We really should’ve seen him coming. No, not just because he’s a monster of a man at 6’8” and 246 pounds. We should’ve seen Elmer Söderblom’s meteoric rise up the Red Wings prospect ranks coming for a long time, and his making the opening night 23-man roster should come as no shock.
It’s wild to say that about a sixth-round pick who was taken just three years ago. It’d be a safe bet that most sixth-round picks over the last 20 years didn’t make the NHL by age 21. And yet, Söderblom skipping over the AHL entirely to start his American career in Detroit isn’t that surprising. That is if you’ve been paying attention to the young Swede’s growth as a player since being taken 159th overall by Steve Yzerman.
The 2020-21 World Junior Championships
In 2019, Söderblom was taken in the sixth round to little fanfare. He had a less-than-impressive 2018-19 season in the Swedish J20 SuperElit with just 17 points in 44 games. As most sixth-round picks are, his pick was just kinda grazed over as just another guy who wouldn’t make it. However, that narrative began to change at the 2020-21 IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton.
All eyes from Red Wings fans were on top prospect Lucas Raymond, who would be leading a Swedish team looking to make a run at the title. However, all eyes quickly turned to his linemate, Söderblom, who had a great 2019-20 in the J20 SuperElit but was yet to make an impact that year in his first full season in the SHL. He scored two of the best goals of the tournament, both the exact same way; between his legs.
Not only that, but he showed his abilities as a skillful forward on a national stage for the first time. His ability to use his size and strength was expected of a guy as large as him, but he impressed viewers with his slick stickhandling and ability to use that long stick to get around defenders.
Arguably, his most impressive play of the tournament didn’t even result in a goal. In a game against Austria, he cut into the zone, toe-dragged around the defender and rifled a shot off the crossbar. It showcased his hands as well as a good shot that a lot of big forwards struggle to get off and use effectively.
His play in the tournament was recognized as he won the player of the game multiple times, including in the team’s quarterfinal loss to Finland. On a team with top prospects like Raymond and New Jersey’s Alexander Holtz, he was the player everyone was talking about. Some people took notice of the big man and figured there was a chance he could make the Red Wings roster one day. If you continued to watch him, it was clear that “may” was becoming a guarantee
Breaking Out in the SHL
When Söderblom returned to the SHL following the 2020-21 WJC, his performance was less than stellar. He often spent what time he got on the fourth line which didn’t help his cause, but he finished the year with just five points in 28 games played with Frölunda with 21 of those games coming after the WJC. A lot of the eyes he gained from the two-week stretch in Edmonton drifted away and focused on fellow 2019 draft pick, Mo Seider who was finishing a Defenseman of the Year campaign with fellow SHL club, Rögle BK.
Next year would be when Big Elmer showed his growth. In 2021-22, Söderblom finished the year with 21 goals, good enough to lead Frölunda and be tied for seventh in the SHL. He was a major part of a team that finished fourth in the SHL regular season and finished third in goals scored. Instead of kids, he was now dominating grown men in a way that he hadn’t yet shown he could do.
He was showing consistently how good his hands were. On top of that, his ability to use his body to protect the puck was phenomenal. It’s one thing to just be strong and another to have genuine skill in protecting the puck and Elmer has it. To consistently beat grown men with slick stick handling the way he did at his size is extremely rare and why his meteoric rise to the Red Wings opening night roster should come as no surprise.
How Good Can He Be?
Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article following the World Junior Championships about how people needed to start watching Söderblom because this kid flashed so much potential. However, at the time, despite hyping up his hands and overall skill as a player, even I thought at best we were looking at a potential role player who might make the NHL after a few years in Grand Rapids. Boy, was I mistaken.
He has proven this preseason that he belongs in the NHL. It was the same things Red Wings fans said about Raymond the year prior when he forced his way onto the NHL roster due to an excellent preseason. This year, it’s his Frölunda teammate who gave the Red Wings no choice but to leave him on the NHL roster.
In practice yesterday, Söderblom found himself on the third line with fellow large man Michael Rasmussen and slightly smaller man Oskar Sundqvist. He also was seeing a lot of practice time on the power play which would really suit him both as a man in front of the net as well as a shooter at the top of the circle. It’s a great starting point for a man who just oozes potential and, if he puts up solid numbers early on, could find himself moving up the depth chart by the end of the season.
So, to ask the final question, how good can Elmer Söderblom be? Honestly, the sky is the limit for the young Swede. There’s obviously no guarantee that he’ll be a star at this level, but it doesn’t seem too crazy that Elmer could find himself being a consistent 30-goal scorer in just a few years. If I had to guess, that’s where he finds himself. And to get that kind of consistent production from a sixth-round pick would make him one of the biggest draft steals of the 21st century so far.