Sweden hadn’t won a World Junior championship since 1981, so when Blackhawks prospect and Team Sweden alternate captain Joakim Nordstrom
bit into his gold medal in Calgary on the evening of Jan. 5, 2012, it marked the end of “an amazing journey,” as he describes it, for a national program that has rebuilt itself over the last decade. But for Nordstrom and other Swedish prospects hoping to find success across the Atlantic, the journey is only beginning.
Nordstrom, 20, was the Blackhawks’ third-round draft pick in 2010 and just completed his first season in the Swedish Elite League, registering three goals and three assists in 47 appearances for AIK. The scoring numbers aren’t pretty, but they are befitting a young, mobile shutdown specialist who is not done honing his offensive talent.
“I’m a pretty good skater, with a good passing game,” Nordstrom explains. “But I need to shoot the puck more often.”
As a second-year veteran of Blackhawks Prospect Camp, Nordstrom is relishing the opportunity to showcase his two-way abilities, forming Team B’s top line alongside 2011 first-round draft pick Phillip Danault and Swiss free-agent invitee Denis Hollenstein.
“We had pretty good chemistry, and we always supported each other,” Nordstrom says. “We created a lot of dangerous opportunities, so it felt pretty good.”
THE SWEDISH REVIEW
Blackhawks fans don’t get many opportunities to follow European prospects, especially if they play overseas, so chicagoblackhawks.com asked Blackhawks Head European Amateur Scout Niklas Blomgren to evaluate how the club’s three Swedish prospects fared in 2011-12.
Joakim Nordstrom, C (AIK, SEL)
47 GP, 3G, 3A, 4 PIM
"Nordstrom had a good season where he went from more of an extra center in 2010-11 to a regular player in the Swedish Elite League. That, in combination with winning a gold medal at [World Juniors], made his last season a good one. He keeps on getting stronger and getting more experience and this year [he’ll] take on even more responsibilities for AIK."
Klas Dahlbeck, D (Linkoping, SEL)
55GP, 2G, 2A, 20 PIM
"Dahlbeck played his second full season in the Swedish Elite League and got very good minutes along former Chicago player Magnus Johansson, as well as former NHLer Niclas Havelid. Playing with older, accomplished players helped him gain confidence and learn what it takes to be successful. Also, playing with the men's national team at the highest stage of European hockey during the November and February breaks showed that he can play at a very high level."
Johan Mattsson, G (Sudbury, OHL)
37GP, 23-11-2-1, 3.16 GAA, .910 SV%
"Mattsson played in Sudbury and had a bit of an up-and-down year. He was plagued by the hip that he had surgery on this past May, and he now needs to regain the form and consistency that made him a successful player in 2010-11."
Nordstrom and fellow countryman Klas Dahlbeck both signed entry-level contracts with the Blackhawks last month, and along with goalie prospect Johan Mattsson, they form the next wave of emerging Swedish talent. In a country with a robust passion for the game, it seems like everyone has a significant tie to someone else in hockey—a neighbor, a friend, a mentor—and Nordstrom is no exception to the rule.
“I’ve known Marcus Kruger since I was about 12 years old,” he explains. “I played on the same team as his younger brother, so I talk to him sometimes.”
As of October 2011, Sweden counts only 62,003 registered hockey players out of a total population of 9.5 million, ranking fourth among European countries and sixth overall. So it’s conceivable that a player like Kruger, a fifth-round selection in 2009, might remain a relatively unknown prospect before joining the Blackhawks for 12 games at the end of the 2010-11 season and then sticking around for good last autumn.
Nordstrom now has World Juniors gold to his name, which means he will sneak up on no one, not when 6,000 fans joined the team at King’s Garden in downtown Stockholm on Jan. 7 for a celebration that was 31 years in the making. It was an appropriate honor to cap off an impressive period of regeneration for the Tre Konor.
“The whole Swedish youth and junior system has gone through a total makeover the last nine years, and it has resulted in much more success in international tourneys as well as much more drafted players out of Sweden,” says Blackhawks Head European Amateur Scout Niklas Blomgren.
“Right now, the hotbed for European prospects is in Sweden, with Finland starting to make a comeback.”
Nordstrom, like many others on that team, hopes that the momentum resulting from their championship run can help propel them onto an NHL roster in the future.
“I got better after the World Junior Championship, and hopefully that will continue this season,” he says. “I’m going to play another year in Sweden, and hopefully I will keep developing at the same speed as I did last year.”