This past weekend it was announced that the Arizona Coyotes have signed their first-round pick Victor Soderstrom to a three-year entry-level contract.
This should come as no surprise as the team was high enough on Soderstrom to trade up at the draft to get him. With the team thinking he was worth throwing in a second-round pick you have to believe that General Manager John Chayka and the rest of his staff think very highly of the young defenseman.
The team was able to get a closer look at Soderstrom’s game recently at the Coyotes prospect development camp. During the Friday intrasquad scrimmage he showed a calm, confident game which featured a few stand out moments and passes. Obviously its tough to say if he is ready after only a week long camp and a scrimmage game, but the answer will become clearer as we get closer to the start of the season.
The Coyotes have previously traded up to draft a defenseman who was able to jump immediately into the NHL. During the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Coyotes traded the 20th and 53rd pick and Joe Vitale to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Pavel Datsyuk’s cap hit and the 16th overall pick which was used to draft defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Chychrun was a highly ranked prospect; NHL Central Scouting lists ranked him fourth among North American skaters, who somehow dropped the day of the draft. But Chychrun would prove his doubters wrong, playing 68 games during the 2016-17 season and finishing 7-13-20. He has battled some injuries in his short career, but over three seasons he has played 171 games and registered 16-38-54.
Will he make the team out of training camp?
At this point it is extremely difficult to predict which prospects are going to make the jump to the NHL next season. If Soderstrom has a solid training camp and preseason he could very easily see himself playing getting a few games of NHL experience. And while I do think he can be a very successful NHL defenseman, I think the odds are against him playing the full 2019-20 season.
Barring a trade or an injury the Coyotes’ blue line is pretty much set at this point. Soderstrom will have stiff competition for a spot, not only from current Coyotes defensemen like Jordan Oesterle, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Chychrun but also AHL players like Kyle Capobianco and Cam Dineen. He will need to be better then his competition and he will need to be good enough that the Coyotes think it warrants burning a year of his entry-level contract to have him play right away.
More time to develop
Soderstrom’s development will be different then most North American players. He played last season in the Swedish Hockey League against adults rather then in Juniors playing against younger players. The fact that he found success against a higher level of competition is likely one of the reasons that the team was so high on him. And if the team prefers that he focuses on adjusting to the North American game as a European player he has the option to play for the Tucson Roadrunners.
If Soderstrom had a great showing at camp and the only alternative was sending him to play against younger competition in the CHL or the NCAA it may make more sense to keep him up. But while going back to Europe or playing in the AHL isn’t going to be same as playing in the NHL, it will definitely provide him with a high grade of competition.
It should go without saying but just because Chychrun made the jump immediately to the NHL doesn’t mean Soderstrom will. Each player’s development is different, and despite similarities in the way they were drafted doesn’t mean they will have the same path. Soderstrom may need some time to adjust to North American ice, and there isn’t the same pressure to have him play right away.
I don’t think its likely that Victor Soderstrom will spend the season with the Coyotes. The roster is going to provide him with a lot of competition and from a contract and a player development perspective there are plenty of reasons to not bring him up yet. Although there is still months left to go until training camp starts, so Soderstrom has plenty of time to prove me wrong.