Full disclosure: I’m a huge Winterhawks fan and a Canucks fan of over 20 years. This has probably has biased my view Cederholm’s game. I’m also not a scout, just a fan, so I might talk out of my ass a little bit here. Deal with it.
As my beloved Portland Winterhawks and the (despicable) Vancouver Giants start their playoff series today I thought it might be a good idea to review Anton Cederholm’s first season in the WHL. My original plan was to do this every 20 games or so, but it turns out when you’re in a Master’s program full-time and you work 40+ hours a week the number of opportunities you have to write about non-academic subjects, let alone go to games consistently, is limited at best. As a result I was only able to get to a dozen games this year rather than my customary 25-30. However, I did listen to most of the games I couldn’t attend on the radio. I also talked to a few of my friends with season tickets to get a better idea about his progress.
I’ll be frank here: If you look at Cederholm’s stats you are going to come away completely underwhelmed. Especially when the team he plays for is an offensive juggernaut with 338 goals for this season, 28 more than second place Kelowna. Anton was responsible for 0.0118% of them (4). Adding in his 12 assists this year and that puts him at 0.23 PPG. Perhaps not the most encouraging point totals. After reading various scouting reports on him during the summer I suspected this might be the case before the season even began. Here’s how Hockey’s Future summarized his game:
Big, mobile, with solid defensive skills, Cederholm is a shutdown specialist. He excels at staying with his man, and positioning himself to best stay with his check. He will not put up monstrous offensive numbers, but he acquits himself well with a good first pass out of the defensive zone.
This is exactly what I saw from him most of the year, especially in the second half. I was able to get to the first six home games and it was clear he was going to need time to adjust to the smaller North American ice. He tended to play inside the dots, leaving space along the boards for an easy drop-pass to the trailer. He also seemed to rely on his skating to shadow the forward rather than use his body. At 6’2" and 209 lbs. while going against much smaller forwards, this was the most glaring weakness in his game.
It was a little over two months before I was able to attend another game. The most obvious change was his positioning. Probably equal credit going to his hockey smarts and the Winterhawks coaching staff, he now seems to be in the right place at the right time. He consistently makes smart hockey plays that won’t make you leap out of you seat in excitement, but are the type of plays that your teammates appreciate and get you more ice time from the coach. Small things as noted in the HF report like making the good first pass out of the defensive zone. That play will never make Sportscenter(re), but I’m sure all the forwards on the team are excited when the puck ends up on their tape.
He’s also using his body quite a bit more. It felt like he might not have wanted to check opponents as much in the beginning of the year and while that’s still true to a certain extent he clearly has no problem laying the hammer down when needed. If I was more xenophobic (cough, Don Cherry, cough) I'd say it is because he's European. He’s also been willing to drop the gloves when called on, having done so seven times this year or once every 10-ish games.
Not exactly the most graceful fight, but I like that he stuck up for his teammate there. If you look at his fights on YouTube, most of them stem from similar situations.
Going back to his point totals for a bit. The way the Winterhawks use him has more to do with that than anything else in terms of his skill set. I don’t have his zone start stats on hand, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find if most of them were in the defensive end. He also logs a lot of time as one of the team’s top penalty killers, which obviously limits the amount of quality offensive chances he sees.
5-on-5 he’s also limited by design. He’s usually paired with Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick (and alleged Ryan Kesler trade deal breaker) Derrick Pouliot, who serves as the quarterback on the power play and is the epitome of an offensive-defensemen. This usually means while Pouliot is joining the rush, scoring goals, and getting all the love from the fans, Cederholm is hanging back to make the defensive play in case a rush starts the other way. Rarely does he go over the faceoff dots in the offensive zone and as I’m writing this I’m struggling to think of a time in which he actually did during a live play.
Oh, I did actually see him score a goal. It’s at the 1:30 mark of the video. A nice wrister, top shelf, while joining the rush. A good heads up play to take the space Seattle gave him. Nothing fancy, but still a good play.
Overall, I really like Cederholm’s game. He’s the type of player that every team needs: a steady player on the blue line who doesn’t seem to ever get rattled. He has great vision on the ice, decent speed, and hands good enough to make the smart pass. Also, he’s a giant man. The fact that he could still grow a bit and add more weight to his frame is frightening.
I can’t imagine a situation where he is ever going to be mistaken for the second coming of Sami Salo, but if he progresses at the next levels I think he could make a living killing off penalties, staying at "holm" in the defensive zone, and settling the game down when the opposing team starts to get on a roll offensively.
One final note: A friend with season tickets is completely nonplused about Cederholm. He’s also a Blackhawks fan, so I don’t even take a grain of salt with his criticism. I think it is just a case of Cederholm getting lost amongst more flashy, higher skilled players. Or he just hates everything Canucks.