Faber’s Prospect Rankings #1: Tom Willander’s skating and two-way potential appoints him at the top of our rankings
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By Faber2 months ago
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We’ve made it all the way down to numero uno.
Coming in at the top of our prospect rankings is right-shot defenceman Tom Willander.
Willander was selected 11th overall in the most recent NHL Entry Draft. He played almost his entire 2022-23 season in the Swedish J20 league and put up five goals and 24 assists in 45 games.
The combination of his low(ish) point total and zero minutes in the SHL are certainly not ideal for an 11th overall pick but that’s for the Twitter scouts who can read an Elite Prospects page to whine about. You actually have to watch this prospect to see the exciting things in his game.
For Willander, his most exciting skill is clearly his skating.
There’s a lot to like with his pure straight-line speed but the thing that sets him apart is his agility and four-way mobility. Willander can cut on a dime and does a great job maintaining possession with good body positioning on his tight cuts.
Willander plays with such a calm and cool collective that just emanates confidence. From our point of view, it simply looked like Willander knew he was quicker than everyone in his league and that no forward could check him in the offensive zone. That will be tested next year as he makes the jump-up in competition by moving to Boston University and trying his hand in the NCAA. Willander will be on a strong BU team that just saw four of their top-six defencemen finish the 40-game season with 15 or more points. We expect to see Willander push to be on a top-pairing with the very exciting but undersized left-shot defenceman and Montreal Canadiens draft pick, Lane Hutson. Hutson is coming off a freshman season where he put up 15 goals and added 33 assists for 48 points in 39 NCAA games — an incredible offensive season for a freshman defenceman.
We love the development path for Willander. The jump to the NCAA gives him a chance to play on North American ice and will allow him to have some flexibility on when he wants to turn pro with the Canucks.
The fact that he may play with the top-scoring defenceman in the nation will certainly help grow his offensive side as well.
Ceiling: Quinn Hughes’ partner. This was brought up by General Manager Patrik Allvin right after they selected Willander with the 11th overall pick in the draft. If Willander can continue to develop his skating to get to the good/great NHL level, he will be a perfect partner for Hughes. Willander slows the game down and is capable of making the first pass out of his own zone. The fact that he has similar edge-work to Hughes makes us really excited about Willander hitting his ceiling because that duo has the potential to be dynamic and we may finally see a partner make Hughes better instead of just being able to play with Hughes.
Floor: Bottom-pairing defenceman. We just find it hard to believe that Willander will be any lower than this over his NHL career. The worry would be that he doesn’t develop any offence during his time in the NCAA and that he isn’t able to make a smooth transition to playing the North American game. We’re just not too worried about that actually happening.
Production (and how): Willander’s offence came on both the power play and at even-strength. He finished the year on an offensive outburst with three goals and eight assists in seven games at the U18s. He finished the J20 season with four goals and 21 assists in 39 games and then added one goal and three assists in six playoff games with Rögle’s J20 team.
Prediction (for the 2023-24 year): We expect a lot of points from Willander in his freshman NCAA season, especially if he is alongside Lane Hutson. Don’t expect Willander to be a mainstay on the first power play unit but because of Hutson’s ability to be dynamic in the offensive zone on multiple parts of the ice, Willander might get some time on the first unit if they elect to go with two defencemen. We will make a quick little graph about how to judge his offensive production from next year.
Basically, our prediction for a weak season is two goals and 10 assists. An average season is five goals and 17 assists. And a great season would be 12 goals and 30 assists.
ETA: It will depend on how well his freshman season goes with BU but our realistic expectation is that Willander comes to the NHL at the conclusion of his 2024-25 season. The estimated time of Willander’s arrival is likely early April of 2025. We may be surprised and see Willander do a one-and-done and hop into the NHL after his freshman year but that would surprise us. It will depend on how his season goes.
Though Willander doesn’t have the sample size against pros to begin to get real excited about his ETA, we have seen enough of his strong play against U20 competition at the Swedish J20 and international play to be excited about what he will do in the NCAA next season. What we want to see from Willander over the next 12 months is the ability to play as he did in the J20 but do it at a higher level in the NCAA. BU has a very offensive team and a lot of that offence comes from an active backend — Willander will be asked to contribute offensively while still checking off the defensive asks that a two-way defenceman is asked to do.
Next year at BU provides a great development environment for Willander. We would love to see him play with Hutson, who has some similar qualities to Hughes. If Willander can work his way up to the top-pairing next season, that will provide the best development for him as he looks to grow his game in the NCAA.
We want to see him continue to pressure under control as he did in the J20 league but also let his offence loose a little in the NCAA. We saw a lot of good things from his puck possession skills in the J20 league but in the NCAA, we want to see Willander open up a bit — shoot the puck more and be confident in his stretch passes to set up breakaways.
In the end, due to Willander’s potential being at a similar level to Jonathan Lekkerimäki and having a higher floor, we believe Willander was an easy decision to put at number one on the Canucks’ prospect rankings. A lot can change by the time we do this next go around but for now, we’re confident that the smooth-skating, two-way defenceman, Tom Willander is the Canucks’ top prospect.
Thanks for reading and reacting to the prospect rankings.
And a special shoutout to the folks on r/Canucks for sharing and having some fun discourse about the articles. Thanks to u/VeryLastchance, u/-GregTheGreat-, u/MadGeller, and most importantly, the ever-consistent u/BroliasBoesersson for sharing the articles on Reddit.
We will put together a recap article and then it’s time to talk about trading J.T. Miller or whatever rumours are out there.
I’ve been on my little Prospect Island for too long. It’s nice here and I don’t want to leave.
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