Coyotes 25 under 25 #21: Filip Westerlund
Where’d he come from: Drafted #44 overall (2nd round) in 2017
Current team: Frölunda HC (SHL)
NHL time?: None
At 5’11 and 181lbs, Filip Westerlund is a small defenseman with big potential. He split last year between the Swedish Hockey League and J20 Elit (the Swedish equivalent of the Canadian juniors) for the Gothenburg powerhouse Frolunda, one of the best clubs in Europe and current European champions thanks to their victory in the Champions Hockey League, in which Westerlund himself played 7 games. 18 year-olds playing at the elite level in Sweden is not rare, but being the captain of your U18 elite team and leading them in defensive scoring at 15 before playing U20 at 16...that’s a little definitely rare.
Westerlund is also one of the top players in Sweden in his age group, with being one of the key contributors at the U18 Worlds last year and named among the top three best players for the team.
He’s a small, mobile defenseman who’s not overly physical and uses his agility and quick hands both with and without the puck as his most potent weapons - he’s fast going forward, backward, and laterally and is able to make a calm, composed first pass. His shot is nothing special right now, though, as you’d expect from a player his size. Westerlund is strong, with a low center of gravity when skating, but prefers to load the bullets for others rather than fire them himself. He’s also a player who needs to put some size on for the NHL game, ideally, although his experience in the SHL against some of the best players in Europe will only become more valuable as he’s given more responsibility and time. His pinching and reading of the game could also always improve - this is, after all, an 18-year-old feeling his way in the game at the top level. He’s definitely not a finished product by any means, but projects as a top-4 NHL defenseman and a solid two-way player. And with the depth in the Coyotes system right now, Westerlund has the time to reach his potential.
What’s next for Filip Westerlund?
Having already played at the top levels of European club competition and with the chance to continue to do so this season and beyond to aid his development, you can expect Westerlund to stay in Sweden for at least the next two seasons, possibly longer. Playing on one of the best clubs on the continent, he’ll be pushed to perform at the top level every single day and continue to develop his hockey IQ while growing size-wise and improving the deficiencies in his game. He’s got three seasons of World Junior eligibility to work through for Sweden too, and if all goes well you can expect to see his role increase as his experience does.
2017-18 will be all about playing his way further into the Frolunda system, possibly in the wake of the Swedish wunderkind and potentially next great NHL defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who is the consensus #1 pick in the 2018 draft already. Westerlund is not on Dahlin’s level, despite being a year older, but has every chance to develop given time and patience, and that’s something John Chayka and the Coyotes can give him in abundance.
Special Report from Patrik Bexell
Patrik Bexell, European Coordinator of Habs Eyes On The Prize, was nice enough to interview Assistant Coach Pär Johansson of Frölunda HC about Filip Westerlund and the difference in the leagues.