Elmer Söderblom is a fascinating player to watch, with great skill to go with an absolutely massive 6-foot-8 frame. It is incredibly uncommon for players of that size to have the mobility and skill to actually succeed in the NHL as anything but a one-dimensional enforcer but Söderblom looks like the exception to that rule.
After a very successful season in the SHL two years ago, Söderblom made the move to North America last season, surprising many of his most passionate supporters by making the Red Wings’ lineup out of training camp. He showed flashes of the player I expect he can be but was ultimately sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL for the rest of the season to adjust to the style and pace of hockey in North America.
There are very few NHL players with Söderblom’s size, and even fewer who are forwards. John Scott is one of the only recent NHL forwards to have a relatively long career at 6-foot-8 and his play style couldn’t be more different from Elmer’s.
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Soderblom’s game is all about his skill with the puck, both in terms of stick handling and creativity. He made some high-skill plays in the NHL last season that really showed off what he’s capable of. Söderblom’s hands are above average for the NHL in my eyes, but are elite when compared to other players of his size.
He doesn’t play a particularly physical style despite having the size advantage in nearly every possible matchup, though he has grown in that area and will likely continue to get better at leveraging his natural advantage. Söderblom is good at using his large frame and massive reach to protect the puck from opposing players, but he would be well served by learning to better use his frame to win battles along the boards.
Söderblom’s biggest struggles in the NHL will be about speed, both physically and mentally. The difference between the size of European rinks and North American ones means that players who are used to the larger Euro rinks have less time to make decisions in North America. Söderblom will need to speed up his decision making when under pressure (a skill often referred to as “pace”) if he wants to remain in an NHL lineup. Skating speed will also be a barrier for Söderblom in the NHL, though his reach and hockey IQ help to mitigate some of the weaknesses that his skating exposes.
Söderblom’s Draft Year
It’s common for teams to take risks on players with unusual profiles later in a draft, but Söderblom was a massive risk. He hadn’t shown a lot on the ice, scoring less than a half a point per game in the top Swedish junior league, but he was already 6-foot-7 which clearly intrigued the Red Wings.
17 points in 44 games doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in most people, but they must have seen his size and hands already at that age and they felt that he was worth a sixth round pick, and would be worth a lot more if he could get more comfortable with his large frame. Söderblom exploded offensively the very next season with 55 points in only 36 games, making him the fourth highest scoring player in the league.
After he seemed to have figured out the J20 Nationell, Söderblom spent most of the 2020-21 season in the SHL where he slowly became accustomed to the pace of play. Although he had shown growth each year since being drafted, the 2021-22 season was the first time that he became a serious NHL prospect, scoring 33 points in 52 SHL games at the age of 20. He adapted to the pace and physicality of the SHL quite well for a 20-year-old, and his dreams of playing in the NHL began to seem like more of an inevitability than just a possibility.
What’s Next for Söderblom?
I expect Söderblom to split the 2023-24 season between the NHL and AHL again, though he’s more likely to begin in the AHL this year because of the improved depth of the Red Wings’ lineup with the additions of JT Compher, Klim Kostin, Daniel Sprong and Alex DeBrincat.
If Söderblom can show some improvement in his skating and his pace as the AHL season wears on, I expect he’ll be high on the list of forward call ups should the NHL squad be plagued by injuries at any point in the season, with a chance to make himself a fixture in the Red Wings lineup once again.
When Could Söderblom be in Detroit?
Well, he’s already been there so I don’t expect it will take long for him to be a mainstay in Detroit. He showed what he was about in North America last year, a player with a massive frame and good skill. Söderblom will need to continue to adapt to the increased pace of the NHL, making the right decisions quicker and quicker. He will also likely need to improve at the net-front because his size makes him a formidable screen-setter.
Söderblom is a fascinating prospect, a unicorn in the world of hockey as a 6-foot-8 forward with a ton of skill. He has developed incredibly well since his draft and while he still has some areas in need of growth before he’s a major contributor in the NHL, Söderblom is certainly on track to be just that. Now I just need Detroit’s coaching staff to put him on a line with Alex DeBrincat just for the jokes (and the 12 inch height difference).