Jonatan Berggren: Prospect Profile
January 12, 2021
Entering 2020-21, Jonatan Berggren had been labeled as a skilled offensive player who simply could not stay healthy. After a blistering start to his season, has the Swedish winger shown enough to change the narrative and put himself back on the radar?
The 2018 draft saw the Detroit Red Wings add a number of talented players. At 6th overall, they selected Filip Zadina. With the 30th pick, the Wings added Joe Veleno. Just three picks later, Detroit nabbed Swedish winger Jonatan Berggren with the 33rd overall selection.
There’s no question Berggren was a 1st round talent and this is what makes early 2nd round picks so valuable. The Red Wings selected a supremely talented playmaker in Berggren — a potential steal in the 2nd round.
Berggren had been a late riser on many draft boards heading into the 2018 draft. Although then GM Ken Holland had identified defense as an area the Wings would look to address with their early picks, Berggren was a player they just could not pass on.
Berggren has dealt with his fair share of setbacks since his name was called two and a half years ago, but this season he has begun to live up to the hype.
The Formative Years
Jonatan Berggren has always been very skilled and advanced for his age. Like any undersized forward, he’s a player who has had to rely on his hockey IQ, creativity, and puck skills to produce at a high level.
As a 13-year-old, Berggren made his debut in Sweden’s Div. 1 J18 league (two levels below J18 Elit, Sweden’s top under-18 league).
In fact, he spent the majority of the season with his hometown Enköpings SK J18, finishing second in team scoring with 21 goals and 33 points in 33 games. Not bad for a kid playing with and against players up to four years his elder.
The following season, Berggren suited up for the same Enköpings J18 squad and scored at a near 2 point-per-game pace with 22 goals and 50 points in 26 games.
He was beginning to open some eyes.
At just 15-years-old, he was off to Skellefteå to play in the J18 Elit — the country’s top J18 league.
Berggren not only became one of Skellefteå’s most skilled offensive players, he consistently produced at a high level. In 34 games between J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan, Berggren scored 16 goals and had 37 points — good enough for second on the team.
In 2016, He made his J20 SuperElit debut as one of the youngest players in the entire league. Despite playing bottom-six minutes, Berggren still managed to produce a very respectable 6 goals and 12 points in 29 games.
At just 16-years-old, the talented Swede was just about to hit his stride.
The Draft Year
Berggren kicked off the biggest year of his young career at the 2017 Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he and his Swedish teammates defeated Russia to capture a bronze medal. The shifty winger was a big part of Sweden’s success, tying Samuel Fagemo (LAK) for most points by a Swedish forward with 5 (3 goals, 2 assists).
Berggren then returned for his sophomore season in the Swedish J20 SuperElit league where he officially “arrived.” With 18 goals and 57 points in 38 games for Skellefteå J20, Berggren’s stock was on the rise.
When the U18 World Championships arrived in April, he was beginning to make appearances on 1st round draft projections. Berggren was viewed as an extremely skilled forward who, despite his size, could become an impact player in the NHL. With his brilliant performance at the U18s, he solidified his spot as a legitimate 1st round talent. Berggren finished 4th in scoring with 5 goals and 10 points while winning a bronze medal.
Berggren was among the younger draft-eligible prospects in 2018 (July birthday), playing the entire season at just 17-years-old. For a rebuilding team like the Red Wings, they could afford to take a swing on the undersized, talented winger who they may have to wait on a bit longer.
Berggren was skilled, intelligent, and fit Detroit’s timeline. When the Red Wings announced the pick, it was almost universally praised.
Injuries to Overcome
Berggren’s draft-plus-1 season did not go as planned. He played in just 16 games for Skellefteå (SHL) before it was revealed he had suffered a lower-back injury — an injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
Missing almost an entire season at 18-years-old is, of course, far from ideal. When he returned for the 2019/20 season, Berggren was said to be back to 100% and primed for his first full season as a Red Wings draftee.
Unfortunately, Berggren managed to stay healthy for just 24 games.
Berggren had shown glimpses of his talent at the SHL level but he just couldn’t stay on the ice. In those 24 games for Skellefteå, Berggren did have 2 goals and 12 points — third among U20 forwards in the SHL. While he wasn’t setting the world on fire, those were some respectable numbers for a player who missed most of the previous season.
The “injury-prone” label was slapped on the Swedish forward pretty quickly. In his first two seasons after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, Berggren had played in a total of 40 SHL games; certainly not what the Red Wings had envisioned when they drafted the soon to be 20-year-old less than two years earlier.
A positive to take away from all of this?
Jonatan Berggren is an undersized forward who hadn’t taken his training all that seriously prior to his injuries. When you have the raw talent he possesses, sometimes you tend to rely on that natural-born skill to get by. These injuries provided him with…time.
Time to take his training seriously. Time to train his core and lower-body in a way he never could during a typical season. The injuries were an eye-opener for Berggren and he recognized the opportunity these injuries afforded him.
By all accounts, he did use the time to his advantage and worked his tail off to add strength and become a player who could handle the rigors of a long season competing with larger, stronger players.
If his performance this season is any indication, it certainly looks like he was successful.
Breaking Out in the SHL
Entering the 2020-21 season, the goal for Berggren was simple:
Obviously, you want to see progress in areas such as core strength, defensive awareness, and actual SHL production, but if Berggren could put together a full, healthy season, there was confidence the rest would come in time.
Well, the rest has come — and it’s come quicker than many expected. Heading into the new year Berggren has looked fantastic.
He leads Skellefteå — and is tied for sixth in the SHL — with 28 points in 28 games. Berggren has cooled off a bit after piling up 16 points in his first 10 games — including a 7-game point streak to start the season — but his overall performance has been excellent. When you consider he’s averaged just 15:40 per game, his production appears even more impressive.
In the offensive zone, Berggren’s head is always up, he calmly surveys his options, and he has the confidence to hold onto the puck until he can identify where to best distribute it. Berggren mesmerizes defenders and routinely makes plays that no one sees coming.
The confidence has been truly evident this season, and Berggren even admits the game seemed to slow down during his hot streak earlier in the year.
I mean, how good do you have to be feeling to pull off a move like this?
— Here’s Your Replay (@TheReplayGuy) October 24, 2020
Yes, that’s a one-touch, cross-crease pass with his skate. Impressive, no?
The reality is we are seeing what a fully healthy Jonatan Berggren can do in the SHL. Even more exciting, he’s doing this during his first full season in the past three years — at just 20-years-old.
What Will Jonatan Berggren Ultimately Become?
Jonatan Berggren checks in at #4 on Pipeline’s prospect rankings due to his elite hockey sense, excellent playmaking skills and puck control, SHL performance, and proximity to the NHL.
He may also be the biggest bright spot of the 2020-21 season to date.
Yes, Moritz Seider is dominating the SHL, the Red Wings hit a home run with the Lucas Raymond pick, and Albert Johansson and Elmer Soderblom have taken major steps forward, but a healthy Jonatan Berggren playing at a high level could be a huge shot in the arm for the Red Wings in a few years.
While players like Seider and Raymond are vital for the Wings’ long-term success, developing another highly productive playmaking winger would be huge for Detroit. Needless to say, it isn’t as if the system is teeming with NHL-calibre playmakers.
If Berggren’s game can translate to North America, where he’ll be given less space and need to attack the middle of the ice more often, he projects as a top 6 forward.
However, with the Red Wings’ current forward depth and the high likelihood another talented forward will be added to the mix at some point via the draft, trade, or free agency, the top of the lineup could get crowded rather quickly.
Therefore, there’s also the possibility Berggren could settle in as a supremely talented 3rd line winger.
That could give the Red Wings the kind of scoring depth they haven’t had since…2010?
In today’s NHL, this is huge. We’ve seen what happens with a bottom-6 that generates next to nothing offensively, and having a top-6 forward slotted in on the 3rd line is the kind of luxury only perennial contenders seem to have.
Is Berggren guaranteed to become a top-6 forward? Absolutely not. It’s almost always impossible to speak in absolutes in the evaluation game. What is absolutely and abundantly clear, however, is that Berggren does have this potential.
Berggren as a “Perimeter Player”
Along with the “injury-prone” label, Berggren has also been labeled as a perimeter player due to the time he spends outside of high danger areas in the offensive zone. This is a term that carries a negative connotation as it’s typically used to describe players who aren’t strong enough or talented enough to find ways into the middle of the ice, where most goals are scored.
While Berggren does spend a lot of time on the outside, he’s extremely effective while doing so. He’s an excellent playmaker with hockey sense off the charts, and his feet are always moving as he assesses his options in the offensive zone.
While it’s true that “perimeter” players are often easily neutralized by average defenders, intelligent players like Jonatan Berggren can remain effective while outside the home plate area.
Yes, this (second video clip below) is 3-on-3 with a lot of ice to work with but look at how Berggren draws in two players, leaving his teammate open and causing a defensive breakdown that leads to an overtime goal.
Jonatan Berggren (#48) with his second assist of the game, for the OT winner. pic.twitter.com/G4brkBm2pc
— IcehockeyGifs (@IcehockeyG) January 2, 2021
Berggren’s unique ability to create offense from the perimeter makes him especially dangerous on the power play. Having mastered the ability to draw opposing players out of position with the false hope of containing him, Berggren excels when he only has to deal with four bodies and four sticks to navigate.
In the clip below, you’ll see Berggren identify the defender on the right side of the diamond cheating to the middle of the ice. In one motion, he receives the pass and fires a backhand feed to a wide-open Jesper Frödén.
Jonatan Berggren assisting on Skellefteå’s 2-2 goal. pic.twitter.com/a6tRjNoQi8
— IcehockeyGifs (@IcehockeyG) January 9, 2021
He could be a real weapon on the Red Wings’ power play. Picture Lucas Raymond at the right flank position on the top power play unit with Berggren ready to take over the left flank on the second power play line. Those two could seriously tire out some penalty killers while giving the Wings looks from both the left and right sides.
Jonatan Berggren has put himself back on the map. Not to say he was completely written off, but injuries have derailed many careers. It’s not easy to work your way back after missing crucial development time.
What Berggren has done is impressive. He’ll have to continue to get stronger and continue to work on his defensive game, but to produce in the SHL like this so suddenly is encouraging to say the least.
In a year packed with uncertainty, the Wings are extremely lucky to have (had) so many prospects playing regularly overseas. It’s also very likely no one has benefited more than Jonatan Berggren. Another lost season could’ve really set the winger back.
Berggren will likely spend another full season in the SHL in 2021-22. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make his way over to North America in 2022-23 with a real shot at being an NHL regular in 2023-24.
Could he arrive sooner than expected? It wouldn’t be the first time.
Featured Image: Jörgen Bergkvist