Filip Sandberg left his home country on a high note in 2017. Having helped carry HV71 to a league championship in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with 14 points in 16 playoff games, Sandberg drew some optimistic analysis from pundits after stabbing westward and signing a two-year deal with the San Jose Sharks. Between Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson, and Marcus Sorensen, Sharks fans were getting used to free agents signed out of European pro leagues making an impact in our fair city and Sandberg was thought to be no exception.
Unfortunately, after snagging spot 25 in these very hallowed rankings last year despite having yet to play a single game, Sandberg’s rookie season did not go according to plan. After just 45 games and 14 points, the Swede suffered a season-ending knee injury and would not be heard from again until the final two games of the postseason, where he recorded two shots on goal.
In the worst-case scenario, the kid just doesn’t have it, and, if that is the case, the signs were there in hindsight. Sandberg’s 2017 Swedish league playoff performance — impressive though it was — was a 16-game sample size. Over the previous 204 regular season SHL contests, the Stockholm native had recorded 71 points. According to Rob Vollman’s excellent and oft referenced translation factors, that translates to just over 17 points in an 82-game NHL season.
In this scenario, Sandberg’s AHL numbers last season do little to inspire hope. His 14 points in 45 games translate to only 12 in an NHL season. At this point, it’s less a question of whether he can graduate to the Sharks, and more of whether he can produce enough to earn a new contract in the A. It’s hard to know how much of that is due to ability and how much is due to the injury that ended his season in March, so there is room for optimism.
Hope, however, springs eternal, and the best-case scenario is that Sandberg was surprised by the difference in speed and pressure on our tiny North American rinks, which led to and was compounded by knee injuries and their subsequent complications. There’s evidence to support this sequence of events, as the man himself, in an interview with hockeysverige.se earlier this month seemed to imply as such. Now, I don’t speak Swedish (as a Norwegian, I’d likely be disavowed for even trying), but Sandberg seems to refer to being more prepared for the mental differences in the AHL and spending more time this summer on personal fitness in preparation for his second year.
It will take a big improvement and a significant change to his game to challenge for an NHL spot, and his moving up these rankings likely has more to do with players ranked above him last year either aging out (Dylan DeMelo, Barclay Goodrow, Joakim Ryan) or moving to different clubs (Danny O’Regan, Adam Helewka) than it does his own rising stock. Still, Sandberg seems optimistic about his chances this year, and, with one year remaining on his two-year contract, he’ll be given the opportunity to prove it to us.
What we like
Sandberg was praised by scouts as having excellent work ethic, vision, and competitiveness. Over the AHL games he did play last year, he impressed with burst speed, strong edge work, and a blistering and deceptive shot. Seriously, scroll down to the highlights and watch him shoot, I’ll wait.
Not bad, hey?
When healthy, Sandberg earned praise from general manager Doug Wilson for his “high-pressure game” and his “battle level,” which, while not necessarily translating directly to wins, is very fun.
Areas of improvement
The biggest thing Sandberg needs to do this year to stick around is stay healthy. Once that’s in the bag, he needs to be a little more selfish with the puck. Nobody with a shot like his should be so hesitant to use it. If Sandberg improved his top speed in the off-season as much as he claims, and if he can use his vision and quick feet to get into the fewer and farther between open areas of American ice to launch that wrister, he can still surprise.
He does, after all this, have a shot.
Watch how Sandberg’s shoulders barely move until the puck is already gone. That’s a tough shot to read or predict and it’s what Wilson meant when he talked about his shot being “deceptive.” A little more speed and decisiveness to move into those open areas on the rush or on transition and a little less hesitation to shoot will go a long way.
Sandberg’s 77 shots in 45 AHL games comes out to 1.71 shots per game. It may be a factor of opportunity and ice time, but it’s not enough, and it’s pretty much in line with his shot production back home. He’s shown an ability to increase that rate: from 0.87 from 2012-14 to 1.70 from 2014-17. He’ll need another jump in shot rate to be effective here. Throw in a dash of consistency and a pinch of confidence, and Filip Sandberg may still be able to show us something.