EDMONTON - "He can break you down all by himself."
USA coach Nate Leaman couldn't have said it better about Simon Edvinsson, the 6-foot-6 hulking blueliner from Sweden. He was drafted sixth overall by Detroit in 2021, and with Calder Trophy Winner Moritz Seider already in the lineup, he's not far from giving the Red Wings one of the most feared 1-2 defensive duos in the NHL.
It pays to be bad in some cases. And the Red Wings aren't far away from escaping the bottom.
"Congrats to Detroit," Swedish coach Tomas Montén said with a smile after Sweden's victory over Switzerland to open the 2022 World Junior Championship.
Edvinsson signed his NHL entry contract back in April, and all signs point towards the big blueliner playing a key role on the team's blueline this season. So it was especially interesting that he chose to play for Sweden's junior team during the unusual summer world junior tournament because while many other NHL-bound players decided to skip out -- Shane Wright, Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky, Owen Power and Cole Perfetti come to mind -- Edvinsson saw value in heading back and representing his country. Sweden holds a perfect record through two games and is one of the favorites to win gold.
It's not uncommon for European prospects to play international tournaments during the summer, but never at the length or level the world juniors offer this summer. It's a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) experience to get this type of high-quality hockey before training camp, and Edvinsson sees this as a great opportunity to get him ready before kicking off the season.
"I talked to Detroit about it, we had a conversation, and everything went good," Edvinsson said. "I'm focused on this tournament now and after that, I'll go back to Detroit... I'm hungry for (training camp), but right now we need to win this."
Edvinsson was ranked seventh among all prospects in The Hockey News' Future Watch issue released earlier this year. Of the six in front of him, only Ottawa's Jake Sanderson has yet to play an NHL game yet, but will be a full-timer come October.
Edvinsson was one of the best young defenders in the stout Swedish league, leading all junior-aged prospects with 17 assists. While he does have some solid offensive attributes -- he has a goal and an assist through two games -- Edvinsson's ability to play any role his coaches ask of him has made him such a highly rated prospect. He played 26:09 in Sweden's 3-2 win over Switzerland and averaged 19:42 in 44 SHL regular season games and 20:30 in five playoff outings. That's rare territory for a 19-year-old. in a league that cares more about winning than developing young talent.
"He's a unique talent," Montén said. "I think it's his size and how he moves, that's what first comes to mind. He's big and can skate and can handle the puck. Usually, those size defensemen are more like stay-at-home D and just rim it off the glass and things like that. Not him... He's an '03, he has some experience, but he's always cool. I think it's a strength."
Edvinsson has made his mark as one of the top players to watch in Edmonton, and that'll sentiment will only continue to grow as the tournament wears on. It can't be understated how good of a prospect he is right now -- like his coach said, he has the speed and size you're looking for, but plays with the mobility you'd expect from someone standing six inches smaller. Throw him beside the 6-foot-4 Seider on the Wings blueline and you've got one tough group to penetrate. Edvinsson's size alone is intimidating, even ignoring the other attributes of his game.
"You see how he handles the puck and just on the blueline how he stands there, it's huge," Austrian forward Ian Scherzer said.
So much development goes on at this age, even for top prospects. Montén said there are a lot of positives that he has noticed in Edvinsson's game now that he liked more than the short period before the juniors were cancelled back in late December.
"Before, he would join the rush every time just to skate the puck through," Montén said. "But he plays a smarter game. He played more of a shutdown role last year and I think that helped him too."
Sweden will undoubtedly be a medal contender, especially with Russia out of the running. Winning gold has been Sweden's Achilles' heel for so long, but with a roster full of first-round picks, they look poised to be a deep challenger when it matters most.
And if they pull it off, you can almost certainly count on Edvinsson being one of the biggest reasons why -- and the Red Wings brass will be smiling along with him.