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No. 9 Fabian Zetterlund: Adapting to change

Fabian Zetterlund might be coming into training camp this September as a somewhat underestimated hockey player. Part of the Timo Meier return, Zetterlund struggled offensively in his stretch with the Sharks to end the season. In 22 games with San Jose following the deadline, Zetterlund managed 0 goals and 3 assists.

This was a far cry from his production with the New Jersey Devils, where he had 20 points in 45 games as a secondary scorer. The production and ability he demonstrated on the East Coast through his first 50+ games is why we still have Zetterlund ranked in our top 10 and why we believe we can expect more of him this coming year.

Position: Left Wing
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 220 lbs.
Age: 24
Date of Birth: August 25, 1999
Draft Year: 2017, 63rd overall by the New Jersey Devils
Shoots: Right
2023-24 Team: San Jose Sharks (NHL)

Zetterlund grew up playing for Färjestad BK, a hockey club in Sweden based in his hometown, Karlstad. Färjestad’s club has teams in the SHL, junior hockey divisions and youth hockey. Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, Zetterlund moved up the ranks from U16, to U18, U20, and to the peak of Swedish hockey. He made his SHL debut for the club, just one game, in the 2015-16 season, as a 16-year-old. As the seasons moved along, he progressively earned more and more games at the SHL level with Färjestad.

In his NHL draft year, Zetterlund played the majority of the season in the J20 SuperElit league, scoring 36 points in 40 games. The young Swede also represented his country in the Men’s World Junior Championships twice, in 2018 and 2019, winning the silver medal in 2018.

Following the draft, Zetterlund stayed one year in Sweden to play in the SHL before moving to North America for the 2019-20 season. Before the pandemic halted play, Zetterlund put up 19 points in 46 games as an AHL rookie with the Binghamton Devils. While the AHL was still on pause for the shortened 2021 season, Zetterlund briefly moved back on loan to play for AIK in HockeyAllsvenskan. This likely helped him produce better when his AHL career resumed, as Zetterlund matched his rookie point total in 12 fewer games.

2021-22 was the young forward’s first breakout year. His scoring went up another level when New Jersey’s farm team moved from Binghamton to Utica. Zetterlund was tied for second in points among the 2021-22 Utica Comets, with 52 points in 58 games. This performance warranted an NHL call up, and Zetterlund performed admirably.

In 14 NHL games that year, Zetterlund scored 3 goals and finished with 8 points. He continued to enjoy increased production at the NHL level to start last season. Before the Sharks acquired Zetterlund in early 2023, Fabian Zetterlund was offensively impressive on New Jersey with 20 points in 45 games. This was done with an average ice time of 12:57, the lowest average he’s had in his brief NHL experience so far.

What we like

His NHL role and career continues to mold, but Zetterlund has already shown what he’s capable of. Beyond a capability to score at what is projected to be near a top-six forward rate, Zetterlund is a heavy forechecker. This seems like exactly the kind of winger Mike Grier would supplement a contending forward core with. It is hard to place exactly where he will slot into the Sharks lineup to start 2023-24, but he will continue to have opportunities to prove himself and score. Even without his offense, however, Zetterlund can still provide a good, determined effort that is reliable in a top-nine NHL role.

Areas of Improvement

Zetterlund struggled following the trade, and it could very well be the issue of adjusting to a completely new environment. Not only is there a major change in climate and culture between Newark and San Jose, but there was a major difference between the teams’ directions following the trade. New Jersey was gearing up for a Stanley Cup playoff berth, and San Jose was spiraling lower and lower in the Western Conference basement.

In addition, this was Zetterlund’s biggest move since coming to the New Jersey organization. It must have been a major challenge for a player who developed playing for essentially one hockey organization. He played in Karlstad for about six years and the New Jersey organization for four years, to suddenly making a change mid-season to San Jose.

Two months ago, Zetterlund signed a two-year contract to continue with the Sharks, which should help him feel a bit more comfortable playing in California. If the season progresses and Zetterlund still hasn’t regained his scoring touch, however, then maybe we could start expecting a role as a reliable checking forward instead of an ample secondary scorer.


We wanted to show something positive from his short stint with the Sharks thus far, so here is a play where Zetterlund earned one of his assists with the team. At the tail-end of this power play, Zetterlund skates in as the third forward, remaining relatively higher up in the play and following the puck. He sees defenseman Jacob MacDonald pinch deep to keep the puck low, and briefly turns his stride up towards the blue line to cover MacDonald’s gap. Then, when the puck floats up towards him, Zetterlund flies into the corner to retrieve it before Winnipeg can clear. He keeps the offensive chance alive, shows good patience to scan for passing opportunities, then moves the puck down to the eventual distributor, Jacob Peterson.

At a quick glance, these kinds of plays go unnoticed. Zetterlund can do this many times in a game but won’t necessarily get rewarded with a point for it. It’s the quick reads, reliable coverage and patience with the puck that can create sustained offense. Let’s hope Zetterlund has plenty more moments like these, plus a few more goals to start the season this fall.

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