Saturday, June 25, 2011

Focus on Prospects: Steffen Søberg

 photo from Manglerud Star team website

Name: Steffen Søberg
Position: G
Catches: Left
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 176 lbs
Birthdate: 1993-08-06
Hometown: Oslo, Norway

After trading their first round pick for Troy Brouwer, the Capitals first available draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was 117th, in the fourth round. With it, the team surprised analysts and fans by selecting a sleeper, Norwegian goaltender Steffen Søberg of the Manglerud Stars.

Some were quick to judge the pick, considering Søberg's statistics from last season with the Stars. A 4.17 GAA and .884 save percentage in 27 games doesn't inspire much confidence, but his Norwegian league team performance is not why the Capitals drafted him.

Søberg made a name for himself in Norway after showings in the World Junior Championships (U20) in December 2010/January 2011, then the IIHF U18 tournament in April 2011.

Søberg made his first international tournament appearance in the 2011 World Juniors. Taking place several months before U18, Søberg was not the starting goaltender, and played less than half of Norway's goaltending minutes. But in the time he did see on the ice, he posted a .913 save percentage and a 3.57 GAA.

It was the later tournament (U18) in which Søberg particularly made his presence known to International Scouting Services scouts. Søberg played behind a weak Norway team, and the team won just one game in the tournament.

Despite that, Søberg had the second-best statistics of any goaltender in the tournament, with a .930 save percentage and a 3.90 GAA. He alone kept Norway from being blown out every game.

ISS Head Scout Ross MacLean noted that he was extremely impressed by Søberg at the U18 tournament. Norway was considered an effective team, and MacLean says that fact was "99% due to the play of Søberg," who he thought was "without a doubt the most impressive goaltender in the tournament so far."

ISS also spoke to Hockey's Future about Søberg's U18 play, calling it "simply astounding." His high GAA could be accounted for by how many shots he faced - Søberg made 295 saves on 317 shots in just six games, including a 5-0 loss to Canada in which he made 58 saves on a tournament-high 63 shots.

ISS spoke of Søberg's composure in the crease, saying that he made saving so many shots look easy. "Few U18 goaltenders have ever shown the poise displayed by Søberg during this tournament and with the other top goaltending prospects faltering a bit, the excitement around Søberg could go a long way come draft day."

Just a month after the tournament, ISS named Søberg the top European goaltending prospect in their May ranking. He was also named Rookie of the Year by his Norwegian league.

Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report spoke of Søberg in a column he wrote for USA Today. A Google translation of a Swedish article on Søberg quotes Woodlief as saying, "Søberg stood on his head and made hundreds of incredible saves that allowed Norway to keep themselves alive in almost every game."

The Hockey News too took notice as the draft approached, calling Søberg one of the draft's "dark horses."

Now a Washington Capitals prospect, goaltending coach Dave Prior indicated that, hopefully, Søberg will play in the CHL next year. The CHL Import Draft takes place in just a few days (June 29), and if all goes according to plan, Søberg will be selected and play for a CHL team next season.

Michael Neuvirth took a similar path, developing for three years in the OHL before landing with Capitals ECHL affiliate South Carolina Stingrays, and working his way up to the NHL.

Søberg is expected to attend the Capitals' development camp, beginning July 11.

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