Born: 6/26/96 Arvidsjaur, Sweden
Position: Forward (primarily center)
Drafted: 2014, 7th round 196th overall
2015-16 Team: Skelleftea AIK, Swedish Hockey League
Major Junior and SHL Stats (screencapped from eliteprospects.com)
Getting To Know Axel H.
Axel Holmstrom fits the mold of the typical Hakan Andersson (Red Wings Director of European Scouting) prospect; an intelligent playmaker with good vision, a knack around the net and good defensive instincts OH! and he was a seventh round draft pick.
The Red Wings and Holmstrom (no relation to Tomas) mutually agreed that it would be the best move to continue his development with Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League following a torn ACL suffered in the semi-final of the playoffs.
Before the injury, Holmstrom seemed destined to make the move to Grand Rapids following two impressive seasons in the SHL. In his rookie season, Holmstrom had 18 points in 15 playoff games--totals that eclipsed the Sedin twins' point record in Sweden's top league. He went on to be honored as Sweden's top junior aged player. While he stayed at the top of SHL scoring among junior aged players, his sophomore campaign slowed down a tick ending with his knee injury. This has tempered his stock but it's still believed the 20 year old is on the right track toward development despite the set back.
Red Wings Assistant General Manager, Ryan Martin believes Axel will remind fans of Tomas with his ability to create traffic deep in the zone. An excerpt he gave Ansar Khan of MLive,
"Axel's game is not only in front of the net, it's holding onto the puck down low," Martin said. "He can play center or wing. He's a strong, heavy body, 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. He's solid on his feet, he knows how to control the puck down low."
In this highlight compilation from the 2014-15 SHL season, you see Holmstrom's ability to crash the net and be the freight train forward that the Wings have wanted Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan to be on a consistent basis.
He's effective in front of the net disrupting the goaltender and in position to finish plays. Note the confidence he has at the 1:06 mark of the video; he creates space along the boards then overpowers the defenseman on a tough angle to the net and ends by scoring a playmaker's goal. This is the type of bravado the Wings have been missing. Not only has Holmstrom showed a strong net-front presence ripe for powerplays, but the ability to create space and find pockets to score.
For his ability to make plays and rack up points, it seems like every scouting report or mention from Wings' brass questions Holmstrom's skating ability. He makes plays in the offense zone, seems to be able to position himself well all over the ice, but the concern is his ability to do that at the highest level. The NHL game stifles creativity and keeps you honest. Without quicker feet Holmstrom could struggle to get cozy in the offensive zone and play the cliched "TWO-HUNDRED FOOT GAME". Holmstrom is expected to continue to work on his skating in Sweden before getting a call up to Grand Rapids.
At one point scouts were concerned with his size, but according Martin, Holmstrom has added an inch plus 20 pounds (6'1, 215lbs) in the past two seasons (though Skelleftea's website lists him at 6'0,205lbs, I'll take Martin's word for it). He's grown into his frame and used it well for his style of play.
Scouts have generally had Holmstrom projected as a bottom-six center. However, if he continues to show natural playmaking ability around the net and rehabs from his knee injury with a jump in his stride, he could be looked upon more favorably. (As he stands) think of Holmstrom projecting similar to Sheahan; a solid bottom-six center with touch around the net--though with less size.
Holmstrom has performed against top North American, Russian and Finnish talent in the World Junior Championship tournament with 13 points in 14 games. He's performed at an elite level among peers in the SHL. There's a steady progression in his game that suggests he'll be a late round steal for Detroit. A third-line center that can play the powerplay is nothing to balk at but there's evidence his ceiling is even higher.
Holmstrom will possibly be added to Grand Rapids' roster late in the 2016-17 season but more likely come fresh for training camp in 2017, then compete for a spot in the show over the next couple seasons depending on the length of Drew Miller's next contract extension.