Sandin Pellikka surprises himself while emerging as top NHL draft prospect
Axel Sandin Pellikka rose from No. 10 to No. 5 on TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s latest list of top National Hockey League draft prospects.
"That came as a shock," the Skelleftea AIK defenceman admits. "I saw it on Twitter, and I thought that was just European prospects. I thought it was one of those lists, so I didn't think of it that much. But then when I went to practice some of the guys were like, 'You were ranked No. 5.' I was like, 'No way!' So, it was a little shock for me. It's always fun that someone believes in me. I just take that as a confidence boost."
Sandin Pellikka has done his part to boost his stock ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft. He was named the top defenceman at April's Under-18 World Championship in Switzerland, where he racked up 11 points in seven games while helping Sweden win the silver medal.
Button considers Sandin Pellikka the top defenceman available and compares his ability to calmly control the game to Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov.
What would it mean to be the first defenceman picked in Nashville on June 28?
"A lot," Sandin Pellikka said. "I still know that it doesn't really matter where you go, it's what you do with the situation."
Not everyone is as bullish on Sandin Pellikka. NHL Central Scouting dropped him from No. 3 to No. 7 in their final ranking of European skaters. Austrian David Reinbacher, a fellow right-shot defenceman, moved ahead of him at No. 5.
And Button has Sandin Pellikka going to the Vancouver Canucks at No. 11 in his latest mock draft.
"Canada's national sport is hockey, so I know that it's a great culture there," Sandin Pellikka said while stressing he hasn't given much thought to potential landing spots.
During a conversation with TSN, Sandin Pellikka described what he learned by playing 22 games in the Swedish Hockey League this season. The native of Gallivare, Swe. also revealed why American winger Patrick Kane was his role model growing up.
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
TSN: Where did you improve the most this season?
Sandin Pellikka: "My defensive game. In the beginning of the season, I was still kind of weak and wasn't able to push around the opponents as much as I wanted to in the defensive zone. So, that's the thing I've gotten better at."
TSN: How did you work on that?
Sandin Pellikka: "Mostly strength training in the gym. And the coach of the SHL team, he always made me do 1-on-1 drills after practices. He would just stand there and scream at me. He would take some forwards and make me beat them up. So, I guess that's why it's gotten better."
TSN: You're listed as 5-foot-11, 176 pounds. How much more do you think you'll grow?
Sandin Pellikka: "I'm not sure, really. I have a little length left in me. I guess I'll grow a couple of inches. Weight-wise, I'll probably grow and get bigger."
TSN: What did you do well at the Under-18 World Championship?
Sandin Pellikka: "I helped with calming the play down and not stressing out and just helping my teammates and making them better with my calm play. Setting up plays with passes from the defensive zone and also being on the power play to help us score some goals."
TSN: Where does your calmness come from?
Sandin Pellikka: "I feel very calm when I'm on the ice. I know if I was stressed in some situations, I would just throw the puck away and the play would be s--t. I know if I stress it's not going to be good. I keep myself calm and collected and try to make some good plays."
TSN: What did the professional experience do for you?
Sandin Pellikka: "Coming into the season, my goal was to play maybe one, two games and just make my debut with the SHL team and maybe practice with them sometimes. So, I wasn't expecting this much playing time. But all the coaches and players were like, 'Play your game. Don't worry about making mistakes. Just play your game.' Everything went well and I'm very happy I got the chance."
TSN: Did you have a welcome-to-the-league moment?
Sandin Pellikka: "Not really, no. Probably just the practices. All the guys were bigger and much stronger, so it was tougher that way. But when I had the puck, I felt like home."
TSN: In the J20 league, you scored 16 goals with 36 points in 31 games. But you also led the team with 64 penalty minutes. What got into you?
Sandin Pellikka: "I had two games in a row when I got a game suspension. So, I guess that's where most of that came from. The first one, I was playing against Frolunda. Last season, I got a hit from behind and got injured for a month and I was playing the same guy who hit me. We were up 5-1. We were winning with like five minutes left and then I just wanted to get back at him a little. We had a small scrap and I got suspended for that."
TSN: Are you a fiery guy or was that unique for that specific situation?
Sandin Pellikka: "That was unique for that situation. I'm not a fighter that way."
TSN: Any regrets or did you do what you had to do?
Sandin Pellikka: "Nah, I felt like I had to do what I had to do."
TSN: Who is your NHL role model?
Sandin Pellikka: "I've always liked Patrick Kane. My father, he was on a business trip to Chicago in 2010, so he bought me and my brother some Patrick Kane jerseys and since then I've been watching him stickhandle on YouTube and doing all these tricks. I tried to replicate them on the ice as a kid. He was my role model. Now, later days, I'm a defenceman, so I like to watch Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar because those two are really good puck movers and smooth-skating defencemen."
TSN: How did you end up being a defenceman?
Sandin Pellikka: "I was at a summer camp when I was young and there were only spots for defencemen left, so I had to be a defenceman, and since then I've been playing as a defenceman."
TSN: What do you like about the position?
Sandin Pellikka: "It's just fun to carry pucks around. You know, getting them in the defensive zone and just carrying them up. You can have as much puck as you want, really. And maybe getting some hits in sometimes. I guess everything's fun. I just love playing hockey."
TSN: Your dad was a cross-country skier. What did you learn from him?
Sandin Pellikka: "Off-ice training. If he tells me something I should do on the ice, I don't listen to him too much because he's not that experienced. So, mostly off ice and getting better balance and getting quicker and stronger. These cross-country skiers, they are mostly good at off-ice training because they do a lot of that when they're young. That's what he helped me with the most."
TSN: Was your dad upset you picked hockey?
Sandin Pellikka: "He just wanted me to do what I love the most. I know if I was a cross-country skier I would have a good shot to be good at it, but hockey was too fun."
TSN: Why is hockey more fun than skiing?
Sandin Pellikka: "I like winning, I guess. You know, cross-county skiing you just ski. You don't really do anything. Hockey is a more creative sport."