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Canucks prospects: No one wants to fight Vilmer Alriksson anymore

With his combination of size, skating, and skill, Vilmer Alriksson is one of the most intriguing players in the Canucks' prospect pool.
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Vilmer Alriksson had a rocky rookie season in the OHL with the Guelph Storm but he remains one of the most intriguing prospects for the Vancouver Canucks.

Two months into his rookie season in Canada, Vilmer Alriksson finally had to drop the gloves.

The Canucks’ fourth-round pick from the 2023 NHL Entry Draft is 6’6” tall and towers over the vast majority of his opponents and teammates on the ice. The massive winger is built like a power forward but he didn’t exactly play like one in his draft year in Sweden, instead using his surprisingly soft hands, smooth skating, and excellent shot to play more of a perimeter game.

So, when he came over to Canada to play for the Guelph Storm in the OHL, there may have been some questions over just how tough he really was. There were plenty of tough OHL players who wanted to have a go at the big Swede.

“Before I had a fight, everyone challenged me to a fight,” said Alriksson with a grin. “After that, it wasn’t that many.”

Roman Schmidt, an over-aged 6’5” defenceman for the Kitchener Rangers who was a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2021, challenged Alriksson after hitting him into the boards on a zone entry. Alriksson accepted the challenge, and then quickly showed Schmidt that maybe he had made a mistake.

Both Alriksson and Schmidt threw haymakers but Schmidt got the worst of it. He left the game and then missed the Rangers’ next two games.

That was Alriksson's only fight of the season. As he said, no one in the OHL wanted to fight him after that.

"Everything's faster, so I like it more."

It was part of the adjustment of coming to North America, where, for good or ill, fighting is still part of the game. The bigger adjustment was going from the big rinks of Sweden that has so much more space on the outside, encouraging a slower, east-west style of play, to the smaller ice surface of the OHL that required a different approach.

“I would say it's a lot more physical and the intensity is much higher,” said Alriksson. “You’ve got to get in positions faster. Everything's faster, so I like it more.”

Alriksson, with encouragement from the Canucks, decided to go the OHL route because it would force him out of his comfort zone to adapt to the style that he’ll need to play to get to the NHL. He could have stayed in Sweden and likely had a season that would have looked, from the outside, to be far more successful but the ultimate goal is the NHL.

That meant shifting his approach away from the perimeter of the ice and more to where he’ll need to go for the power forward game that he wants to play.

“It's much more to-the-net all the time,” said Alriksson. “In Sweden, you can turn the puck up, make plays and stuff, but here you've got to go direct to the net and maybe chip the puck in instead of skate by the defender.”

“It's been a fun year,” he added. “It's been a bit of an adjustment but I've liked it. I like the OHL.”

"We like his development from last year to this year."

The adjustment wasn’t exactly smooth. The points came along in spurts for Alriksson, as he started off the season with 6 goals in his first 12 games but then saw several dry spells, finishing the season with 17 goals and 33 points in 67 games.

That’s a disappointing post-draft season but it’s easy to see why the Canucks are still optimistic about Alriksson. At development camp, Alriksson flew up and down the ice with startling speed, manipulated defenders and goaltenders, and used his body effectively to protect the puck. It’s easy to see shades of Dakota Joshua or Tage Thompson, even if he’s a long way from reaching that potential.

“We like his development from last year to this year,” said player development coach Mikael Samuelsson. “As long as they develop — it can take one year or two or three years — it doesn’t really matter. In terms of his playing…you can see a difference, definitely.”

Alriksson is eager to learn. He arrived early to development camp and got on the ice to do some extra work before any other skaters as he helped the coaches work with the goaltenders.

“I wanted to come in early to get used to the jetlag and stuff,” said Alriksson. “Then they said, yeah, you can be a shooter if you want and obviously I wanted to do that.”

"It's a lot of details I've gotta fix and get a lot better."

Where Alriksson knows he needs to improve the most is in leveraging his size. Watching his OHL games, his first instinct in puck battles is still to primarily use his stick instead of establishing body position first, but he improved as the season progressed. He got better at battling for position in front of the net as well.

Alriksson already has the tools in terms of skating, puckhandling, and shot but combining those tools with smarter use of his strength and reach should theoretically lead to a breakout season as he returns to the OHL next year, especially if he gets more minutes in his second year.

In order to use his size, he’s ironically getting advice from two smaller men: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who may not have been the biggest players on the ice but were masters of using their bodies to protect the puck.

“They've given me a lot of tips on the ice, you know in the corners, body position,” said Alriksson. “We talked a lot about that, to create separation from the defender, that's the key thing.”

The simple truth is that you don’t see many players who are 6’6” who can skate and handle the puck the way Alriksson does. That’s why he’s still one of the Canucks’ most intriguing prospects, even if he’s clearly a long-term project.

“In general, he looks good,” said Samuelsson. “He protects the puck good but he still has things he needs to work on. It’s not there yet.”

It’s a long path ahead of him, but Alriksson is confident he’ll get there.

“It's a lot of details I've gotta fix and get a lot better,” said Alriksson. “But I think I'll play in the NHL.”