Hakan Andersson chooses his words carefully when asked about Gustav Nyquist’s chances of one day playing for the Detroit Red Wings.
“Statistically, any player below the third round is not supposed to make the NHL,” the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting says. “But with his skill level and his hockey sense, he has a chance to be a pretty good player.”
The way people are talking about Andersson and the Red Wings’ scouting staff these days, it’s almost as if they’re expected to find an NHLer with their 121st overall picks, which is where they nabbed Nyquist this year.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound left-winger produced 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 24 games with Malmo of Sweden’s J-20 SuperElite League, despite sitting out a six-week stretch at mid-season with a shoulder injury.
His production was better than first-round Swede Mattias Tedenby, although Nyquist had already been passed over for the NHL draft once.
“The skill level is there,” Andersson says. “His skill level is good.”
Andersson says Nyquist was no secret — “every scout watches that league” — but the 18-year-old could have gained more exposure had he accepted a call-up to the Swedish Elite League. He declined in order to preserve his NCAA eligibility, and is headed to the University of Maine in the fall.
The Red Wings project Nyquist as a well-rounded second- or third-line forward, which is how you could describe pretty much everybody other than Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on their current Stanley Cup-winning group.
“His best assets are either his smartness and his work ethic,” Andersson said. “They really go together. He’s not physical by any means, but he’s very intense. When he loses the puck, he chases like crazy to get it back, and when he has the puck, his feet are always moving.”
Andersson said Nyquist’s skating is “OK, could get better,” but said it is comparable to Zetterberg’s. He might not look fast, but he is hard to catch and hard to get away from. His stick is good enough to strip a player of the puck.
The Red Wings have lamented in recent years not being able to indefinitely retain the rights to European draft picks as they did prior to the lockout, but Nyquist is a blend of both worlds. They don’t have to sign him until 2012, and by then, they’re hoping they have a quality prospect on their hands.
“I don’t see any real weaknesses,” Andersson said. “Give him some time, let him get stronger, and you’re going to have a good player.”