There were a few questions when the New York Islanders stepped up to take Alexander Ljungkrantz with the 90th pick at the 2020 NHL Draft. Namely, who was this kid? And why did they take him so high in the draft?
Since the October draft, we’ve started to see the quality the Islanders saw in the young Swedish forward. Bouncing around the J20 league, the SHL, and now the Hockeyettan league (Div 1), Ljungkrantz has put up 24 points in 38 games.
His impressive play has caught the eye of the Swedish national team who brought him in for a week-long camp. I caught up with Tomas Monten who leads the U19 camp and Sweden’s U20 squad to talk about the camp and Ljungkrantz.
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If you’re like me you probably didn’t know this camp was happening. We don’t see breaks in mid-February too often in North America, but in Sweden, they’re in the middle of an international break (at least at the SHL level).
But unlike, say the Beijer games, where Isles prospect Robin Salo is playing, this is very much a camp and not a mini tournament. So my first question with Monten was to figure out what the goal for this camp might be?
"We were gonna have a five nations tournament in Sweden this year, there’s a five nations tournament every year. Last year we were in Berlin, Germany, but because of the pandemic everything was shut down so we couldn’t have any international games. But because of the U18 World Juniors in April, it was key for us to get together with the U19 team to play the U18 team.For the U18 team its to get their team going. They picked their best players. Part of the camp is for them (U18) to get some game time and the other part is for us (U19) to identify players going forward for the World Juniors in Edmonton/Red Deer."
Because the U18 World Junior Championship is considered a pro sporting event in Sweden, this camp could take place and Monten and his team are taking full advantage by icing a U19 team to play the U18 team over the week.
The U19 isn’t at full strength. A number of the top players in Sweden’s junior system aren’t at this camp, meaning Monten can take a close look at players he wouldn’t’ normally look at this closely at this point of the year.
That’s where Ljungkrantz comes in. The Brynas product is part of Monten’s U19 squad during this week-long camp. And like much of the U19 (and even some of the U18s) who are auditioning for a spot on Sweden’s 2022 World Junior Championship squad.
According to Monten, the Islanders prospect has impressed him for a while. He’s noticed Ljungkrantz’s play at the 2019 U18 World Championships where Sweden finished third, beating Finland 5-1.
"[Alex] is one of the players that I watched that was really good in the U18 every time I saw him play a pro game I liked what I saw. I think he’s got some quality that could definitely be in the mix for the World Juniors.He’s looked as I expected. Hes pretty quick he has good speed he wants to have the puck and he wants to shoot the puck."
So far Ljungkrantz has been playing on the third line and even getting power-play time at camp but he isn’t necessarily putting up points. He’s working hard though. And if you know anything about hockey coaches is that hard work is typically rewarded.
Alexander has been playing largely on the third line at camp and getting some reps on the power play (playing in the high-slot). But Monten indicated that he’s going to try Ljungkrantz on the top line where his speed can be used as a weapon.
So, the million-dollar question: Can Ljungkrantz make Sweden’s World Junior squad in 2022? Of course, Monten wasn’t going to commit to an answer just yet. But here’s what he did say:
"If he were to move along for the world juniors I think he would play on like the 3rd or 4th line and maybe play on the PP and stir things up on the PK."
This won’t be Ljungkrantz’s last chance to impress Monten and potentially earn a spot on the roster. Monten is hoping to run another of these camps in April. Where the world will be in regards to the pandemic may change that.
A solid pre-draft year continues to trend in the right direction for Ljungkrantz. Ideally, he can end the 2021 calendar with a spot on Sweden’s world junior roster.