I don’t think there was another player in college hockey I was more excited to see live than Denver freshman Henrik Borgstrom.
The Finnish forward was a late-riser in last year’s NHL Draft, moving all the way into the first round when the Florida Panthers selected him at 23rd overall. Borgstrom quickly adjusted to North America and the NCAA game, scoring 16 points in the first half of his rookie year, and drawing some rave reviews from people that had watched him play.
Then came the World Juniors, which were a disaster for Borgstrom. There are multiple places to point blame for Finland’s embarrassing ninth place finish, the worst the country has ever done in the tournament. But certainly having a 19-year-old NHL first round draft be held scoreless in six games has to be near the top of that list.
So I was extremely interested to give Borgstrom a closer look when the Pioneers traveled to St. Cloud State last weekend for a pair of games against the Huskies to help better form my opinion.
I’m not sure how one would say “Where the hell was that?” in Finnish, but watching Borgstrom play last weekend, I couldn’t help but imagine a fired World Juniors coach somewhere in Helsinki saying exactly that. Borgstrom was terrific over the two games, notching just one goal, but creating multiple other chances with highlight reel-type plays.
Denver lists Borgstrom at 6-3 195 lbs.. Given the eye test, I would say the height seems pretty close to accurate, but he doesn’t look to be up to 195 lbs. yet. He looks very lanky and like he still has a lot of filling out to do.
Because of the lack of muscle, Borgstrom is still knocked off the puck pretty easily. But that only happens if the defense is able to body him up, which is extremely hard to do in open ice. Borgstrom has some amazing hands, especially in traffic, which makes him really hard to stop in one-on-one situations. On Friday night, he went one-on-one against a defender on the rush and made a slick move to turn the defender’s feet and then exhibited some insane body control to get off a shot between his legs that almost went for a goal. The next night, he showed really quick hands to stick handle through four people in the offensive zone and get off a shot that again almost went for a goal. He’s a player that makes you hold your breath every time he gets the puck because he has the potential to do something special with it.
The other big-time skill Borgstrom possesses is a deadly wrist shot. Early on Friday night, he came down the middle of the ice with the puck on a 3-on-2. Rather than passing the puck, he slowed up to create a little space for himself and wired a wrist shot that cleanly beat the goalie for a goal. He’s able to use his big frame to really whip the puck, making for a very heavy shot. He showed nice ability to create shots for himself in the offensive zone as well by looking off defenders with fake passes.
There are still some finer points to Borgstrom’s game that need some work. He’s making an effort on the defensive end, but sometimes gets a bit lost and out of position. And he sometimes struggled to handle some more difficult passes. But that’s to be expected for a player his age, and are likely things that are going to develop over time.
I’d also describe his skating as “good enough” for a player his size. It’s not a glaring weakness, but his speed isn’t going to be a huge asset for him in the NHL. He’s playing center right now for Denver, but in the long run, I see him moving to the wing at the pro level.
Overall, I’m more willing to write off his terrible World Juniors as a function of whatever issues Team Finland as a whole was having that anything specific about Borgstrom. He definitely looks like a prospect with really high scoring upside at the NHL level. He’s not quite a finished product, but he’s got some incredible tools that can’t be taught, and looks like he is making progress towards reaching his ceiling. Borgstrom projects as a first or second line scoring winger. There were some questions when Florida reached to take him at 23rd in the Draft, but that pick could end up looking like a steal.