TLN Top Twenty Prospects: #13 Tom Nilsson

Now that Gunnarsson is gone it’s time to make way for the
next Leafs Swedish defenseman. While that’s more likely to be Granberg in the
short term, and Loov could be the better long term option, there’s some really
interesting middle ground with Tom Nilsson. Nilsson
ranked 16th in our voting last year
, and has now skyrocketed up
to 13th based largely on one writer’s belief that he might be the second best defensive prospect to make a significant impact (Hint: I’m that
jackass).

Last year I wrote about how little we knew about Tom
Nilsson, but operated under the assumption that most of the defensemen that the
Leafs were bringing over from Sweden were destined to be Carl Gunnarsson
clones. That was a wrong assumption, as Granberg, Loov, and Nilsson all are
different enough from Gunnarsson that the comparison is more one of the quality
and tenure we hope for rather than style. Nilsson being a runner-up to fellow
Leafs prospect and Frolunda teammate Andreas Johnson for the Swedish Hockey
League Rookie of the Year honour is a nice piece of evidence that the Leafs do
have a quality prospect in Nilsson.

The similarities that Nilsson may have with Carl probably
begin and end with the fact that he’s not going to put up points and that his
biggest selling point doesn’t happen at the offensive end of the ice. Though
like Gunnarsson, Nilsson isn’t a liability outside of his zone either and can
complete a pass without inducing panic attacks.

Last year I mentioned that Nilsson’s biggest advantage was
his physical presence, which may have been an understatement, as it is more his
calling card than simply a positive attribute. Nilsson
has stated that he models his game after Niklas Kronwall
, though presumably
not the offensive aspect, by comparison Kronwall’s offensive numbers were
better as 20 year old playing in Sweden. Nilsson has also drawn comparisons to
Ulf Samuelsson which is exciting for those of us who feel the Bruins have had
healthy forwards long enough. Basically Nilsson is what you get when Brian
Burke and Thommie Bergman make a draft pick together.

“I’m a defensive back and like to play pretty physical and
aggressive. Then, I try to develop my game, become more confident puck and let
loose a little more aggressively, I’m working on it daily.”
–Tom Nilsson via translated interview
with shl.se

Nilsson by the numbers is encouraging, especially if you
like real time stats (note: please don’t like real time stats). As a SHL rookie
Nilsson was 4th on his team in ice time with 18:30, his 2:14 of PK
time led the team’s defensemen. He was 3rd on his team in blocked
shots, 2nd on his team in hits. For all his physical play it
commendable that Nilsson only had 22 PIMs. Neat.

Nilsson is going to have a good chance to bring some of that
aggressiveness to the Marlies this season, and with his aggressive style, I’m
sure he’s going to find the smaller North American rinks to be a target rich
environment for open ice hits. His expectations seem to be reasonable regarding
where he’ll play as well.

“I’ll go over with very few expectations, however. I do not
know where I’ll play. There are two teams that play in the organization I play
for. I will just run at full speed. If I had any chance at the NHL, I would not
have gone over, but then if it takes half a year, a year or two years, it may
be seen. It’s a different hockey to learn but then I know that I am a good
hockey player and if I play well, I have a chance of getting a place, I think.”

“I chose to go [to North America] because I wanted to learn
the game over there and get into the system.”
-Tom
Nilsson via translated interview with Pucksnack.com

Having spent time in the Swedish League last season, Nilsson
will be more accustom to playing against men so there shouldn’t be too much of
a learning curve there. And with decent speed, and apparently enough common sense
to know how to pick his spots he’s got a good chance to see significant ice
time with the Marlies despite their crowded blueline.

Longer term it seems very likely that Nilsson will earn a
shot with the Leafs, and if things go well he could be a great defensive minded
partner to balance out a player like Gardiner, although it’s far more likely
that Nilsson will be a strong third pairing defender rather than playing in the
top four. His big hitting, shot blocking style paired with his ability to actually
skate and move the puck should make Nilsson an appealing prospect worth keeping
an eye on in his first year in Toronto.

Here’s a compilation of some of Nilsson’s defensive
highlights from the past season (via Seer Video)

PREVIOUS PROFILES

#14 Tony Cameranesi

#15 Andrew MacWilliam

#16 Dominic Toninato

#17 David Broll

#18 Garret Sparks

#19 Viktor Loov

#20 Rinat Valiev