. Technically speaking, the overring turns the “A” into its own separate letter. The Swedish alphabet has 29 letters — the 26 that are in the English alphabet as well as Å, Ä, and Ö.
The letter “Å” is pronounced similarly to the “o” sound in “oar,” so his name might be more correctly pronounced as Oman.