Our seventh annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings and the staff rankings to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 2, 2019, when the 2019-20 NHL season begins.
With the Los Angeles Kings in rebuild mode in the 2018-2019 season, they traded away another member of their Stanley Cup winning core, Jake Muzzin, who was arguably the second best defenseman on the team behind Drew Doughty. To acquire Muzzin, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the Kings promising young power forward Carl Grundstrom, defensive prospect Sean Durzi, and . . . their 1st round pick in this past June’s NHL Draft. The Kings used that second pick, 22nd overall, to draft left-handed shooting Swedish defenseman Tobias Bjornfot.
Having drafted Alex Turcotte 5th overall and Arthur Kaliyev early in the second round, 33rd overall, the outcome of the first three picks could not have gone any better. Few thought Alex Turcotte would be available for the Kings early. As for Kaliyev, Larry Fisher in his June 21, 2019 mock draft article for The Hockey Writers had the Kings taking him at 22, with no chance at Bjornfot had they tried to wait for him until the second round. By taking Bjornfot at 22, they got both of them, and Turcotte!
How does one exemplify a winner who may not rack up beastly numbers for a season or in a tournament? Look no further than Tobias Bjornfot. He was the team captain for Sweden’s Under-18 team at the IIHF U-18 World Championships earlier this year. He recorded a single assist in seven games, so it had to be the play that didn’t show up in the stat sheets and the intangibles. Ultimately, as Dustin Brown was the first captain to hoist the Stanley Cup for the Kings, Bjornfot was the first captain ever to lead Sweden’s U-18 team to the gold medal. It’s a pretty amazing feat, even when considering just the recent NHL stars that Sweden has produced who apparently had not won it (Henrik Lundqvist, Gabriel Landeskog, Elias Pettersson, Victor Hedman, to name a few). Tobias Bjornfot was doing many of the right things then.
The Elite Prospects site describes his game as:
“a very capable two-way defenseman with few weaknesses in his game. A strong skater who reads the game well and contributes both offensively and defensively. Also a good leader and he competes hard on every shift. Can be used on the power play, but stands out more in his own end with this solid play.”
The way to sum up Bjornfot’s play is solid without being flashy. His strong skating allows him, along with an active stick, to eliminate an opposing forward’s options in his own end. He clogs up passing lanes, blocks shots, or sends forwards into the boards, gaining control of the puck in the process. He transitions his team quickly from defense to offense with his ability to make hard, accurate passes out of the zone. He can also rely on his skating ability to carry the puck from zone to zone with relative ease. Once in the offensive zone, he uses his mobility from it to create space to open up passing lanes for scoring chances, or to unleash his shot.
During NBCSN’s coverage of this past June’s NHL draft, a couple key points stuck out. One is that he was named the Swedish Junior Hockey League Defenseman of the Year, despite being the third Swedish defenseman drafted in the 1st Round (behind Philip Broberg, 8th by Edmonton, and Victor Soderstrom, 11th by Arizona). The other notable point was how the broadcast team compared Tobias Bjornfot favorably to Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh:
When taking a look at this comparison further, Kings fans should be encouraged. As a member of the New York Rangers, Ryan McDonagh was named the team’s MVP in the year they reached the Stanley Cup Finals against the Kings in 2014. The following year, he became the Rangers captain where they subsequently won the President’s Trophy, given to the team with the best record in the NHL. Just this past season, Ryan McDonagh led his team, the regular season-best Tampa Bay Lighting, with a +38 rating (the next highest player, Brayden Point, had a +27 rating). Only time will tell if Bjornfot reaches similar accomplishments in his career as McDonagh has. Time will also tell even if trading his draft rights alone straight up for Jake Muzzin would have been a great deal for the Kings.
As for Tobias Bjornfot’s leadership qualities, LA Kings Head European Scout Christian Ruutu shared this testimonial to the LA Kings Insider:
“When you asked anybody on the Swedish team that he played for, ask who’s the leader on the team, one name came out every time. It was Tobias. It was Tobias Bjornfot. Bjornfot, Bjornfot, Bjornfot. Every single guy said that, so it’s very impressive. You can’t go around asking Tobias who’s the leader, but every player said that on his team. ‘Tobias is our leader,’ and leading a team, getting the first World Championship under-18 for Sweden, it was a very good thing – winning at home, too. But Tobias is a solid player that way.”
The Kings signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract a month after drafting him. He will be headed to rookie camp, and was recently announced as a member of the Kings 2019 Rookie Faceoff roster. He will also participate in training camp, which suggests there is at least a really small chance for him to make the opening night roster. He will almost undoubtedly play in Sweden, but would only play for the Kings in North America with a tremendous camp. The team can afford to give Bjornfot the time to develop, with a few other young defensemen more primed to make the jump. In due time though, Tobias Bjornfot’s all-around solid play and leadership abilities will provide the Kings with a possible first or second pair defenseman for years to come.
Tobias Bjornfot makes a solid debut on the list, and not just as it relates to the prospects at his position much further along in the pipeline. The Kings are really putting together a solid squad for years to come, at all positions. Among their defense corp, when infusing the prospects, Kings fans can envision several players being no lower than second pair on a different team in the NHL. Bjornfot could be among them.