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Top 25 Sharks under 25: We’ve all been underrating No. 21 Joachim Blichfeld

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Lil Joachy is climbing his way up from seventh-round pick to potential NHLer, fast.

KELOWNA, BC - OCTOBER 20: Henri Jokiharju #16, Joachim Blichfeld #20, Kieffer Bellows #22 and Cody Glass #8 of the Portland Winterhawks celebrate a third period empty net goal against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on October 20, 2017 in Kelowna, C
Joachim Blichfeld is better than we’ve been giving him credit for.
Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

If we take our analysis of Joachim Blichfeld’s numbers seriously, then we should all have him higher up on our list of Sharks prospects. One person’s math is not full truth, but Emmanuel Perry’s draft model shows a player who has been climbing steadily closer to the NHL since his draft year.

Consider that, according this very same model, at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, Blichfeld had a 22.4 percent chance of making the NHL. The average draft pick turns into an NHL player about 20 percent of the time. Seventeen-year-old Blichfeld was a veritable dart throw, as far as teenage hockey players are concerned. That same season — where he scored 28 points in 45 games for the Malmo Redhawks SuperElit U20 team — Perry’s model believed Blichfeld would have contributed 0.17 wins above average were he to play in the NHL the following season.

A small decimal figure on the big ice surface does likely does not elicit tears of joy from the adoring crowd. If we imagine how special it would be for a barely-turned-18-year-old to contribute at even a bottom-six level in the NHL the following season, we may begin to understand that the seventh-round pick was already showing signs of something special.

The following year, the Frederikshavn, Denmark native flew his entire lanky 6-foot-2, 181-pound frame to the west coast of the United States. There he registered 58 points in 63 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Those 58 points amounted to a 41.8 percent chance of making the NHL, with a projected/hypothetical 0.27 NHL wins above replacement upside. Those 58 points were not just empty calories, either. Blichfeld was the third-most important member of his team’s primary point scoring network at 5-on-5, as described by Evan Oppenheimer’s “Betweenness” metric.

All of this preamble brings us nearly to the present. During the 2017-18 season with Portland, Blichfeld scored 56 points in 56 games. For his hard work, Perry’s model gave him a 53.8 percent chance of making the NHL and a projected 0.17 wins above replacement upside. You’re correctly pointing out that his projected WAR dropped back down to the level of his draft-year days. We take that to heart, but for a throwaway draft pick, we weigh more heavily the skyward trajectory of his NHL readiness.

Last season, Blichfeld’s impact on his team’s scoring network lessened, as well. Though that might be expected given the string of then-current and future first-round picks — Kieffer Bellows, Cody Glass, and Henri Jokiharju — that skated alongside him.

What we’re left with, through all of that, is a forward who is the fourth-most likely of all San Jose’s prospects to make the big league. If that is the case, if this model is a harbinger of Blichfeld’s progression, then that fact alone should make him twinkle a bit more brightly in our collective eye.

What we like

We like most of all that Blichfeld has inched closer to NHL readiness with each coming season. His own coach in Portland, Mike Johnston (boy if that isn’t ever the name of a hockey coach) told Joe Spurrier of NHL.com that Blichfeld is “one of the better pure scorers in the WHL.” Johnston praised Blichfeld’s hockey sense and said that the 20-year-old will be an offensive threat in the pros. Blichfeld seemed to have his coach’s words ringing in his ear — a constant reminder of his gifts — when he joined his countrymen at the U20 Junior World Championship this past summer. For Denmark, the winger scored 3 goals and 6 points in six games to lead his team. Over at the Draft Analyst, Steve Kournianos reiterated some of the same sentiments. To the Analyst, Blichfeld is a “dangerous sniper” whose “deadly shot is his bread and butter.”

Areas of improvement

To be a seventh-round pick in the NHL draft means your digital universe is likely bereft of scouting reports. As a result, the ink spilled on Blichfeld is only for special occasions, and then typically glowing. Though the weight and size profile listed on Elite Prospects has undoubtedly changed since its listing, the tall winger will have to up his protein intake and fill out his figure if he wants to compete at the professional level. Though Blichfeld isn’t known (at least as far as we can tell) for poor defense or any other such nonsense descriptor that typically befalls European prospects, everyone knows Pete DeBoer can’t stand a young forward’s miscue in the defensive end. The forward must shore up his defensive game if he wants to skate through the shark head any time soon.

Highlight

This play is simple, but it is smart. First, Blichfeld goes almost unnoticed to the aid of his power play teammate. The two play a little one-two along the boards before Blichfeld finds an opportunity. Sensing blood, he winds up for a slap shot while the Czech defense adjusts to account for the Danish winger who has just inserted himself in front of their goalie. As the penalty killers move to defend his shot, Blichfeld fakes the slap shot then leans into a wrister that moves between bodies and swiftly into the opposite corner of the net. A man-advantage goal, sure. But a beauty, always.