The route that Jonathan Dahlen and Elias Pettersson took in their junior careers isn’t a common one in Sweden. Most elite players join clubs in the Swedish Hockey League and play in their system, working their way up from junior leagues to the men’s team. Top junior players that wind up in the Allsvenskan league are usually on loan from SHL teams.
Dahlen and Pettersson, however, joined Timrå IK as youth players, though Pettersson obviously signed on with the Växjö Lakers in the SHL this season. Dahlen could have also joined an SHL team, but made the decision to stick with Timrå in hopes of helping them get promoted back up to the SHL.
He is a best-of-seven series away from realizing his goal.
Dahlen announced in mid-January that he was staying with Timrå for the rest of the season, instead of pursuing an opportunity in the SHL.
“Only an idiot without heart would have left Timrå at this moment,” said Dahlen, “and I would not describe myself as an idiot without a heart. My heart is in the right place and I will continue to play for Timrå.
“I see that we have a realistic chance to reach the Allsvenskan Final [for promotion], and as long as we have that, I will not leave to go anywhere.”
Dahlen was Timrå’s best player all season and led the Allsvenskan in points per game, finishing second in total points with 23 goals and 44 points in 44 games. In the best-of-five playoff series against Leksand IF to determine who would play for promotion to the SHL, Dahlen was a beast, racking up four goals and seven points in the three-game sweep.
You can see highlights below of Dahlen’s performance from the third and deciding game, where he assisted on the opening goal of the game, then scored two goals himself.
You can see Dahlen’s breakaway goal to start the video, a penalty shot attempt at 4:26, and his second goal at 7:29. That second goal showcases his excellent wrist shot, beating the goaltender cleanly from the right faceoff circle on a power play rush. He could have had another assist — check out his superb pass at 1:20 of the video — but the goal was disallowed for reasons that I can’t quite decipher.
Now Timrå has their sights set on Karlskrona HK, who finished in last place in the Swedish Hockey League this season. Their best-of-seven series kicks off on March 27th and Timra has a strong chance of winning, particularly with Dahlen leading the way.
When Dahlen was asked about what he expected from Karlskrona, he said, “I have never seen Karlskrona play so I have no idea what to expect,” then threw some shade at the SHL: “When I can watch the NHL, I do, but generally I’m not that interested in the SHL.”
The series with Karlskrona could last until April 6th if it goes to seven games, at which point Dahlen could fly over to North America and be available to play for the Utica Comets in the playoffs. But just what should we expect from Dahlen on this side of the pond?
Dahlen not only led the Allsvenskan in points per game, he was also first in goals per game (0.52) and shots per game (3.66), and second in even-strength points per game (0.64) and shot attempts per game (5.11).
He was clearly the best player in the league and it was good to see him continue to produce without Elias Pettersson at his side like last season. The difficulty is knowing how that might translate to the NHL.
We can use Ian Tulloch’s approach to NHL Equivalency to get some idea of how Dahlen might perform. Tulloch’s method looks at players who moved from one league to another to estimate league strength. Allsvenskan points translate at 0.46: essentially, an Allsvenskan point is worth about 0.46 NHL points.
Since Dahlen scored at exactly one point per game, a realistic expectation for Dahlen would be 0.46 points per game in the NHL, about 38 points over a full 82-game season. This season, 0.46 points per game would place him around 180th in the NHL, so borderline second-line, but more like a very good third-line player.
It’s certainly possible that Dahlen outperforms those expectations (though it’s equally possible he underperforms them), and it’s also possible that Dahlen spends most of next season in the AHL, adapting to the smaller rink size in North America and improving his all-around game.
We can look at a few notable players who made the transition to the NHL after strong under-20 Allsvenskan seasons. This isn’t scientific, by any means, but it provides us with some interesting names.
One comparison that people have made for Dahlen is Filip Forsberg, mainly because the Nashville Predators acquired him in a similar fashion to how the Canucks acquired Dahlen: trading an aging depth winger, in his case Martin Erat.
Forsberg had 0.87 points per game in the Allsvenskan as an 18-year-old, a little under Dahlen’s 0.98 points per game, though Dahlen was eight months older. Forsberg spent most of his 19-year-old season in the AHL, with a few call-ups to the Predators, instead of staying in the Allsvenskan like Dahlen.
In his rookie season as a 20-year-old, Forsberg had 26 goals and 63 points in 82 games. Forsberg represents an ideal scenario, though Dahlen is over a year behind: one season in the AHL at 20/21, then a top-six NHL forward at 21/22.
Alexander Wennberg, likewise, provides some optimism for Dahlen’s future. After 0.70 points per game at 18 in the Allsvenskan, he spent his 19-year-old season in the SHL before jumping straight to the NHL at 20 and growing into a third-line centre role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s produced like a top-six forward for the past couple seasons.
Carl Soderberg is an odd one: he spent seven more seasons in Sweden after scoring a point-per-game in the Allsvenskan as he turned 20. He finally came over to the NHL as a 27-year-old and surprisingly became a solid second-line forward.
And then there’s the pie-in-the-sky comparison: Henrik Zetterberg, who is a particularly fun player to look at because he also played for Timrå. As a 19 year old, Zetterberg had 20 goals and 34 points in 42 games for Timrå and helped them promote out of the Allsvenskan, much like Dahlen plans to do this season.
Zetterberg then spent two seasons with Timrå in the SHL before coming over to the NHL, where he’s had a fantastic career, winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 and the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP to go with it.
Comparing Dahlen to Zetterberg is a little unfair, of course. The Canucks prospect that compares more directly to Zetterberg is Elias Pettersson. A year with Timrå in the Allsvenskan, followed by a superlative season in the SHL? Both centres? Similar intelligent, creative style? It might be a stretch, but it’s not quite out of reach.
There are certainly plenty of players with fantastic junior seasons in the Allsvenskan who never went on to NHL success — Tony Martensson, Morten Green, Patrik Zackrisson — but there’s a blueprint for Dahlen to follow and it’s one that should give Canucks fans a reason for optimism about Dahlen’s future.