When the Panthers drafted Henrik Borgström with the 23rd pick of the 2016 Draft on Friday night, many fans and analysts were caught off guard by what appeared to be a reach considering the other players available at that spot. What most people don’t know, however, is that with a little bit of time and patience, Borgström has the potential to become a top offensive center for the Panthers.
Borgström has spent the last several years playing for the U20 team of HIFK, a professional men’s team in Finland’s top hockey league (Liiga). He went undrafted in 2015 mainly after he grew an incredible 9 inches (5’6″ to 6’3″) from September 2014 until the start of the 2015-16 season and suffered from major back pain as a result. This season, Borgström recorded 29 goals and 26 assists in 40 games, including 2 hat-tricks which came in a span of just 3 games, five 3-point performances, and four 4-point performances while leading his team in scoring.
The Panthers are very high on Borgström, especially Finnish scout Jari Kekalainen who was the one that pushed the most for the team to draft him. Kekalainen also played a major role in the Panthers’ selecting Aleksander Barkov, Joonas Donskoi, and Juho Lammikko, so management had no qualms about trusting the scout on this one. Last Monday, he skated in front of Dale Tallon and other members of the Panthers’ staff for about 2 hours, and everyone really liked what they saw in the brief session.
Borgström opted to not play for the HIFK’s pro team as a way of maintaining his NCAA eligiblity – where he’ll be headed to play for the University of Denver this coming season – and as a result, there’s [almost] no footage of him anywhere online aside from scouting reports and 3 full games he played in this season. I’ve gone through all 3 games and put together a whole mess of clips to get you more familiar with his style of play as well as areas where he’ll need to improve before making the jump to pro hockey, something that the NCAA path will help a lot with.
Since Borgström is fairly raw overall, I’ll focus on the big picture rather than delving deep into every tiny decision he made or didn’t make. In all 3 games that I found, his team happened to wear their white jerseys and he’s number 5 in all of these clips, although the backs of the uniforms are difficult to make out due to the stripe design used.
So, let’s get to it…
Something that’s clear in almost all of these clips is that Borgström is a very skilled puck-handler, and since he’s a fairly decent skater for his size, he’s able to carry the puck through the neutral zone with ease. In the above clip, he picks up the puck and quickly passes it off to a teammate before making a nice lateral move to get around the defender in front of him. He builds up some speed before getting the puck back, driving through center ice and getting a quick shot off in traffic.
The defender inside the offensive zone plays him very well although he’s still able to get a really hard shot off while using him as a screen. Many of the scouting reports on Borgström have suggested that he’s not the best skater and having watched him, it seems that mainly applies to his acceleration; once he gets going, his speed is solid and he’s able to get by defenders. However, with more time in the gym will come more strength and power in his legs, and that’s when we should see an improvement in his acceleration and stride.
In this longer clip above, it becomes clear how impressive Borgström is in the offensive zone. First, he skates in on the forecheck and uses his frame to get the puck and keep it away from the opposing defender. He then carries the puck along the corner and up the wall – in a way that looks very similar to fellow prospect Dryden Hunt – and gets bumped off the puck while trying to make a lateral move around him. He doesn’t give up though as he then beats another forward to the puck at center ice, curls back around, makes a second lateral and gains the zone.
Even though he loses the puck a couple of times and doesn’t generate any shot attempts, it’s obvious that Borgström’s smarts are just off the charts and his intentions are very good. He did have a couple of pass options at various points throughout the play, including one at the half-wall at the very end, but decided to continue on by himself. A lot of times, as you’ll see in the clip above and future clips, he’ll try to make one extra move or play which causes him to lose possession to create a turnover, however that’s something that he’ll learn to avoid as he gains more experience.
In this similar clip, Borgström picks up the pick and drives right through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. When he reaches the blue-line, he’s completely surrounded by 4 opposing players, and it’s his hands, skating, and calm demeanor that allow him to make it through and get a quick shot off in traffic. Borgström’s ability to handle the puck in traffic and in open ice are reminiscent of Aleksander Barkov and it makes him a threat every time he has the puck.
In this play, we see a very similar effort. Borgström’s puck pursuit is very, very good, especially in the offensive zone, and it’s evident here just as much as the last play. Even though there are already opposing forwards in the zone, Borgström comes flying over the blue-line and past everyone to pick up the puck. When he tries to make a move, the puck is actually stolen away from him, but that doesn’t matter as he continues to battle and regains possession. As he moves towards the blue-line, the same forward tries to get the puck off of his stick as he makes a nice move to get around another player up high. When he gets free, Borgström puts the puck back in deep where his teammate is waiting to receive the pass.
This is yet another smart offensive zone play by Borgström. Despite losing the face-off, he’s able to find a soft area in the defense left open by an opposing forward who went to pressure the puck carrier along the wall. Borgström then receives a pass all alone at the goal-line before making a pass of his own into the slot.
Although the pass was off (therefore causing a turnover), it’s pretty clear that Borgström is thinking ahead off almost every player on the ice; had it been a second or two earlier, his teammate was wide open in the slot for a one-timer. His ability to handle the puck and make plays make him a huge threat below the dots, and when he adds some more size, he’ll only become more dangerous and difficult to handle. His abilities are also perfect in the cycle game as well since he’s able to receive the puck and get it off his stick in the blink of an eye.
This is another clip showing off Borgström’s skating ability. He goes from just gliding along the wall to breaking out of the zone fairly quickly. His edge work is pretty good and it’s clear that once he gets going through the neutral zone, he’s in good shape. His acceleration off the wall isn’t bad, but like I said earlier, we’ll see improvement in that area once he gets more power through some time in the gym. At the tail end of the clip, he passes the puck off to the winger who gets a shot on net, a play that was made possible by the speed Borgström had as he reached the blue-line.
While Borgström’s effort in the offensive zone is incredibly consistent, it’s not always the case when he’s in the defensive zone.
In this play above, Borgström (white jersey) starts off curling off the right wall near the HK circle and red “Grandiosa” wall advertisement before ending up in the slot (he is briefly circled in red at the start). The man that he’s supposed to be covering is wearing a black jersey and is in the general area behind him for the first part of the clip. At the beginning, Borgström is aware that he’s right with the opposing player, but as he gets closer to the slot, he looks to his right and doesn’t see anyone with him and immediately looks to his left. That’s when his man makes a break for the net and is able to get by Borgström as he makes a late attempt to defend him.
As many scouting reports on Borgström say, he has a tendency to stop skating in the defensive zone and instead glide around. In this particular instance, he doesn’t keep track of his man and it results in a scoring chance right at the side of the net.
The clip above is what happens immediately after the previous clip and begins just as the player that Borgström lost skates from the slot to behind the crease. It’s clear that his effort level is suddenly very different than what it was and similar to what we see from him in the offensive zone clips above. He’s all over the opposing player and doesn’t allow him much space to move or handle the puck aside from passing it to the front of the net.
In a completely different game, Borgström loses his man yet again in the defensive zone. After losing the face-off, the puck goes all the way back to the point, and Borgström’s man stays in the face-off circle while he begins skating away. The defensemen at the point corral the puck and pass it over to the player Borgström is supposed to be covering, and he’s able to make a cross-crease pass which is put into the back of the net.
It’s hard to tell the puck was going out of the zone or not, but either way, his man didn’t start skating out of the zone so he should’ve been with him the whole time. Again, this is all part of the learning process and it’s certainly something he’ll be working on when he plays college hockey.
Although this play isn’t in the defensive zone, it’s still a smart decision by Borgström which prevented an odd-man rush the other way. At the beginning of the clip, the defenseman is stationed at the point while Borgström skates over to the left side of the zone. The puck is stopped behind the net and comes back around to the right side, so Borgström curls back and goes over to cover the point while his defenseman pinches down towards the half-wall to pressure the opposing player. Even though the puck skips by Borgström at the point, the fact that he was there and then able to beat the opponent to the puck (not fully shown) makes this a solid play.
Oh yeah, he also did this:
…made this solid defensive play…
…and I can’t forget this one:
In the end, the goal here was to give you a better idea of the the type of game that Borgström plays considering it’s really difficult to find anything on him; he didn’t score in any of the 3 full games I was able to find on YouTube. While he’s pretty raw right now, is obvious that Borgström is very skilled and will be even more difficult to contain once he fills in his frame, which currently weighs in at 176 pounds. There doesn’t seem to be much physical play overall in any of these games, so while that aspect of Borgström’s game could stand to improve a bit, it may just be the nature of the league he’s playing in; he already uses his body well to protect the puck.
Thanks to the solid young forwards on the Panthers’ NHL roster (see: Barkov, Trocheck, Smith, Huberdeau, Trocheck) as well as the ones fighting for spots (see: Hawryluk, Hunt, Crouse, Lammikko, Rau), they can afford to be more patient with a guy like Borgström. While he does have some holes in his game, I see nothing that can’t be fixed or improve upon; he has a very solid skill-set right now so it’s just about refining things and filling in his frame. With college hockey being played mostly on the weekend, Borgström will have the ability to practice and train for the entire week whereas if he played in Liiga, he’d be playing several games throughout the week which would take away time that he could and should be spending in the gym.
Tom Rowe thinks Borgström could compete for a roster spot in 2 or 3 years, and considering he’ll be playing for a top program at Denver University (where he’s expected to get top-6 minutes), he should be able to develop rather quickly. He’s an incredibly intriguing and exciting prospect, so it’ll be interesting to watch him play and follow his path to the NHL over the next several years.
If you want to check out the full footage of Borgström, you can check out the 3 games by clicking the links below:
Game 1: 10/31/15, vs. TPS A
Game 2: 11/3/15, vs. Kiekko-Vantaa A
Game 3: 2/16/15, vs. TPS A