Red Wings Prospect Rankings: #4 Axel Sandin Pellikka

The Hockey Writers

Axel Sandin Pellikka (ASP) is going to be an excellent addition to the Detroit Red Wings’ prospect pool, instantly becoming their top prospect on the right side of defense, filling one of the biggest holes in the future depth of the team. While Detroit has a great group of big two-way defenders in the NHL and their prospect group from Moritz Seider to William Wallinder, Sandin Pellikka gives them an entirely different look and should be a great addition to the team.

Axel Sandin Pellikka Team Sweden
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Team Sweden (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Sandin Pellikka is an efficient two-way defenseman who was excellent in the top Swedish junior league during his draft year while also earning minutes in 22 professional games in the SHL. His great performances for Sweden at various international tournaments helped to build interest in his game and I’m sure the Red Wings were thrilled to get him with the 17th overall pick in the 2023 Draft.

Scouting Report

Sandin Pellikka is a right-handed defenseman who has put up points at a remarkable rate in J20 Nationell, the top Swedish junior league, thanks to his high compete level, hockey IQ, and his offensive creativity. ASP isn’t the largest defender by any means, standing at 5-foot-11, but that hasn’t slowed him down one bit. 

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He is excellent offensively, adapting well to whatever his opponents throw his way. Sandin Pellikka is also a great playmaker in the offensive zone and looks like a future power play quarterback as he slides along the inside of the blue line to find the best passing lanes. He’s got a surprisingly heavy shot and is dangerous as a cutter when he pinches in from the blueline to charge the crease. 

People tend to pigeon-hole Sandin Pellikka as an “undersized, offense-only” type of defenseman simply because he is good on offense. He doesn’t sacrifice much, if anything, defensively and 5-foot-11 barely counts as undersized in my eyes. Sure, he won’t be defending with his body a ton in the NHL like Simon Edvinsson or Moritz Seider, but physicality isn’t all there is to defending in the NHL.

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ASP’s ability to track developing plays and anticipate the next best play extends to the defensive zone as he tracks opposing attackers very well and defends well with his feet, hands, and sheer force of will. I think that he can become a great defender in the same way that Vancouver Canucks star Quinn Hughes is becoming a great NHL defender, by dominating possession through hockey IQ rather than physicality.

NHL Comparable

Sandin Pellikka has a rather unorthodox play style for a slightly undersized defender, relying on his hockey sense and motor rather than skill and skating as is most common for smaller defenders (Quinn Hughes, Sam Girard, etc.). As a result, he doesn’t profile very similarly to many established NHL defenders, though there is someone a few years further into his development that I think has a similar style and ceiling to ASP.

Cam York is a 5-foot-11, two-way defender who has enough skill and skating to compete well in the NHL, but his success is all based on his hockey IQ and his work ethic. His defensive game is better than most would expect from a defender of his size, and he provides a lot of value on offense for a Philadelphia Flyers team in desperate need of offense. I expect York to be a really solid second pairing defenseman in the NHL for a long time, probably as a number three guy on a good team. ASP profiles very similarly and if he can be a full-time NHLer in his draft+4 year like York (that would be the 2026-27 season), I think the Red Wings would be pleased. 

Draft Year

He led all defenseman in points per game in Sweden’s junior league last year and had one of the most impressive offensive seasons in league history amongst defensemen of any age, not just draft eligible ones. Sandin Pellikka had a great showing for Sweden at the World Juniors, which improved his draft stock considerably. The way he patrolled the blue line for Sweden on the powerplay was very impressive and the trust that he earned from his coaches as a 17-year-old spoke volumes. 

Sandin Pellikka also improved his draft stock at the U18s where he was Sweden’s most relied upon defender, earning tons of tough minutes to go with his 11 points in seven games. He showed a bit more of a mature defensive game while playing against his age group once again which bodes well for his NHL projection as a two-way defender. 

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Sandin Pellikka spent the first half of his draft year tearing up the J20 Nationell in Sweden before being called up to play 22 games in the SHL where he scored five points in a depth role. ASP was considered by many, myself included, to be the best offensive defender in the 2023 Draft class and landing him at 17th overall is a huge win in my book. 

What’s Next for Sandin Pellikka?

Sandin Pellikka is currently playing in the SHL, having already begun the 2023-24 regular season with the pro team rather than having to earn that spot with great play at the junior level again. He plays for Skelleftea AIK who qualified for this year’s Champions Hockey League season where ASP has already scored two points in three games. Sandin Pellikka has also scored two goals in four regular season games as of the writing of this article.

The real positive to take from his early games this year is that ASP is earning significant minutes already as an 18-year-old. In Skelleftea’s second game of the season, he racked up over 20 minutes of ice time, the second most on his team. This is a great sign that he is likely going to be given the minutes he needs in order to develop as a two-way, minute-munching defender as well as on the powerplay.

I expect Sandin Pellikka to have an excellent draft+1 season, earning a regular role in Skelleftea’s top-four group on defense while providing a ton of offensive value. If he can take a step forward production-wise and finish the season in the 15-20 point range, this year will be a great success in my eyes.

When Could Sandin Pellikka be in Detroit?

Edvinsson, Wallinder, and Albert Johansson have taken the same route from the SHL to the AHL and I expect each to find themselves in the NHL before long. If Sandin Pellikka is to take a similar route, I expect he will be in North America at the end of the 2024-25 season and in Detroit for the start of the 2025-26 season. 

Axel Sandin Pellikka Detroit Red Wings
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That’s a pretty conservative guess and I think there’s a real chance he pops in the SHL this year and the Red Wings decide to bring him across the Atlantic to play with the Grand Rapids Griffins a year from now, but I think it’s safe to err on the side of patience with a prospect who has fewer than 30 professional games to his name. 

Bottom Line

I love the addition of Sandin Pellika for the Red Wings as I think he gives them an entirely different type of defenseman to add to their top four group someday down the road. When it comes to defensive prospects in the top-two rounds of the NHL Draft, the Red Wings have clearly had a type for the last few years with Edvinsson, Wallinder, Seider, and Brady Cleveland standing out as massive defenders who compete really hard so it was nice to see them branch out a little with ASP. 

He’s not going to be the best defensive player on the team, but they’ve got that covered with all of the other great two-way defenders they’ve drafted. They need someone who can drive the offense from the backend and who could potentially take over the top power play duties to free Seider up for more difficult minutes and that is exactly what Sandin Pellikka projects to be. I think this is a match made in heaven and I believe ASP really rounds out the future defensive group in Detroit.

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