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The first time defenseman Filip Roos heard from the Blackhawks was two-plus years ago.

Roos wasn’t that well known even in his own country of Sweden at the time. He was about 21 years old and playing in Sweden’s second division, HockeyAllsvenskan, for BIK Karlskoga. He had never represented Sweden in any international tournaments as a younger player and had mostly played at the lower levels.

Roos was starting to show potential, though. He was beginning to play more minutes for Karlskoga and coming into his own. And considering his age, size (6-foot-4) and high-end skating ability, he was the type of player Blackhawks European scouting director Mats Hallin is always keeping his eyes open for.

“You need to be early on the players,” Hallin said recently. “And we talked to him and kind of get him into sort of the Chicago thoughts. So, the earlier you are, the better it is. … He’s been on the radar for quite a long time. He was in Karlskoga the year before, and we liked him as a project more back then and he was really taking steps.”

Roos took more steps this season when he joined Skellefteå in the SHL. There was an adjustment period and his ice time was limited early on, but he adapted and was given more and more opportunity. By the end of the season, he was playing on the top pairing and seeing 20-plus minutes. Following the season, he was asked to play for Sweden’s national team. All that brought more NHL interest, too. The Blackhawks weren’t the only team to offer him an NHL contract.

In the end, the Blackhawks did win out. He chose them and recently signed a two-year entry-level contract. For Roos, having that early connection was beneficial, but like for most players, he ultimately decided where he thought he might have the best chance to play in the NHL. It’s no secret the Blackhawks are rebuilding.

“As everyone knows, they’re like up and going, and they’re gonna put some new guys on the roster,” said Roos, who turned 23 in January. “We did have a good dialogue with the Chicago Blackhawks people. I felt like I did have a good chance to develop more there. That’s a good organization, and when I talked to (Hallin), I just got pumped up from the beginning. So, I’m just happy to be there.”

Roos isn’t a can’t-miss prospect. He’s come a long way in a few years, but he’s still raw in a lot of ways. The Blackhawks’ hope is he continues to develop and playing on the smaller ice will bring even more out of him. He has a lot of attributes that could make him an NHL defenseman.

Hallin is certainly optimistic.

“I have no idea (why he’s a late bloomer),” Hallin said. “I’m just happy for it that he’s a late bloomer. That happens sometimes, you get in the wrong lane for like the national teams and kind of go different routes and develop later. This guy is such a good skater and to be a big guy. It’s pretty fun that he’s decided to sign with Chicago. … I think this guy has a couple years of development. If he’s going to develop in Chicago, wherever, he’s going to do his job and take steps.”

Filip Roos. (Jörgen Bergkvist photo)

What are his strengths?

Roos’ size and skating ability jump out when you watch him play. He has a long reach with his stick. You couple that with long strides and his skating, and you can understand why multiple NHL teams were interested.

In the SHL, he used those two skills at an elite level. He wasn’t a shutdown defenseman, but he was better than average in his end due to his skating and size. He was able to contain rushes and retrieve loose pucks. Offensively, he didn’t put up a lot of points, but, again, he was noticeable in transition due to his skating. He isn’t shy to lead the rush and try to get involved offensively.

“I think his greatest assets are he’s an all-around D-man” Skellefteå coach Robert Ohlsson said. “He can play on both ends. He’s good with the puck. He can skate with the puck. He can take the puck from our D-zone to the O-zone with just his skating ability. But he can also play a really good defensive game. I think he’s a two-way defenseman, in my opinion.

“There was an adjustment in the beginning and he had to figure out how to play. It was first in the next highest league, Allsvenskan, and then he was really good there. Then he went up to the SHL and he had to figure out the league, and after a while, he was really good here as well. So now, he’s going for the big show. I expect a little bit like that there. The beginning he needs to find out how he’s going to play and then he’s a good defenseman.”

The Blackhawks believe he can be even more effective on the smaller North American ice. That type of speed sometimes can be wasted on the larger ice because opponents have more room to maneuver. If he can learn to be more aggressive with his speed and cut off others’ time and space, he could have a chance.

What are his weaknesses?

Roos has improved his overall game, but he’s still inconsistent. He does make a lot of NHL-level plays. He can skate away from defenders and make the perfect outlet pass. He can break up a defensive play with his stick or get to a loose puck first. But for all those plays, he still makes some mistakes. His passes aren’t always accurate. He can get lost in the defensive zone. He has good size, but he’s not exactly a physical defenseman. Opponents try to take advantage of that around the net.

The Blackhawks understand he needs work still.

“He needs to be more aggressive,” Hallin said. “That’s what we’re going to talk to him about this summer. Hopefully, he can watch a lot of hockey from the NHL and how much faster it is over here. That’s the main goal this summer to really prepare for the quickness. You need to make decisions quicker, much quicker.”

Video breakdown

Roos often gets himself and his team out of trouble with his skating. On this play, he got the puck behind the net and skated away from a defender to start the breakout.

On this play, he picked up the puck at his net and carried it all the way down the ice. He needed to figure out how to create more offensively off of that, but there was something to work with.

“I think there is some potential in the offensive aspect, for sure, because he’s good on joining the rush,” Ohlsson said. “He’s good skating with the puck. I think he’s real mobile and can skate good on the blue line. Maybe some improvement on the shot there and he can get points from that. So, yeah, he can be a pretty good offensive D-man.”

Here are a few more examples where Roos used his skating to move the puck and put his teammates in better positions.

Roos does track the puck and defenders well with speed. On this play, he got to the puckhandler quickly, took the puck and then utilized his skating.

This is the type of end-to-end play that would have any NHL team salivating.

This is an example of Roos in the defensive zone. He used his speed and reach to keep the defender on the perimeter.

“I think by the end of the year he was a real solid D-man,” Ohlsson said. “He played really good in one-on-ones and taking away his guy from the corner or the wall, taking away his guy from driving the net, as well. He learned. He’s a fast learner.”

Here’s a longer look of Roos defending in his own zone.

Q&A with Filip Roos

Would you describe yourself as a late bloomer or just the opportunities came later in life for you as a defenseman?

I feel like I’m a late bloomer because I’ve never been up high at this level before. And I felt like I’ve developed the last five years and it was pretty fast from going from division one to SHL and now this, the chance to get to the NHL. So, yeah, it was pretty fast. I felt pretty comfortable with it. I’m just happy for it.

What’s changed in your game in the last five years?

I’ve just felt like I’ve been maturing as a person and as a hockey player. I felt like with the stuff I’ve been working up with Skellefteå, I feel like the last two years has been giving me a lot. And now I’m sitting here with the experience with a new NHL contract, and I’m just looking forward (to) it.

Your Skellefteå coach described you as a two-way defenseman. Would you say the same?

I felt like he said that pretty well. I’ll describe me as a two-way D. I’ll try to get the puck up as fast as I can and do a good first pass. And I’ve been working a lot with my defense. But, of course, I’m a two-way D that likes to follow up in the offensive zone, too. So hopefully, I’m gonna do some more points next year. But that’s not the point this year. I felt like I wanted to get better in the defensive zone, and that’s something that I’ve developed pretty hard this year.

What did you have to work on in the defensive zone to get better?

Every guy is getting bigger and stronger. If you want to get pretty good in the offensive zone, you need to get the puck pretty fast in the defensive zone. I’ve been struggling when I was a little bit younger, because I wasn’t that strong enough to manage to get the puck and get the play as fast. That’s something that I’ve been working on a lot of this year.

You seem to use your size and reach to poke pucks away from opponents. Is your using stick something you’ve worked on recently or has that always been pretty good?

Well, that’s something that I’ve been working on. With my size, I’ve tried to use it on the ice. And, yeah, with long arms and long stick, you can use it pretty well out there. That’s something that I’ve been working on for the rest of this year and I felt like I had developed that pretty much. That’s something that I wanted to keep on going with.

I know you didn’t have a lot of points this season, but there seems like more opportunities with the way you carry the puck and pass it. Do you see potential there?

That is something that I can keep on doing. I feel like I’m a good skater. And, of course, it’s going to be a little faster out there when I’m coming over, but still, I want to get better with the puck and probably I’m gonna try to skate it up as I do here. But, yeah, that’s something that I want to build on too. So that’s something that I’m definitely pretty comfortable with.

Your Skellefteå coach thought your ambition was part of the reason you’ve continued to get better in recent years. Do you see that as well?

Good question. I don’t really know. I’m just gonna get better and better every day. And, yeah, when you’re getting better, you’re getting more successful. And I just want to keep on going and see how it can end up. So for me, it’s just been fun to do what you love to do. And as long as you love it and you’re getting success, I’m just gonna go for it as hard as you can and see where it takes me.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler’s take

“The short of it: I think Roos is probably AHL depth/NHL injury filler more than anything. He’s a big guy who moves well for his size and showed some offense at lower levels before becoming more of a complementary piece on a deep team in the SHL this year. He only averaged 15:37 this year, which was 13th on Skellefteå, but they were a top team and his results in those minutes were positive. They’ve clearly looked to add mobile defensemen with size to their pool in recent years, and while he’s obviously more of a finished product than the teenagers they’ve drafted, he fits a theme.”

What others are saying about Roos

Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson:Filip is a big body who possesses strong skating abilities for his size. That’s a combination of traits that teams across the league are always searching for. Filip played valuable minutes in Sweden’s top league this season and he will strengthen our pool of defensive prospects.” 

An anonymous SHL coach: He’s a good SHL player, tall, good skater. He skates with the puck fantastic. He needs to improve his decision-making and defense. If you ask me, he starts in Rockford, but hopefully they keep him in Sweden one more year at least. He is in a great spot to develop and is not NHL ready. But if I take a guess, he plays AHL for a couple of years and comes back to Sweden. Hopefully I’m wrong.”

When to expect Roos in the NHL

You would expect Roos needs some time in Rockford to adjust to North America. Some of it may depend on which defensemen are left after this offseason. Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson aren’t expected to be brought back. But do they re-sign Caleb Jones? The other variable is whether the Blackhawks want to promote any of their prospects to the NHL permanently. Alec Regula is probably penciled into an NHL spot next season. But what about Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas, Wyatt Kalynuk or Isaak Phillips? You add in Alex Vlasic, Nicolas Beaudin and Louis Crevier, and the Blackhawks have a lot of defenseman prospects to sort through. Davidson has preached patience with development, and Roos seems like he could benefit from that.

“I think that would be the smart thing, just invest a little bit and have patience and he’s going to be really good after,” Ohlsson said. “I think he’s a real mobile defenseman. He’s a tall guy, big guy, big wingspan. He can skate really good. He can skate with the puck and without the puck. I think he moves really well. I think he can be a solid player for those guys. I hope so. We’ll see.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Filip Roos)

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