The Blue Jackets' willingness to "go young" with their goaltending tandem in Springfield speaks to their confidence in both Oscar Dansk and Anton Forsberg - but for Dansk, he feels as though he still has a lot to prove.
At only 20 years of age, Dansk is armed with experience in some of the most pressure-packed amateur hockey environments. He's played in the World Junior Hockey Championship, suited up for renowned prep academy Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota, and earned a No. 1 job in major junior hockey as a teenager...all before he's legally allowed to have a drink in the United States.
But that's not enough for Dansk, the Blue Jackets' second pick (31st overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft. His 2013-14 season was, on the whole, disappointing and he's determined to bounce back in his first professional campaign.
He goes into training camp this fall in a dead heat with Forsberg, his friend and fellow Swedish netminder, for the starter's job with the Falcons. It's the next step and next challenge for Dansk in his young career, but one that he feels ready and prepared for.
"I think this is a huge step for me and my career," Dansk told BlueJackets.com. "I’m only part of the way to my dream of being a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, but this is exciting. Anton is a great competitor and someone I know really well, and it’s going to be a good fight. That’s why we do this, is to compete and earn your spot, and I can't wait for it."
Of all the things to have prepared him for this opportunity, Dansk said that being part of an emerging Erie Otters (OHL) team was high on the list. The Otters had no choice but to throw Dansk into the fire in his first season, and on top of being a rookie goaltender playing in a new league, he played behind a team that struggled mightily defensively and was often severely overmatched.
Making 40, 45 and even 50 saves a night became a regular occurrence for Dansk, but when the Otters broke out in a big way last season, he was their rock early on. There was a rough patch late in the year and into the playoffs when he lost the No. 1 job to backup Devin Williams, but Dansk re-focused this summer and zoned in on a few key areas to improve his game.
"I had my ups and downs this year, that's safe to say, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two from that and how to manage it," Dansk said. "There are bits and pieces from that to apply to my game and make me a better player. This is going to be a huge year for me. I can’t wait to get back here in September and put the work in with Ian (Clark).
"It’s a great organization here, a great staff and I love being around it. I can learn a lot from all of the people here, and I’m looking forward to the main camp."
And when main camp begins, he knows it's all about the competition between he and his friend, who both happen to be after the same job. Friends or not, it's all business when training camp gets underway and Dansk said he and Forsberg both understand that - and no matter how it plays out, they'll be there to support one another.
"Off the ice, everyone here is a family and Anton and I are part of that family," Dansk said. "But when you’re on the ice and in the weight room, you kind of put those things aside. I want the net just as much as he does."