By Jack Anderson
If the level of interest among other clubs this offseason is any indicator, Mattias Sjogren could be another Swede in the Capitals system primed to make the quick transition to the NHL level.
Washington won the battle for Sjogren’s services signing him to a two-year, two-way deal worth $1.8 million. The 23-year old center played last season in the Swedish Elite League, and with a successful development camp he appears set to push for one of few remaining spots on the Capitals roster.
“I’m competing for a spot. That’s the reason I came over and that’s what I’m looking for,” he said.
Last year Marcus Johansson wasted little time in securing a place with the Capitals. The then 19-year old played in 69 games, emerging as another bright young star on a team with another talented Swede in Nicklas Backstrom.
Johansson and Sjogren are close friends and their relationship was undoubtedly a factor in the latter’s decision to sign with Washington. Johansson’s rapid ascension to the NHL made the decision even easier.
“It’s fun for me to see Marcus—who I grew up with—seeing how he adjusted so quickly,” Sjogren said. “He had a great season last year so maybe it [gives me confidence] when those two guys can make it so quickly.”
Backstrom was 20 during his rookie year and both he and Johansson serve notice that Bruce Boudreau is comfortable taking a gamble on players not yet acclimated to the North American style of play.
Sjogren played on a larger rink in Sweden, but the talent in the SEL is considered some of the best in the world and he already possesses the size to take on the physical toll of an NHL season. Now he must try to adapt to the faster pace and less space to maneuver through defenders.
“It’s a lot to work on,” he said. “The feel of the ice right now—it’s tougher to get speed around the corners especially, but the defense starts to come closer to the other players so it’s easier to play defense and probably tougher to play offense.”
Sjogren stands at 6’2”, 205 pounds and has been billed as a player with good defensive instincts and a physical approach suited for a bottom six forward.
This week’s development camp gives coaches their first look at Sjogren and should he live up to expectations, training camp will give him an opportunity to follow in Johansson’s and Backstrom’s footsteps.
“I think it’s good for me to come over and show myself,” Sjogren said. “The coaches haven’t seen me play live yet so it’s a way to show them how I play and to get adjusted and learn the system.”
He received a rude welcome on Monday during his first on-ice session at Kettler as a stick caught him in the face, knocking out a tooth. Talking with reporters on Wednesday he seemed frustrated with his inauspicious start.
“Yeah it was not a good start,” he said.” The first time I show myself to the coaches and everyone here and I get knocked down by a stick. Nothing I can do about it right now.”
Sjogren can play either wing or center and his versatility is another asset which could help him make the final roster. He is set to meet with the team this week to discuss his future and even if his isn’t a Capital in September, he’ll be on the short list when they make a call to Hershey.
However, Hershey isn’t an option in Sjogren’s mind. He could have chosen to play for a different team with more openings, but instead opted to join his fellow Swedes on a roster where there will be intense competition for the last few spots.
“You feel the pressure,” he said. “I’m ready to come over here and accept the pressure and try to deal with it.”