Prospect Profile: #20 Anton Cederholm

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Snazzy banner via Matthew Henderson

Evaluating prospects is a rather tricky business, considering the inherent volatility that accompanies attempting to project how, what’s still for all intents and purposes, a progressively developing young man will wind up turning out 4, 5, 6 years from now. 

For an 18 or 19-year old kid, the fact of the matter is that there are so many obstacles and unforeseen circumstances that can sidetrack their career’s along the way before they ever even truly get started. That’s part of why any scout or talent evaluator that’s worth a damn will tell you that they try to avoid overly committing to projections or comparisons, instead looking to establish a floor and ceiling that can be reasonably expected from said prospect. 

This understanding neatly segues into a discussion about the player we had ranked as the 20th best prospect in the team’s system this summer, specifically because of how little real data we have on him following just one season of action in North America. At the time, Anton Cederholm seemed like a fine enough player to take in the 5th round where there’s minimal risk associated with the pick, but based on what we’ve seen thus far it appears his overall upside is rather limited.

I’m of two minds when it comes to Cederholm, who I admittedly had as the 20th ranked prospect in my own individual rankings. The fact that he spent essentially the entire season playing on the top defensive pairing for a team that ran roughshod on the WHL – finishing with the 2nd most points in the regular season, before ultimately bowing out in a thrilling 7-game WHL final to an Edmonton Oil Kings squad that went on to win the Memorial Cup – is a positive.

The same can be said for what happened when the already stacked team traded for Matt Dumba mid-season; instead of giving in to what must’ve been an enticing proposition of a tour de force Dumba-Derrick Pouliot partnership on the blueline, head coach Mike Johnston thought enough of Cederholm and what he brought to the table that he kept his top pairing intact for the remainder of the year. 

Without having spoken to Johnston (who strikes me as a shrewd hockey mind), I imagine that he figured Cederholm’s ‘stay-at-home’ style lent itself nicely as a complement to Pouliot’s more offensively-inclined mentality. Particularly in the role of a physical presence, as Cederholm’s 6’2”, 204 pound frame coincidentally put him in the middle of his fair share of collisions and kerfuffles. If you’re a fan of that sort of thing, then this highlight pack of Cederholm’s 2013-14 campaign is right up your alley.

That video is mainly comprised of big hits and fights, which unfortunately sort of just illustrates the concern with Cederholm’s resume from this past year. While he admittedly didn’t really get a whiff of the power play, it’s somewhat startling that a player that was used as much as he was managed just 4 goals and 12 assists in 71 games on a squad that blew the WHL out of the water offensively (their 338 goals scored were 28 more than any other team, with only 4 of the other 21 teams even topping 250). 

The available data is regrettably primitive for Major Junior, but unless there was some sort of voodoo it seems hard to fathom that Cederholm couldn’t have rolled out of bed and fallen into a more respectable output. On the surface it’s worthy of an eyebrow raise, because even if his best-case projection is that of a physical, defensive-minded blueliner the reality is that not too many of those types wind up making it to the NHL level without having shown that they can produce their fair share offensively on the way up first.

In putting together this profile and attempting to get a better understanding of the season he had, I reached out to a keen Portland Winterhawks observer who was kind enough to share some of what she’d not only seen, but tracked, throughout the year. She sent over a rather disturbing piece of information from the WHL final itself:

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While struggling against a formidable opponent like the Oil Kings over the course of a 7-game sample is hardly something to get overly worked up about, the fact that they were so effortlessly gaining the offensive zone against Cederholm was a reason for pause. Especially since it certainly matched up with what I’d seen from him on the odd occasion I got to watch a Winterhawks game last season, in which opponents were targeting what appeared to be a noticeable lack of mobility and foot speed. 

Was this actually a prevailing theme throughout the entire year, or just an unfortunate case of catching someone on the wrong nights?

“Anecdotally, I think the numbers make sense with what I saw throughout the year. He tends to yield the blue line without pressuring, but speed is also a factor there. He seems to have a rather conservative approach, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional, ‘balancing out’ the high risk/high reward Pouliot approach (contesting most entries), or if it’s genuinely his game. At the beginning of the year, he was physical in all the wrong ways, and he didn’t really use his body to contest. Toward the end of the year, he started to do that more. So because of that, I think the ‘true’ number is somewhere not as egregiously bad, but still reflective of his tendency not to engage as much as he probably could or should.”

At the beginning of the season he was always a step behind and often made up for it by penalties (tripping, interference, hooking). To a certain extent, that continued throughout the season, but it certainly ended better than it began. He also got whistled for quite a few roughing calls and fighting majors, though, which act as noise (with regards to the large penalty minute totals he racked up). There’s the roughing and fighting aspect of being ‘physical’, and then there’s the getting body position aspect. I think over the course of the season Cederholm got better at the defensive aspect while the fighting part stayed constant, which is why his penalty numbers are somewhat higher than I’d expect.

Megan brought up an interesting point there which I do think bears taking into account when evaluating his play last season: this was Cederholm’s first year in North America, and considering he turned 19 years old midway through the campaign giving him an added amount of slack seems wise. 

It’ll be interesting to see how he looks next season, now that he’s got his feet wet at this level. The Canucks seem to banking on a marked improvement, considering they’ve already jumped the gun and invested in him with an entry-level contract earlier this summer. 

For now, Cederholm’s place on this list is suppressed as he finds himself stuck behind a handful of other defensemen in the system that are either a) closer to tangibly contributing to the Vancouver Canucks, b) have a considerably larger perceived upside, or in most cases, a healthy combination of both.

One final note on the methodology for this series: our 5 writers – none of whom are in Brendan Gaunce’s family tree – were polled for their respective top 20, resulting in an aggregate score. Once every profile has been published, we’ll release each of the 5 individual lists for the purposes of public shaming (though as you’ll see, there wasn’t exactly all that much variance except for a few occasions). 

We tinkered with the definition of a “prospect” for the purposes of entertainment this year, shifting our initial definition of 22 years or younger by the start of this coming season up to include all players that were 23 years or younger on this past July 1st, in the hopes of including a richer pool of talent. With all apologies to Jeremie Blain and his family, we figured this sort of editorial discretion was best for all. Now that that’s out of the way, look for the next profile on the docket to run daily from Monday-Friday until we hit what we (unanimously) believe to be the top prospect in the Canucks system.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Many will say ‘He’s a physical defensive defensemen, he doesn’t need to put up points!” without the irony that a high points totals by CHL defensemen often indicate bare minimum NHL puck handling abilities. Even Aaron Rome put up many more points than Cedarholm did this year when playing in the WHL.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    I was just thinking, “these always start off in very sober fashion and are basically a downer for the first couple of entries”. Which they are; I mean, it’s basically a litany of reasons why prospect X is unlikely to ever be any good.

    However, it then occurred to me that this is probably going to be the least depressing one of these lists ever compiled.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m looking forward to this, and can’t wait until you guys get down around #12 or so.

  • I don’t know that Cederholm projects as anything more than a fringe NHL’er but I don’t really understand the critique of him not putting up more points. So what if his WHL team was an offensive powerhouse — has he ever given any indication he’d be a point-producer? He never has in Sweden, he was always supposed to be a big, physical shutdown defenseman. This might mean he’s more of an Alberts or Murzyn pylon type and not worth the development time, but he seems to have been good enough in that role in the situations he’s been in. Some of the more anecdotal evidence you’re giving is more compelling about his deficiencies but the point-production fetish that seems to accompany a lot of the prospect evaluations gets a little bit tiresome. At some point you probably are going to need a few defensemen and a goalie or two…

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      You know, now that you mention it Cederholm’s most probable path to the NHL may very well be putting on some goalie equipment and jumping in the blue crease if he doesn’t start showing more offensive ability next season.

      • Dimitri Filipovic

        I look forward to seeing if Thatcher Demko makes this list. At some point you are going to have to start evaluating junior prospects on something other than their offensive output. You can keep making jokes about it or actually try and come up with a better measure rather than avoiding the critique.

        • Dimitri Filipovic

          Demko is in fact inside of our Top 15, and there are 3 defensemen in our Top 10. I’m sorry to inform you that this straw man really doesn’t exist.

          • Dimitri Filipovic

            Glad to hear Demko made it.

            It’s not a straw man. I’m not saying that you’re not rating defensemen. I’m asking if you would use some criteria outside of point production for the majority of your critique. As I said in my original comment I thought some of the game summary info was really useful — that Cederholm is slow and ponderous, frequently out of position and making hits at the wrong times. These all make me wonder whether he’d be able to make it to the NHL, though I’d keep the idea that he’s young, transitioning to the NA game and usage all in mind. Just because he isn’t scoring at a high rate on a high-scoring team (one of your main points in the original article) doesn’t seem particularly relevant.

          • Dimitri Filipovic

            Right, what I’m saying though is that generally speaking even guys that make it to the NHL and fill 3rd pairing, more defensively-minded roles have produced in the lower levels leading up to their arrival. Guys that haven’t produced at least modestly typically don’t wind up getting meaningful looks in the NHL. Looking at something as simple as point production is sort of necessary when we just don’t have very much other information because no one bothers to track Major Junior stuff consistently on a deeper level.

            With that being said, I’m willing to acknowledge that in Cederholm’s case there very well could’ve been an adjustment period, and that I’ll put a lot more stock into how he performs next season.

          • Dimitri Filipovic

            Fair enough. I know that better metrics to evaluate goaltenders than currently exist have long been in the discussion; I suppose I am curious about what other measures besides the traditional ones or possession stats are considered for evaluating non-scorers.

            Thanks for the list, also the Pronman list in the other post. I suppose Gaunce doesn’t make his honorable mentions either?

          • The point with using points to evaluate defensemen isn’t so much about thinking that offensive ability is the only thing that matters, it’s that we’ve looked into this and found that while scoring doesn’t equal guaranteed NHL success, not scoring is a good indicator of future NHL failure.

            When I wrote a series of articles on this last year, I found that defensemen who produced low point totals in the CHL and were drafted between picks 51 and 100 (so above where Cederholm went) missed the NHL a little more than 96% of the time. Seeing as these guys were more well-regarded than Cederholm, his chances of making the NHL should logically be worse than this.

            I agree with your point that offensive ability isn’t the best thing to evaluate a defenseman by, but at the same time, that’s not really what we’re doing. For a better look at the logic behind how we rate Cederholm, I suggest reading the three articles I wrote before the 2013 entry draft:

            http://thats-offside.blogspot.ca/2013/06/defense-defensemen-and-draft.html

            http://thats-offside.blogspot.ca/2013/06/defending-defenseman-post.html

            http://thats-offside.blogspot.ca/2013/06/slicing-and-dicing-re-examining-data-on.html

          • These — especially that first post — are really helpful. I think as a refresher or perhaps as an intro to the series, it would be really helpful to give a little bit of your criteria at the outset. It might tamp down some of the inevitable second-third-fourth-guessing.

            After all, it’s going to be pretty remarkable if all the players in the system make it to the NHL. It’s just helpful to see some of the reasoning that goes into your ranking system. Thanks for them.

          • Andy

            Follow-up question;

            In most defensive pairings, does one defensemen tend to get more points/goals than the other, and if so, does that mean that only one half of most offensive CHL defensemen pairs consistently go on to have NHL success?

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Corerct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t it stand to reason that if Cederholm’s partner, Pouliot, was often up in the play that it’s quite likely he was often caught up-ice, meaning that Cederholm was dealing with a lot of either odd-man rushes or rushes where his partner was a forward backchecking? Seems like it would be pretty easy for the other teams to gain the zone against him under those circumstances.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    As a Winterhawks season ticket holder I had the pleasure of watching Anton play this season. He definitely was cleaning up a lot of Pouliot’s messes on the back end, but from a goal scoring/team perspective that was probably the best way to utilize that pairing. I would also imagine that’s a large reason why those zone entry stats look so bad.

    He tends to shadow forwards into the zone and make some unfortunate decisions when he does decide to use his body. I’d say it’s because he’s still getting used to the smaller ice. But I’m also a Canucks and Winterhawks fan, so I clearly can’t be trusted.

    One thing is for sure right now: The sample size is just much too small to make any definitive judgment on his game.

  • I accept the limited chance that Cederholm has to make the NHL, but boy am I pulling for him. For some reason I have become an irrationally attached to him as a prospect.

    I think it all goes back to his destruction of the medicine ball last year.

    Again, I get it. It makes no sense. He will more than likely be consigned to the dust bin of Canucks history with the likes of Prab Rai.

    But a small candle burns on my window sill for him regardless.

  • Andy

    Cedarholm: Here we go again. Statistics, analytics. Trash. balderdash and drivel. Canucks must have seen something or he wouldn’t be off to Utica. Also, I believe it was CSS or ISS had Cedarholm rated as a third round pick in his draft year. Forget stats. Let me be trite here: Its the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in… well, you know.

  • Andy

    Cedarholm: Here we go again. Statistics, analytics. Trash. balderdash and drivel. Canucks must have seen something or he wouldn’t be off to Utica. Also, I believe it was CSS or ISS had Cedarholm rated as a third round pick in his draft year. Forget stats. Let me be trite here: Its the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in… well, you know.