2023 Draft Profile: Tom Willander

Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/ Hickling Images

We are now just five days away from the NHL draft and continue our evaluation of players that the Washington Capitals could potentially pick with the eighth overall selection. Today we will look at Swedish defenseman, Tom Willander. 


David Reinbacher
Matvei Michkov
Colby Barlow
Oliver Moore
Dalibor Dvorsky
Andrew Cristall
Gabe Perreault
Zach Benson
Will Smith
Brayden Yager

TOM WILLANDER – (18) – 6’1” – 179LBS, RD, Rögle BK J20 (Nationell)

Willander is headed to Boston University for the upcoming season, where he will join projected 2024 No. 1 overall pick Macklin Celebrini. Willander had an opportunity to play in the Swedish Hockey League in 2023-24, but he turned that chance down.

“The SHL, it’s senior teams and it’s professional teams, highest league, obviously all the teams are there to win,” Willander said in an interview with NHL.com. “So what happens is that usually SHL teams … they’re not going to play the young guys as much and they’re not as focused on development for the guys on the team since most of the players are older. They’re just focused on winning.”

The Stockholm native had a strong year with the Junior 20 Rögle BK team, racking up 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 39 games. At the U18 Worlds this year, he won a silver medal with Team Sweden and had three goals, which was the most among defensemen in the tournament. He also won a silver medal at the Hlinka/Gretzky cup. 

Willander has outstanding defensive awareness. He is terrific at defending odd-man rushes with his gap control and active stick. When the right-handed blue-liner has the puck, he makes smart passes on breakouts. 

The 18-year-old may not be as agile and slick compared to fellow countrymen and draftee Axel Sandin-Pellikka, but he is still a shifty and deceptive skater. He will be very useful on a team’s power play unit. 

Despite sitting at 6-foot-1 and 179 pounds, Willander does not use his body enough to break up plays. While he is an excellent two-way defensemen, his offensive game could use a spark to it, especially his shot. 

Corey Pronman of The Athletic has Willander going to the St. Louis Blues with the No. 10 selection. However, he will likely be the third defensemen off the board behind David Reinbacher and Sandin-Pellikka. 



The Hockey Writers

Willander is a very confident, steady and mobile two-way defender who can do it all in any situation. He’s an extremely effective defender offensively with his vision and mobility and possesses great situational awareness. He knows when to take his chance to jump into the rush and lead an attack without putting his team in a bad spot, while having the mindset to back off and defend against the rush. He displays a great sense of composure and confidence as the situation unfolds and shows no panic to his game on both sides of the puck. 

Elite Prospects Draft Guide

Willander’s value stems from the combination of high-end skating and motor. He’s always engaged defensively, using his dynamic posture and evasive footwork to guide attackers away from the middle and break up plays along the boards. When you add the fact that he’s both strong and skilled physically and relentlessly competes for every puck – he’s a nightmare to play against. Even if you start or manage to gain an advantage, Willander has the quickness to recover most of the time.


Bob McKenzie: 20
Craig Button: 8
NHL Central Scouting: 12 (Among EU skaters)
Elite Prospects: 23

By Jacob Cheris

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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