Leafs rumoured to be interested in signing Johan Sundstrom, despite that being logistically impossible

The Swedish Hockey League (SHL) season is over, and the Frolunda Indians are on top of their own world. The Gothenburg-based team, known for players such as Henrik Lundqvist’s twin brother Joel, ex-Leafs property Tom Nilsson, Joey Crabb, Spencer Abbott, and Ryan Lasch, and current Leafs prospect Andreas Johnson defeated Skelleftea in five games to take home the Le Mat Trophy.

But in that sea of ex and current Leafs, a report has come that there might be a future one to join them.

The report comes from “Patrik B”, who writes for SBNation’s Habs Eyes on The Prize and occasionally throws the odd nugget of information to resident frenemies Pension Plan Puppets. Patrik is relatively well plugged into Swedish hockey and has delivered some quality interviews this year, so I’m sure his information comes from somebody reputable.

The 23-year-old centre was originally picked by the New York Islanders in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft. The organization saw his 6’3 frame and his relatively good foot speed as something they could mold into a legitimate NHL forward. Here’s the thing, though; that’s never really translated at any level since they’ve picked him.

Sundstrom had just 1 goal in 41 games in his draft year with Frolunda, which most teams are willing to brush off as a product of the player’s age and given ice time in a men’s league like the SHL. But even in the year that followed, he was still under 0.25 points per game (11 in 49 games), and only had a single goal in 6 games at the 2012 World Juniors. With that considered, the Islanders took things into their own hands and brought him over to North America.

The results here weren’t much more convincing. He put up 32 points in 59 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the AHL team the Toronto Marlies are currently facing in the playoffs) in his rookie year but failed to come close to that in the two years that followed, scoring 18 in 40 in 2013/14 and 19 in 72 in 2014/15. Even still, the Islanders gave him an 11-game trial towards the end of 2014, in which he had just one assist.

At the conclusion of his Entry-Level Deal, Sundstrom headed back to Frolunda, admittedly, had a much better year than his first two tours of duty. In 51 games this year, Sundstrom scored 17 goals and added 19 assists (4th on the team in points), and followed that up with 3 goals and 6 assists in the playoffs. In a bit of a shocker, Sundstrom was named SHL playoff MVP, despite having fewer than half as many points as Lasch and Artturi Lehkonen, who both scored 19 in 16 games.

Here’s where this rumour completely falls apart; signing Sundstrom is logistically impossible. Sundstrom signed his Entry-Level Contract with the Islanders, played through it, and received a qualifying offer from New York on his way back to Frolunda, which ensured that they kept his rights. As a result, Sundstrom currently can’t hit the open market until either 2018 or 2020 depending on whether he’s classified as a Group 3 or 6 UFA. For the Leafs to pursue him, they would have to acquire his rights from the Islanders.

While such an arrangement is certainly possible, I don’t see it happening. Sundstrom just isn’t a good enough player from a point production perspective to even remotely consider using an SPC on. Given that he’s still not a point-per-game player while getting quality minutes on a championship calibre team in a league that projects similar to the AHL, I’m not even sure if he’s worth experimenting with on the Marlies, let alone the Leafs. It’s unlikely that he’s an analytics darling, given that his eleven-game stint displayed even relative possession numbers under sheltered minutes with the Islanders. His experience with the Swedish Men’s team consists of five games at the European Hockey Tour. It just seems extremely unlikely that he projects into anything, and at 23-years-old, that should be apparent.

So, would I hold my breath on the Leafs acquring him? No. The team is full of younger and better prospects, and as they continue to bolster that depth, they’re going to have a hard time avoiding the 50-contract limit. Trading for project-age players out of Europe would be straight up counter productive.

With that considered, I’d chalk this up to his agent or somebody close to him trying to hype him on the heels of a Playoff MVP award, particularly with his contract with Frolunda expiring at the end of next year. Best to capitalize when momentum is on your side! Just don’t expect it to be with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  • Gary Empey

    Talent Analysis from Hockey’s Future

    Sundstrom has the height of a prototypical power forward but does not play an overly physical game and can be muscled off the puck at times — that was particularly the case during his NHL stint with the Islanders in 2013-14. The strength of his game is his disciplined, two-way game. He is effective at both ends of the ice at the AHL level and plays in all situations. A fairly productive scorer in junior hockey in Sweden, he is not a dazzling or flashy offensive player and has struggled to put up points at the pro level.

    His skill level suggests there is some NHL potential if another organization shows interest and he wishes to give it another shot.

    • magesticRAGE

      Yeah, I don’t think the Leafs are depth desperate to take a gamble like that. It would be cheaper to go the free agency route. I don’t think Arcobello will re-sign (wants NHL duty), and Nylander will be permanently promoted, while both Smiths and Sam Carrick are RFA’s, not much certainty down the middle for the Marlies. The leafs didn’t draft one centerman (Marner doesn’t really count) last year, they’re running thin.

      • Gary Empey

        I am assuming the Leafs interest would be for a future 3rd line two way center. If he “plays in all situations” then, I am guessing he is good on faceoffs. A really important part of the game with the 40 second shifts.

        If we don’t win first overall in the draft, I am expecting we will be going over, all the centers left, with a fine tooth comb. Then we will have to compare the centers available to the top wingers Laine, Tkachuk, and Puljujärvi. This should lead to some opposing points of view. (There is a need for potential first line centers in the pipeline)

        I didn’t mean to overlook the good defensive prospects but, everyone seems to think we will be picking a forward once again with our first kick at the cat.