It’s not easy to score goals in the NHL.
Sure, some players make it look easy but even elite goal scorers can struggle. Just look at Elias Pettersson’s early-season struggles or Brock Boeser falling short of 30 goals despite seemingly being a lock to become a perennial 30-goal man after his rookie year.
This past season, despite three players cracking the 30-goal barrier, the Vancouver Canucks finished 18th in the NHL in goals. As the NHL appears to be heading into a more scorer-friendly era, the Canucks could really use some more players adept at putting the puck in the back of the net.
Maybe that should influence the Canucks’ approach at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. With the 15th overall pick, perhaps the Canucks should consider Liam Öhgren.
Liam Öhgren - Left Wing
6’1” - 201 lbs - Jan 28, 2004 (18)
Djurgårdens IF J20, J20 Nationell (30-33-25-58)
Liam Öhgren is generally ranked in the back half of the first round by public draft rankings, with a couple of outliers. The Puck Authority has Öhgren all the way down at 41st, while Elite Prospects has him highest at 12th overall.
In his draft year, all Liam Öhgren did was tear Sweden’s junior league to shreds.
Öhgren was first in the J20 Nationell in goals with 33, as well as points-per-game. In fact, Öhgren’s 1.93 points per game is the best ever by a player in his draft year in the J20 Nationell. Some of the players he outproduced in their draft years include Anze Kopitar, William Karlsson, and Elias Lindholm.
No one — not even players who appeared in more games — has scored more than Öhgren’s 33 goals in the Nationell in their draft year. Öhgren scored those 33 goals in just 30 games.
Öhgren wasn’t dependent on the power play to rack up goals either, with 28 of his 33 goals coming at even-strength.
There is one caveat to Öhgren’s dominance in the Nationell. He was playing on line with two other first-round talents: Jonathan Lekkerimaki on right wing and Noah Ostlund at centre. Öhgren out-produced both of them in the Nationell but Lekkerimaki was more productive in the SHL and both Lekkerimaki and Ostlund scored more at the Under-18s, though Öhgren was playing injured at the time.
The three obviously all benefited from playing with each other but how do you separate their performance and assess them as individuals? Was Öhgren a beneficiary of playing with two elite talents or is he an elite talent on his own merit?
"He is one of the best pure shooters in the class."
The consensus from the scouting world is that Öhgren is an elite talent.
“All 32 NHL teams would love to have players like Liam Öhgren,” said Will Scouching, who ranks Öhgren ahead of his two linemates. “He has the problem-solving skills and adaptability to make things work at high levels.”
Öhgren has a tremendous shot with an absurdly quick release. The puck seems to erupt off his stick at a moment’s notice. He uses that shot in a multitude of ways — firing the puck from seemingly any point in his stride, dragging the puck inside to change the shooting angle, using defencemen as a screen — Öhgren can do it all, and he does it all at pace.
“For my money, he is one of the best pure shooters in the class,” says Elite Prospect’s Cam Robinson. “Perhaps even the best.”
Beyond his excellent shot, Öhgren also has a knack for finding soft spots on the ice for his teammates to find him and is adept at one-timing the puck or corralling passes and undressing goaltenders in front of the net.
“Everything happens in motion for Öhgren. He gets moving as pucks arrive at his position, skates through his passes, and doesn't need to break stride to get off his shot,” reads his scouting report from Elite Prospects. “He plays at such a heightened pace that the puck often flies from his stick no sooner than you realize he's even secured possession in the first place.”
His variety of goal-scoring abilities and blending of skills allowed Öhgren to victimize goaltenders in both the Nationell and international competition, where he captained Sweden to gold at the World Under-18 Championship and bronze at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Öhgren had 3 goals and 9 points in 6 games at the World Under-18s and 4 goals and 7 points in 5 games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He wasn’t just feasting on lesser competition either — at the Under-18s, Öhgren scored two goals and added an assist in Sweden’s 6-4 win in the final against Team USA.
"The definition of a dual-threat offensive weapon."
What sets Öhgren apart from some of the other goal-scoring talents in this draft class is that he’s not a one-dimensional threat.
“He has a shoot-first mentality, but he can also make plays,” said one scout to The Hockey News.
Öhgren uses the threat of his shot to aid in his playmaking, deceiving defenders and goaltenders into believing he’s shooting, then firing a pass to an open teammate. He has the vision to spot teammates through layers and the precision passing to find them with the puck through those layers.
“When a player scores above a goal-per-game, it’s rare that we see a nuanced distribution game attached to it,” says Robinson. “But in Öhgren’s case, it’s the definition of a dual-threat offensive weapon.”
With his strong skating and passing ability, Öhgren is also excellent at transitioning the puck up ice, using his straight-line speed to back up defencemen before laying off a pass to a linemate or finding a gap himself to drive into a dangerous area. He is always looking to break the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone with possession and has the skill to accomplish that task.
Öhgren also has a lot of power to his game, with a stocky 201 lbs already on his 6’1” frame. He frequently seems impossible to knock off the puck. Consider this play where he practically throws his check aside as he gains the zone before driving to the net to undress the goaltender.
Then there’s this play where he has defenders draped all over him as he still managed to get to the slot and beat the goaltender.
That strength on the puck shows up in his battles on the boards, as he is ready and willing to grind down low to win a puck and quickly create a scoring chance from it.
Beyond the physicality, Öhgren is intelligent on the forecheck, making great reads to pick off breakout passes and create turnovers. His work rate is noticeable in these moments, as he hustles to cut off passing lanes, aided by his long reach.
“When on the forecheck, he has the speed and the active stick to target puck carriers along the boards,” says Josh Tessler in his scouting report for Smaht Scouting. “His active stick allows him to dictate where the attack goes with the puck.”
"He really gives me Vasili Podkolzin vibes."
That same work rate doesn’t always show in up in the defensive zone, however, which is his main knock as a prospect. He’s a high-end offensive talent but his defensive game needs work.
“Öhgren didn't always play with the same level of enthusiasm in the defensive zone as he did the offensive one,” says Elite Prospects, but they also note, “His physicality and his off-puck sense are such that the basis is there for at least an adequate level of defensive play as he rises up the ranks of professional hockey.”
Given his work rate and intensity elsewhere on the ice, Öhgren’s defensive game seems like something that could be fixed with time.
That said, he’s been compared to J.T. Miller, a physical offensive threat with a questionable defensive game. Sometimes that defensive game doesn’t quite get there, even for hard-working players.
Scouting reports have also compared Öhgren to Timo Meier, Zach Hyman, and Filip Forsberg, but Will Scouching had an interesting comparison for the Swedish winger.
“He really gives me Vasili Podkolzin vibes in a way, with a high pace of play, good 200-foot instincts, relatively good transitional skill, and a scoring ability that's hard to ignore,” said Scouching, who has Öhgren 13th in his analytics-influenced draft rankings.
On top of everything else, Öhgren has the intangibles that team’s love. There’s a reason he was named captain of Sweden at the Under-18s. Scouts praise his maturity and his coachability and it’s one of the reasons why his defensive shortcomings may not be as big a red flag as they seem — he’s the type of person who will diligently work at improving his weaknesses.
"He's a top-10 player."
Öhgren is a remarkably versatile player, with an array of offensive skill combined with a willingness to play a tough, grinding game. He may very well prove to be the Canucks’ best option at 15th overall.
“The fact that he is already so advanced in all facets of the game will make him a coach's dream and afford him earlier opportunities in an NHL lineup than many players selected before and around him,” says Robinson. “He's a top-10 player that will likely be had outside of the top-10.”