What the J20 Nationell Pause Means for Red Wings Prospects

Theodor Niederbach Frolunda J20
By Jeff Watters

November 19, 2020

On November 10th, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association announced that they have decided to suspend play of two junior leagues. The J20 Nationell and U18 Regional leagues are the latest to fall victim to the increased spread of COVID-19. With this news, two Red Wings prospects will be out of action. But for how long?

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on sports leagues across the globe, and with increased numbers in Sweden as of late, the J20 Nationell and J18 regional league seasons have been paused until further notice, and will not resume play until January, at the earliest.

So, how does this affect Red Wing prospects? 

There are currently two young Swedes, both among RWP’s Top 20 Prospects, playing in the J20 Nationell with Frölunda J20: Theodor Niederbach and Elmer Soderblom.

Theodor Niederbach

His season so far:

Niederbach, the 51st overall pick in the 2020 draft, was off to a marvelous start with Frölunda.  In just 19 games he had 13 goals and 22 assists for the junior squad. This came after a bounce-back season in 2019-20 that saw Niederbach score 15 goals and add 33 assists in 40 games. Clearly, the skilled centreman has turned it up a notch in 2020 as he is now two years removed from a knee surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2018-19 campaign.

There seem to be no lingering effects from the procedure and Niederbach’s promising start has actually raised another question. One that is enhanced by the recent J20 Nationell shutdown: Should Niederbach be playing in a more challenging league?

Prior to the J20 Nationell shutdown, Niederbach was already in a bit of a precarious position. At nearly a two point-per-game pace through 19 contests, he’s shown that he’s ready for the next level. That level would naturally be the SHL, and he has suited up for three games this season, but Niederbach has not been given much of an opportunity to stick with the big club. 

As a centre, it has been and will be even more difficult for Niederbach to crack the SHL lineup. To make matters worse, the team recently signed former Red Wing Christoffer Ehn for the remainder of the season. Great… barring an injury, Niederbach won’t be getting too many looks this season.

This isn’t at all surprising. Frölunda is an absolute powerhouse, and a number of highly-touted, skilled forwards continue to struggle to get ice time. Even Lucas Raymond, the 4th overall pick in the 2020 draft and crown jewel of the Wings organization is only averaging 14-15 minutes/game.

What’s next?

With several other young SHLers like Noel Gunler (CAR) and Fabian Lysell (2021) looking for opportunities with other organizations, you have to wonder if Niederbach could inevitably follow suit.

When the alternative is sitting and waiting for your chance to play with Frölunda in the SHL, Niederbach may be better off exploring other options to get back on the ice sooner. Whether this is in the SHL, HockeyAllsvenskan, or Division 1 (Sweden’s third tier league), he would be playing games. This should be the priority.

Elmer Soderblom

His season so far:

As for Elmer Soderblom, a foot injury has kept him out of the lineup since late October, so he has not been affected quite as much as Niederbach. The injury was said to be week-to-week, so we’ll be keeping an eye on when the big winger is set to return.

elmer soderblom with puck for Frolunda
Elmer Soderblom hasn’t played much this season. | Carl Sandin

So far in 2020-21, Soderblom has 2 goals and 4 points in 4 games played for the J20 team, and no points in 7 games in the SHL. With the injury and just over 7 minutes of ice-time/game in the SHL, Soderblom really hasn’t played much this season. It’s been a first half to forget for the 6’7″ Swede.

Last season, his 29 goals and 55 points led the J20 squad. This breakout draft-plus-1  season put Soderblom on everyone’s radar as a rare 6th rounder that could have some future value. He was held scoreless in 10 SHL games, but played just over 5 minutes per contest.

What’s next?

While there’s no good time to get injured, Soderblom may have suffered his setback at the best possible time. While he did miss over a week of scheduled play, he can now focus on his recovery and hopefully be back to 100% in time for the 2021 World Juniors next month. The Red Wings will be well represented on Team Sweden’s U20 roster, and it would be great to see Soderblom make the cut as well.

Regardless, if Soderblom is healthy at any point in December he’ll need to be playing games. Would he consider looking for opportunities elsewhere or will he be more of a mainstay with Frölunda in the SHL upon his return?

Soderblom has been with the Frölunda organization since 2013 so I doubt he would look for another opportunity in the SHL. Perhaps the team could loan him to an Allsvenskan or Division 1 club.  Either way, if the J20 league does not resume play in early 2021, Soderblom will need to make sure the 2020-21 is not a lost season for him. 

Final Thoughts

With no date for a return to play announced and the unpredictable nature of the spread of COVID-19, it’s best to assume that all J20 players are exploring all of their options. Some, like Niederbach (and perhaps Soderblom) will have the World Juniors to look forward to, but that will only account for a few weeks worth of games. 

The important thing will be ensuring a half-season of development is not lost here. This could be especially detrimental for Niederbach as he has already missed an entire season during his formative years. Niederbach has already confirmed he is back to 100%, so it isn’t as if he’s using this time off to “regain strength.”

The best-case scenario for the two Red Wings prospects is playing in Edmonton for the World Juniors and then returning home to resume play in juniors. Will a two-month hiatus be enough for the Swedish Ice Hockey Association? We’ll soon find out.


Featured Image: nhl.com

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