Vancouver Canucks

Nils Åman's Unlikely Journey

January 4, 2023

By Parker Halliwell - @ParkersPucks 

Nils Åman was never supposed to be here.

Only 36 active NHL players were drafted in the sixth round.

Fourteen of them were "overagers" - players who were passed over in their first round of NHL Draft eligibility. Eleven of those players were drafted in their second year of eligibility.

Only three were drafted after being passed over twice - Columbus' Carson Meyer, Tampa Bay's Cole Koepke, and Vancouver's Nils Åman. Åman is the youngest of the three and has appeared in more NHL games (35) than both Meyer and Koepke.

Åman grew up in Avesta, a small town in Sweden of just 12,000 people that had only produced one NHLer in history - that being Nicklas Lidström. Åman excelled on Avesta's U16 and J18 teams, before joining the Leksands IF organization in 2016 to play in the top J18 league in Sweden.

His production was solid for the J18 team, producing 22 points in 30 games in 2016-17. The following season, he amassed 29 points across 32 games, but he struggled when moving up to J20, with just three points in 21 appearances. Åman was not on the radar of North American scouts and went undrafted in 2018.

The 2018-19 season saw a leap in Åman's game, as he accumulated 41 points in 45 games for that same J20 team that he had struggled on the year prior. Åman still did not expect to be drafted.

"When I played in the Juniors in Sweden," Åman remarked, "I wasn't actually that good."

Åman was passed over again in all seven rounds of the 2019 draft.

Åman continued where he left off in 2019-20, picking up 47 points in just 30 games on the J20 team. He was given his first taste of professional hockey, when he was promoted to Leksands' Swedish Hockey League (SHL) squad for an eight-game stint where he scored his first professional goal.

The 2020 NHL Draft was postponed until October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Leksands was already four games into the 2020-21 SHL season, with Nils Åman yet to get on the scoresheet. This was his last chance of being drafted to the NHL.

Åman was selected in the sixth round, 167th overall by the Colorado Avalanche. The decision to stay in Sweden with the organization that had fostered him since he was 16 was an easy one.

"When I got drafted, I talked to them and said, 'I need more years in Sweden'. That was the plan - stay in Sweden and develop."

Åman finished the 2020-21 SHL season with only 10 points in 51 games and decided to remain in Sweden for one more year instead of joining the Avalanche organization.

"I didn't talk to them too much in that season," Åman said.

His second full season in the SHL saw a slight step forward offensively. He scored four more goals and finished the year with 14 points. The real improvement came in his defensive game, as he took his minus-seven (-7) from the prior year to a plus-four (+4), with his team allowing only 20 goals with Åman on the ice, the lowest on his team among those who played the full season.

The Avalanche had to make a final decision on Åman by July 1st, 2022, or his rights would expire and Åman would become an unrestricted free agent. Colorado decided against offering the 22-year-old Swede a contract, and nearly a week later, he received a call from the Canucks.

"I thought it was a really hard question," he reflected, "In the beginning I thought, maybe stay another year in Sweden and develop more, but the more I was thinking and talking to my agent, in the end I think I made the right choice."

Åman worked relentlessly over the off-season in preparation for training camp, with a big focus on becoming more "explosive," while improving strength and conditioning.

Coming into camp, most expected Åman would gain valuable development time with the main club, before ultimately being sent down to the AHL. Even Åman himself had no expectation of making the team.

"Of course not," Åman chuckled. "I was just thinking, go into camp and do my best and see what happens."

But as each preseason game went by, the Canucks staff became increasingly impressed with Åman's game and demeanor, forcing their hand to pencil him into the opening night roster in Edmonton.

"I think I played pretty good in the D-zone and with my defensive game, that was the biggest part. Of course, I need to develop that and develop everything more, but that was the big thing for me".

Åman appeared in each of the first 35 games for the Canucks this season, finding a regular spot on the fourth line. However, on December 30, Åman was assigned to the AHL's Abbotsford Canucks, putting a pause on his young NHL career.

This is far from the first time Åman has battled adversity, and he has always found a way to continue bettering himself. While recovering from a broken hip at the age of 15, Åman reportedly borrowed the keys to the local rink in his hometown of Avesta and snuck onto the ice each night to rebuild his stride. He is not content with being a career fourth-liner or AHL player either.

"I need to develop my offense more, do stuff in the offensive [zone], and not [end up in the AHL]."

With his NHL-caliber skating, hockey IQ, and dedication to the game, Åman has all the fundamentals to become a solid middle-six NHL player for years to come. Not bad for a player that was not supposed to be here.