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Steady Stenlund has become a big piece for the Blue Jackets

Swedish center has settled into the NHL game

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

For Kevin Stenlund, the issue has never been about talent.  

It's also never really been about confidence, either.  

But there is a question of consistency when it comes to what you're getting out of the big Swede. It's a rap that even Stenlund agrees is warranted.   

"My high has always been high, my best," he said of his abilities. "I just have to have less ups and downs. Even in games, I can disappear sometimes. That's what I still have to work on.  

"Some games, I just get mad and I don't know, it's frustrating some games. My anger just takes over some games."  

It's hard to imagine the large, affable Swede as harboring a ton of anger, though he admits the frustration when he's not playing his best can bubble up inside.  

Video: CBJ@NJD: Stenlund buries Bjorkstrand set-up from slot

But that's happened less and less as the 23-year-old center has staked more and more claim to being an NHL player. After making his Blue Jackets debut with four games a season ago, Stenlund has appeared in 25 this season, posting five goals and two assists. The 2015 second-round pick has also been a strong defensive player over the past eight games even in the midst of a losing skid as the Blue Jackets are allowing just 1.09 expected goals per 60 minutes with the big centerman on the ice.   

For a Blue Jackets team that has had to reach deep into its reserve of talent just to field a lineup for much of the season, Stenlund has been one of the bright spots among those players called up from Cleveland, even centering the top line for a stretch with Gus Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand.  

"Through this situation that the team has gone through, it's been a great view of what we have within our minor league team, within our depth," head coach John Tortorella said, "and Stens has put himself in a spot where look who he's playing with right now. He deserves to be there."  

But when it comes to any downside with Stenlund, Tortorella said, "My thing with him is I think we need to stay on top of him on being ready to play every shift. It's maybe a little bit of his personality, a laid-back guy. That's my job as a coach to make sure he's playing every shift."  

Stenlund has heard the message and thinks he has made improvements in bringing more consistency to his game. He also feels as if his showing this year has solidified the fact he's an NHL-caliber player.  

"I feel like I can handle the pace and I am one of the group here and I feel comfortable on the ice, so yeah," he said "It's awesome. It's fun to come to the rink every day and compete with the guys and play against world-class players.  

"(I've gotten better) just being consistent in the game, not so many ups and downs like last year maybe. I am just trying to stay with pace and keep my feet moving and all that stuff. It helps me."  

His skills have impressed someone like Nyquist, the countryman who has been paired up with Stenlund as his left wing in some recent games.  

"He's a very good player," the NHL veteran said. "He makes plays. He's confident with the puck. That's one thing that I think stands out with him as a young guy coming up. He doesn't seem to worry about making plays or anything like that. He has confidence with the puck and makes a lot of plays. Obviously a great shot that he has, too, so I enjoy playing him."  

And oh, that shot. Since picking up the game at age 5 at the urging of his father, Tomas, while at home at Huddinge, Sweden, just south of Stockholm, Stenlund has developed a shot that impresses all the observers who see it. It's one of the weapons that has made him such an attractive prospect to the Blue Jackets  

At the same time, Stenlund admits that views himself as more of a passer than a shooter, something that has long tormented the Blue Jackets about another Swede, Alexander Wennberg. Maybe it's the soccer background of each -- Stenlund chose at age 15 to go with hockey rather than soccer, while Wennberg had the talent to go either way in his pro career -- but there's something about making the extra pass for an assist that makes each happy.   

"My shot has always been good, but I see myself as more of a passer even now," Stenlund said. "Every coach has said I have to shoot more, so that's in my brain now. Maybe (Swedes) are too nice, wanting to pass to everybody. A nice pass, I appreciate that more than a goal."  

However he gets the points, the Blue Jackets are happy to have Stenlund. His game and comfort level have improved the more he's played in Columbus, and Tortorella has him back in his natural position in the middle of the ice.  

"He's a center," Tortorella said. "He's given us some good minutes. He's strong on the puck, probably one of our better power-play guys as far as seeing the ice. He's played very well for us." 

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