The Calgary Flames have undergone some pretty big changes to their defensive personnel and depth chart over the past year. The organization has seen some lineup mainstays like T.J Brodie and Travis Hamonic walk out the door.
Meanwhile plenty of fresh new faces have come into the fold including Chris Tanev and Conner Mackey. The Flames’ lineup on defence will continue to change and get younger over the next couple years with lots of names ready to make the push for an NHL spot.
Perhaps one of the more under the radar acquisitions on the backend this past year has been that of Johannes Kinnvall. Kinnvall was signed as a free agent from Europe back in April after the season came to a pause. Kinnvall was also invited to the team’s development camp back in July of 2019 and made a good first impression.
After an impressive year in the SHL last season, the Flames decided to circle back and lock up the defenceman to a two-year entry-level contract. Kinnvall will remain in the SHL for the 2020-21 season and if all goes well come over to North America next year.
What do they Flames have in Kinnvall and what should the team expect? Let’s take a deeper look at the Swedish defenceman to find out.
Kinnvall’s journey so far
Kinnvall is 23 years old and has spent his entire career playing in Sweden so far. He’s average sized for a defenceman at 5’11” and 181 pounds. His draft year was 2015 but he was relatively unknown at the time and went undrafted.
He spent four years playing through Sweden’s junior leagues before making his SHL debut in 2016-17 with Brynas IF at 19 years old. Kinnvall struggled in his rookie season in the SHL putting up a grand total of 0 points in 21 games across the regular season and playoffs.
The following season he went down to the lower HockeyAllsvenskan league to play for Timra IK. Kinnvall put up 12 points in 49 regular season games for the team. He did however put up a solid 5 points in 10 games in the qualification round, helping Timra IK earn promotion to the SHL.
The next year Kinnvall put up 22 points in 52 games for Timra IK, a big improvement over his totals from the previous season especially considering he was facing tougher competition. His total of 12 goals ranked him first among defenceman in the SHL.
Unfortunately, Timra IK finished dead last in the league and was relegated back to HockeyAllsvenskan. In order to remain in Sweden’s top league, Kinnvall moved to HV71 for the 2019-20 season.
Kinnvall exploded in his first year with HV71, racking up 40 points in 51 games which garnered the attention of numerous NHL clubs. This total placed him second in the league for points and assists by defenceman, and eighth league-wide for points. His performance earned him an invite to the Flames development camp in 2019.
This season he has picked up where he left off getting off to a hot start with 14 points in just 11 games so far. He currently sits third in points by defenceman and first in goals. However, he’s played respectively six and seven less games than the two defencemen ahead of him in points.
Kinvall’s posting a points per game value of 1.27, first by a wide margin for defencemen. Simply put Kinnvall has been on a tear this year which is especially impressive considering HV71 currently sits fourth last in the SHL.
Kinnvall’s impressive progression
Since entering the SHL full time in 2018-19, Kinnvall has seen his game improve drastically each year. His point totals continue to get better each year and this year looks no different.
Using Christian Roatis’ (@croatis) NHLe calculator we can see how well Kinnvall has progressed over the last three seasons points wise.
Obviously the sample size is very small for this season, but it’s promising to see such large improvement on the offensive side from Kinnvall each year. For example, his even strength points per 60 this season of 2.24 ranks third in the league, a steady improvement from 2018-19 when it was 0.89, and from 2019-20 when it was 1.78.
Despite Kinnvall’s impressive point totals, he does have some major weaknesses in his game. He has historically been a poor player on the defensive side of the puck and still has a ways to go before being a dependable NHL defenceman at even strength. While he isn’t completely hopeless on defence, he will need to work a lot on his game in the defensive zone in order to be trusted in all situations in the NHL.
The good news is that he has made some solid strides this year already. Kinnvall’s CF% of 53.4% ranks first on his team, an impressive feat considering HV71 as a team has a dreadful 46.8 CF%. It also continues his trend of improvement each year. In 2018-19 he held a CF% of 51.3%, in 2019-20 it was 52.2%. There’s no question his team controls play better with him on the ice, which bodes well for his defensive progression considering his CF% has increased each season.
Across the board Kinnvall has improved in almost every measurable metric over the past three seasons.
It doesn’t take a long look to realize that Kinnvall’s progression has been nothing short of incredible. After his rough rookie year, he has improved every season since. He’s made huge strides on both offense and defense. Using betterthanamonkey.com’s metrics, Kinnvall’s current game score of 1.12 places him in MVP territory. If he can continue this pace he will no doubt be a part of the SHL MVP debate come seasons end.
Expectations and what’s next for Kinnvall
As mentioned previously, Kinnvall will stay on loan with HV71 in the SHL for the 2020-21 season and come over to North America at the beginning of next season. Given the state of the Flames defence right now, there will certainly be a shot for Kinnvall to crack the roster in his first season. Getting some time in the AHL may be the best route however, in order for him to adjust to the North American ice and work on his defensive game.
Once he does make the jump to the NHL it will probably be as more of a power play specialist offensive defenceman who plays limited minutes in other situations. Kinnvall is incredibly talented offensively which makes him a weapon on the power play. He’s been quarterbacking the HV71 power play and excelled in the role.
If we take a deeper look at his point totals in the SHL over the past couple years we can see that a large chunk of his production comes on the power play. In the 2018-19 season he scored 10 of his 22 points on the power play.
In 2019-20 when he broke out with 40 points in 51 games, 21 of them came on the power play. This year he has scored eight of his 14 points on the power play. Adding it all up and over four seasons in the SHL (he had zero points his rookie year) he has scored 39 of his 76 points on the power play, or 51%.
He possesses great skating, great vision, and a solid shot which makes him a prototypical power play specialist. He has the skill and ability to take on opposing players one on one and dance around the offensive zone. Just take a look.
In the past, teams have typically shied away from dressing players who can’t play in all situations, but the league has shifted quite a bit in recent years to open up spots for specialists like Kinnvall.
A perfect example would be former Flame Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson played limited minutes at even strength suiting up on the third pairing, but he was reliable and effective on the power play, and even quarterbacked the Flames’ top unit during the playoffs. A role like this would suit Kinnvall perfectly.
Whether or not he can translate his success to the NHL is yet to be seen. For now we can continue to watch Kinnvall light up the SHL and hope he continues to progress on the defensive side as well. He has a high ceiling, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in a Flames jersey opening night of the 2021-22 season.
Photo Credits: Axel Boberg / Bildbyrån