2017 NHL Draft: Timothy Liljegren Hints At Another Year In Sweden
Liljegren, 18, was tabbed as the top defenseman in the 2017 draft class to start the 2016-17 season. However, a bout of mononucleosis derailed Liljegren's sophomore year with Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, and he played just 19 games after the draining illness.
In those 19 games, Liljegren scored one goal and had five assists, matching his freshman output across the board. The right-shot defenseman was expected to take the next step in his development as a prospect but struggled to reach his high potential upon his return to Rögle's lineup.
While he may slip behind other defensemen, most notably Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, Jusso Valimaki, and Callan Foote, or a tad further than once anticipated, Liljegren remains one of the best players in a weak draft year.
At the NHL draft combine, Liljegren told the media the best thing for him was to stay in Sweden, where he has another year on his contract with Rögle. Given his drop in the prospect rankings, it's likely he wouldn't join an NHL club for the 2017-18 season, regardless of his potential selection in the June 23-24 draft..
Staying at home to play with a familiar team against a higher level of talent in Sweden makes more sense for him at this point.
In March, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation reportedly sent a message to NHL general managers, informing them that the SIHF would like its young players to stay in Sweden to develop.
While forgoing a shot at the NHL level is not common among high-level picks, there is one notable example from 2005. When Anze Kopitar was drafted 11th overall that year, he informed the Los Angeles Kings that he wanted to stay with Södertälje SK for one more season in the SHL.
The following year, Kopitar returned to North America and recorded 20 goals and 61 points in 72 games and finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting. Kopitar has tallied 70-plus points in six of his 11 seasons and has won two Stanley Cups, a Lady Byng, and Selke Trophy while remaining a contender for each every year.
Though Kopitar's NHL success can't be chalked up to playing just one extra year overseas, it also wouldn't be fair to exclude his confidence in knowing what was best for him at the time and the ability to work on his game for another season.
Liljegren will surely use this offseason to get back to the high-end player scouts and analysts have pegged him as and return to North America with confidence and a deeper understanding of the game.
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