In light of his recent comments in local Gävle (home of the Brynäs hockey team) paper Arbetarbladet, the following is a topic worthy of discussion. How will Jakob Silfverberg translate?
The translating friend that is the Google Machine would probably tell us it's "Yescob Silfvr Mountain", but as experienced last year with top prospect David Roundleaf, translating Swedish hockey players is no easy business. Roundleaf, a Swedish player stepped into the NHL with a tremendous amount of hype following a year of amazing point production in the SEL. His game hasn’t translated as fast as some might have hoped, or projected. Another highly touted Swedish prospect, Gabriel Country Forest, has been nothing short of spectacular. It’s not easy.
The amount of hype and plaudits surrounding Jakob Silfverberg on the various forums discussing prospects is closing in on Rundblad-like levels. Silfverberg has been a force in the SEL, captaining Brynäs (in the absence of Andreas Dackell) and scoring enough to finish second place in the scoring race.
While the expectations on Rundblad were through the roof following his season in the SEL, he did not, or at least has not yet, been able to showcase anything close to the offensive domination of his SEL days in the NHL. While these struggles may not have been surprising to many who watched him play on a regular basis and raised questions about the flaws in his game, his point totals, the records, the awards and the praise took things to a point where the naysayers were drowned out.
What should we make of Silfverberg’s production? How will his game translate? What are the big question marks?
To start off, Silfverberg is a very intelligent, complete, player. There shouldn’t be any doubts that he’s smart enough to adapt to the differing tactics one encounters on a smaller rink. He plays in all situations, whether it’s a crucial penalty kill, defending a lead late in the game. or chasing it down by a goal. Oh, he’s also an integral cog on the top-ranked power-play unit.
The question with Jakob is not so much whether he can handle being a player in the National Hockey League. He will, of that there’s no doubt. He’s not gonna crush guys – he’s not a frequent hitter, even though he doesn’t shy away from physical play. He’s just going to give you very responsible minutes whenever he’s on the ice. In the league today, he would still be a responsible, useful player even if he wasn’t able to score consistently.
So what exactly would keep him from scoring? If you’ve ever seen a highlight video of Silfverberg, you can tell immediately that he’s got a wicked shot. He’s good in other offensive areas of the game, but what really sets him apart from other players is that shot. It’s not like his shooting skills are going to disappear, but setting people up for a shot, or working yourself into a position and space to load up for a shot is very different in the NHL than it is on bigger rinks, against lesser, softer competition.
This is not an attempt to diminsh Silfverberg’s abilities. They are there, believe me. As Scott illustrated last fall his point-a-game pace would seem to translate favourably to the NHL. But expectations need to be tempered. I’d be happy to be proven wrong here, that it wouldn't be any problem for Jakob to step into the league, centered by Zenon Konopka and flanked by Zenon’s anthem singing sister Cynthia on the wing, and find the time and space to pick corners like he’s facing Mikael Tellqvist or Martin Gerber (as has been the case in the SEL).
Hearing some people (heck, linemate Calle Järnkrok expecting him to “dominate”) ask about or talk about what they expect him to do or become right away, well, it’s simply going to be extremely hard to live up to that. If he wasn’t Swedish, if he wasn’t a Senators prospect, I would still be excited about this kid’s future. That being said, he is a Swedish Senators prospect, and a good one at that. There just might be some time needed for Silfverberg to find his offensive ability in the NHL, but when he does, it will be well worth the wait.
If Silfverberg were (and I’m just speculating here) to come over for the playoffs, *I* wouldn't suggest that he play this spring. To come right out of the SEL, having been eliminated (well, they could win, of course) from the playoffs and thrown right into the NHL post-season with very little experience on smaller rinks and the different strategies used in North American hockey...I’m not sure. I’m not sure if the better option wouldn’t be to have him stay in Sweden, play in the World Championship and build his confidence, his body, his repetoire. I just don’t think Silfverberg, or Zibanejad for that matter, would be a better option for a playoff game right now than Erik Condra, Kaspars Daugavins or Jimmy O’Brien.
Starting next year, and ahead? I damn sure hope so.