When the Blue Jackets drafted Oscar Dansk in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 31 overall), the 18-year-old Swedish goalie probably never imagined how difficult his journey to Columbus would be.
But after four challenging years bouncing around in three different leagues, the 22-year-old finds himself in his fifth development camp with the Blue Jackets, his pursuit of an NHL roster spot as strong as it has always been.
“I know if I develop in the right way, I have good potential to be an NHL goalie one day,” Dansk said. “So I’ve just got to stay focused, have fun, and just work on my game, and time will tell obviously.”
Coming from somebody who’s seen his fair share of peaks and valleys thus far in his career, that consistent drive speaks to Dansk’s maturity as a player. After being drafted, he spent two seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters, compiling an .896 save percentage but improving significantly in his second season, dropping his goals against average from 4.11 to 2.39.
However, he fell on hard times when he made the jump to the AHL’s Springfield Falcons in 2014-15. Not much changed when he took a step down to ECHL Kalamazoo for 11 games, and doubt began to creep in. Would Dansk live up to personal or organizational expectations, or would he fall short?
Seeking answers, Dansk returned to his home country of Sweden this past season to play for Rogle BK on a one-year loan. Perhaps a breath of fresh air was all he needed; Dansk posted a .911 save percentage and 2.68 goals against average in 36 games with his new team.
Unsurprisingly, he said he was satisfied with his first season.
“It was a little bit of a bounce-back for myself coming off a tough season in the AHL,” Dansk said. “So I felt like I took a step forward in my development. Still (there are things) I’ve got to work on, obviously, but I’m really happy with the way I developed there. I was fortunate enough to play a lot of games during that time.”
Dansk said the Swedish league’s shorter season gave him more opportunities to work on his technique, iron out minor details and focus on his weaknesses. He still had periodic dips, but with help from his goalie coach at Rogle BK, he was able to play through them by relaxing and trusting his abilities, refusing to let his own frustration get in the way.
Because he had such a positive experience there, Dansk has signed on for another year with Rogle BK, which will give him an extra year to develop with a city and organization he is comfortable with. That said, greater goals are on his horizon.
“Obviously I always want to take the next step, but [you] take it slowly…‘slowly hurting,’ as we say in Swedish,” Dansk said.
It’s no secret that the Blue Jackets have a wealth of young goalie talent (along with Sergei Bobrovsky) in the organization – Anton Forsberg, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins all had strong seasons at their various respective levels this past year.
From the outside looking in, Dansk might seem to be the odd man out, but as an ‘elder statesman’ of sorts at this development camp, he knows to be patient and give himself time to develop into an NHL-caliber goalie.
“When I was here for the first time, I was like, ’this is cool, you know, I’m here, and I feel like I’m so close,’” Dansk said. “But you’re so close, but then again, you’re so far away in some way. When I was younger I was very eager to get there, and get there now.
"But now I realize (it takes) time. If I’m good enough, I’ll play here one day, so I’m not stressed or worried like I used to be.”