The infuriating play of Mads Søgaard

I don’t want to sound like a hipster, but I was a fan of Frederik Andersen’s play before he was drafted to the NHL the first time.

And before George Sørensen stole some hearts at the World Juniors, I was singing his praises at the Under-18’s and World Junior A Challenge.

Oh, and I think that Sebastian Dahm is quite underrated.

So, naturally, it made sense that I quickly started to follow the career of Mads Søgaard after I watched him play for the first time back in 2017 before becoming Denmark’s third goalie as a 17-year-old at the 2018 World Juniors.

I was singing his praises before he got the nod as the team’s top goalie at the World Juniors this year — he is one of the top goalie prospects, after all. So, yes, I definetly received critical comments after he was ripped apart by Canada to open up the tournament in Vancouver.

Denmark never recovered, scoring just three goals in the entire tournament (all three coming in a single game against Kazakhstan). In the end, Denmark was relegated. I won’t go deep into that because I already have, but the player I continued to watch, and become quite disappointed in, was Søgaard.

Mads Søgaard is a highly-rated goalie prospect for the #NHLDraft, but he has not had a good tournament. #WJC2019— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) January 4, 2019

Fast forward to this past week, where Søgaard played quite well for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game. When he left the net at the halfway point, Søgaard allowed just one goal in a game that saw his team lose 5-4.

He obviously wasn’t the reason his team failed in the second half of the showcase, and, like I said, he played quite well. But one play in particular scared me just a little bit.

Late in the opening period, Søgaard over-committed on a scoring opportunity by Brett Leason when the rising NHL prospect missed the net off of what became an empty-net opportunity. He didn’t score, but I was still disappointed with Søgaard.

This is the clip I was talking about last night where Mads Søgaard over-committed on a chance by Brett Leason.— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) January 24, 2019

Why would I be disappointed in such a minor play in a game that truly doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things?

Because it’s something I’ve noticed quite a few times when watching him play.

Case in point: the goal that resulted in Denmark getting relegated to Division IA of the World Juniors just over 30 seconds into the second relegation game.

1-0 Kazakhstan on the first scoring chance. Sayan Daniyar with the sneaky little move after Sogaard was out of position. #WJC2019— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) January 4, 2019

And of course, it happened a few times against Canada, too.

After he scored the first goal, Morgan Frost’s assist to Owen Tippett gave #Canada an early 2-0 lead at the #WorldJuniors.

🇨🇦 Follow our #WJC2019 live blog ➡️

(Via @StevenEllisNHL)— Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) December 27, 2018

🇨🇦 Oh, captain! 🇨🇦

Maxime Comtois scores to start the 2nd period and #Canada expands the lead over #Denmark to 4-0 in the #WorldJuniors.

(Via @StevenEllisNHL)— Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) December 27, 2018

22 minutes into his first #WJC2019 game and Morgan Frost has a hat-trick. 5-0 Canada. #WJC2019 #Flyers— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) December 27, 2018

The third clip there is slightly different because Søgaard wasn’t caught out of his crease, but him putting his right pad down when he did made it tougher for him to slide over for the pass anyone could have seen coming.

But otherwise, all the clips have a similar theme: Søgaard is caught out of position far too often against strong competition. Nobody will doubt how good of a season he’s having with Medicine Hat in the WHL, and he is still a no-brainer to become one of the first goalies drafted in June.

But if he’s going to thrive at the next level, he needs to utilize his size to his advantage. He’s 6-7, damnit. He moves around the ice like he’s trying to make up for a lack of size, which clearly isn’t an issue.

A goalie the size of Søgaard, as rare as they are — if he makes the NHL, he would tie with Ben Bishop and Mikko Koskinen as the tallest goalie ever to play in the league — shouldn’t be fighting himself to position himself right for a shot. It can simply be attributed, on many plays, to his big legs

One goalie I have become a big fan of the past few years is Jett Alexander. While he does play in the OJHL — a Jr. A hockey league below the WHL, where Søgaard practices his craft — his physical growth is something that very few goalies have to go through during their hockey career. On the day he was drafted to the Mississauga Steelheads back in 2015, Alexander was listed as 5-8. Now? He’s 6-5. For any hockey player, that size increase is something really tough to overcome, especially if you’re in the key development portion of your career.

Yet, Alexander has no issue when it comes to his positioning. You rarely find himself chasing after loose pucks or rebounds and his big frame allows him to make smaller movements and save energy when needed, something that has become very evident given how quick his arms move to make some pretty spectacular saves.

When you look at a big goalie, Alexander does so many things right. Søgaard obviously does, too, or else he wouldn’t be such a popular prospect. But this one thing… this thing that really bothers me more than it should, has hurt him more times than it should at this point.

But it really can burn him. Even in the past month, he’s been caught out of his crease, seemingly giving up on the play before the opposition can finish making a move. I really want him to just sit back, relax and read the play better before going all out in a desperate attempt to keep the puck out. He’s got the size to stiffle shooters, but he can’t keep giving them opportunities to make moves without him attacking back — he’s got a long reach that he never seems to use enough, after all.

I’m not kidding when I say I like this kid. If Denmark is going to thrive in the international hockey scene, especially with Andersen starting to creep up in the age bracket, they’ll need
Søgaard to be their saving grace. Heck, he could be the top goalie to ever come from the nation when his career comes to an end.

But when you see his positioning at times taking him out of plays, you have to wonder how good he would be if he was seven inches shorter. Could he improve on his speed from post to post? Absolutely. Should he refine how he attacks cross-ice one timers? Yup, because that’s where he finds himself down too early and too low. He has the frame that most shooters will struggle with if he could at least stand up just a split second longer.

Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill or whatever the saying is, but I truly think Søgaard needs to work a little harder on maintaining his position in the crease. If he can control his size, I don’t think he’ll have a problem in the NHL.

He is still young, after all.

A Danish Disaster

BUFFALO, N.Y. -Team Denmark defenceman Lasse Mortensen (#14) falls in front of Team Denmark goaltender Emil Gransoe (#1) during a game between Canada and Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship at KeyBank Center on December 30, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo from Anders Marshall/Euro Hockey)

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Denmark was on top of the hockey world during the exciting 2015 World Junior tournament, beating Switzerland in the round robin to stay in the top group, something very few teams had been able to do in the years before them. The fans went nuts when they beat the Swiss, who had quite the tournament in Vancouver this year.

They did just enough to make it to where they are today, beating the likes of Finland and Switzerland (Denmark came second in Group A at the 2017 World Juniors) to keep their hopes alive in the past few years. But their luck truly dried up with just two NHL draft prospects on the roster this year, and it showed as the team couldn’t score or keep pucks out of their own net — the 14-0 loss to Canada was somewhat telling.

To show how bad Denmark’s tournament was, here is how many goals that the team that got relegated scored (in the years where two teams were relegated, just the lower-ranked team) in the entire tournament over the past decade.

Denmark had three goals in one game this year, the fewest goals scored by a relegated team since 2004 when Ukraine only scored three goals and allowed 60 (Denmark allowed 34).

So, it was pretty telling when the Danes allowed two goals on two shots before the game was five minutes old. While Denmark certainly had more scoring chances, they didn’t get many high-danger opportunities, and only had two shots total in the first 13 minutes of play in the third period (Kazakhstan had zero in that time frame) before eventually losing 4-0.

Denmark only had seven players record points in the tournament. Jonas Røndbjerg, Malte Setkov and Andreas Grundtvig combined for the only three goals they scored in the tournament, coming all in one game.

Staying up in the top tournament is a very tall task for any newly-promoted team, but the Danes not only did it for 2015, but they lasted up until this year. But in Vancouver, they looked defeated from the get go. Yeah, a 14-0 loss to the tournament hosts can do that to you, but even though they even outplayed Russia and Switzerland at points, they looked like a team lacking an identity or any true passion.

They were lucky that the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand were available to them at the 2015 World Juniors because, without them, they likely wouldn’t have been able to outlast the Swiss and stay up.

But the future isn’t looking so great for the Danes. In December, Denmark had a terrible time with their U18 team, losing 8-2 to Latvia, 8-2 to France and 10-0 to Norway. To put it in perspective: the talent pool isn’t that great for those other three nations. The Under-18 team has taken bronze at the past two World Championships, and just four players are eligible to return this year (Jonathan Brinkman, who had a point for Denmark at the World Juniors, can return).

Sure, it’s early, but some Danish fans are concerned.

Denmark has a few promising 2003-born prospects with Marcus Almquist, Philip Nolsoe and Magnus Rosenorn, but they are still a few years away. They don’t have a whole lot of talent coming up in the 2001/2002 age groups and will need to get creative when scoring.

Goaltending wise, Mads Søgaard didn’t get a lot of help in front of him, but considering how highly rated he is (and from what I’ve seen from him, he’s one heck of a goalie), he didn’t do the Danes any favours. On many occasions, he allowed goals that he surely should have stopped, including the two that got him pulled early against Kazakhstan.

But he’s still young, He can still represent Denmark again next year in Division IA, assuming he’s loaned out. But when you look at his progression, no Danish goaltender — including NHL star Frederik Andersen — has received as much attention as Søgaard is before the draft. He’ll be just fine. There’s Christian Elmose, who had so-so numbers at the U18s last year, Frederik Søgaard, who was a reserve player for Denmark this year as a 17-year-old, and Frederik Dichow, the guy tasked with playing most of Denmark’s U18 games this year. But none of them appear to be as good as Mads Søgaard, who looks destined to be their starting goalie going forward.

Losing this year was a sign that things aren’t looking good for Denmark, because even though they weren’t great, most people would have still predicted them beating Kazakhstan. Yet, that didn’t happen. They had an opportunity to keep things rolling, and they couldn’t even beat Kazakhstan, a team that got blown out in almost every game. Denmark simply couldn’t generate quality chances despite their many shot attempts and they didn’t have the speed or defensive skill to keep the puck away from their goalie.

So, we’ll see how the Danes move forward. The team does have eight players that can return next year, including Philip Schultz, which is huge. Don’t be surprised if Denmark returns to the top group for 2021, but that seems like an eternity away.

I truly loved watching Denmark play over the past few years. George Sørensen was an absolute blast to watch at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge and was an underappreciated part of that miracle team for Denmark a few weeks later. Ehlers was one of the best players to ever play for a team that just got promoted. That team made watching hockey fun in what still stands as one of the most exciting tournaments I can recall.

But those days are far behind them. Next year will be the fifth tournament since that eventful trip to Canada and despite winning a few games, there hasn’t been much progress. Røndbjerg may turn into a solid NHLer, but that’s about it on offence.

Denmark is such a happy country. I just hope their junior hockey team gives them something to smile about soon.