The Calgary Flames have done surprisingly well in the seventh round of late, taking netminders Dustin Wolf and Arseni Sergeev as well as defenceman Ilya Solovyov and forward Cade Littler with their last four seventh-round selections.
This year, the Flames opted for larger players with skill, and opted to select Swedish blueliner Axel Hurtig with their final pick. Let’s take a deep dive into who he is and what he could bring to the Flames.
Who is Axel Hurtig
Hurtig is one of the younger players in this year’s draft, born in June of 2005. This is important because it means that the Flames have more runway with him as compared to older prospects in terms of his development.
The blueliner clearly isn’t small for his age. Standing 6’4″, he is very good at using his size to his advantage and is a tough player to play against. He still has room to grow, and he almost certainly will pick up some size and a bunch of weight as he gets older.
Hurtig’s on-ice production
Hurtig has grown up playing in Sweden, born in Hogas on the country’s west coast. Over the past two years, he has played in the Rogle BK system. Take a look at his numbers below:
|Year||Draft Relative||League||Team||GP||G||A||P||Playoff GP||Playoff G||Playoff |
|2021–22||D-1||J18 Region||Rogle BK J18||22||4||9||13||12||1||3||4|
|D-1||J18 Nationell||Rogle BK J18||8||0||1||1||8||3||1||4|
|D-1||J20 Nationell||Rogle BK J20||16||0||2||2||6||0||0||0|
|2022–23||D+0||J18 Nationell||Rogle BK J18||6||0||2||2||6||0||2||2|
|D+0||J20 Nationell||Rogle BK J20||34||2||6||8||6||3||0||3|
As is typical with Swedes, Hurtig spent most of the last two years split between the J18 and J20, Sweden’s two junior leagues. Not known for his offence, Hurtig’s numbers do not jump off the page at all, but he did finish 15th among U18 defencemen in the J20 during the regular season and finished with a +8 rating on the year. Not bad.
On top of this, he played with Team Sweden in the World U18s this year, putting up a primary assist in seven games.
He may be a seventh-round pick, but there’s a lot to like with Hurtig.
Ability to use his size
First and foremost is his size. Hurtig is a big man and he knows how to use his size to his advantage. He’s a very tough player to play against in his own zone, unafraid to throw his body around in the corner and make forwards really work to try and get the puck away from him.
While he does use his body, this does not take him out of the play. Hurtig understands his role and responsibility, keeping himself in the play at all times and not drifting from his position just to throw a crowd-pleasing hit.
Defensive zone play
Hurtig is an old-fashioned stay-at-home defenceman—and this is where he thrives. He has good gap control, understanding where he needs to be on the ice, and uses his long range to knock the puck away from speeding forwards on offence. When he does gain the puck back in his own zone, he makes good outlet passes out of his zone, able to anticipate the play well from the back end.
He is not a strong transition or offensive player though. He is not the guy to skate the puck out of his own zone regularly, electing instead to have his teammates support in this role, but when the puck does come back the other way, having Hurtig on defence is a breath of fresh air.
Hurtig’s areas of improvement
Despite having some really good positives, Hurtig is still a seventh-round pick for a reason. He does have a lot of work to do if he wants to become and NHLer.
This is the major area of concern. Because of how tall he is, Hurtig skates in a very standing-straight-up kind of way, not really activating through his legs to get that acceleration. As a result of this, his ability to move quickly and in transition is hampered. This is going to be a major area of opportunity for Hurtig. If he can figure this part out, he has a much better chance of developing into a player.
Hurtig is so good on defence, but he simply does not have an offensive side to his game in any real way. This is not the end of the world, many prospects have developed into NHLers with limited offensive upside but excellent defence. The one area he will need to work on is his play in transition. It’s not enough to be just a defenceman, he needs to be the type of player who can support the movement from defence to offence, skating the puck up ice or activating on the rush to support the play. This ties into improving his skating, but once that starts to come and he develops more confidence in his feet, this should come as well.
Hurtig’s next steps
Hurtig was expected to play in Sweden this season again, spending time with Rogle in their J20 team and hopefully earning some SHL games, but he was drafted in this year’s CHL Import Draft by the Calgary Hitmen. He had shoulder surgery at the end of the season, but once he is healthy again, he should be joining the team in Calgary. This will give the Flames a great opportunity to see their prospect more often and allow them to really target the areas of his game that he can work on.
Because of the way the CBA works, the Flames actually own Hurtig’s rights for four more seasons as opposed to the typical three that they get with CHL players. This is a result of him being drafted out of Sweden and the rules around Swedish players. Hurtig and the Flames now have a lot more runway to develop him into a player who understands the North American game and given his age, there is a good chance he really does grow into a player for the team.
Projection with the Flames
Hurtig is a hard one to project, but given his skating and propensity to be a pure defensive defenceman, the best case scenario is he develops into a bottom-pairing defenceman if at all. Keeping in mind that he is a seventh-round pick, if they even get a very good AHLer, they’ve done quite well; however, if they even get a handful of NHL games out of him, they’ve struck gold.
The Flames know that they have time with him, but they like the toolkit that they have in him. He’s a big rangy defensive defenceman and if they can teach him how to skate better, they may have a surprise in Hurtig.
Here’s more information for every player a part of the Calgary Flames’ 2023 NHL Draft class: