BostonBruins.com — Anton Blidh has come a long way since he heard his name called by the Bruins during the 2013 NHL Draft.
His journey came full circle on Friday, when the Bruins announced that they had signed the forward to an entry-level contract.
The signing marked Don Sweeney’s first since being named Boston’s General Manager on May 20, and it was one he was thrilled to complete, given the way he has seen Blidh progress over the last two years.
“Anton plays the game at a very high pace, and his speed is always noticeable,” Sweeney said in January. “He has begun to fill out, and his strength on the ice in battle situations was very evident [during last summer’s Development Camp].”
The player that showed up for Boston’s 2014 camp proved to be much different — much improved — from the one who showed up for his first camp shortly after being drafted in 2013. It was clear that a season spent with Frolunda of the Swedish League — the same team that produced former Bruin and current scout P.J. Axelsson — and another 11 games spent with Karlskrona had served him well.
Physically, Blidh had gotten bigger and stronger. His puck skills had improved. His enthusiasm for the game and his willingness to go to the net had never been questioned, and those qualities were just as evident as ever.
It was his work ethic, on and off the ice, that had started to set him apart, said Sweeney, who heard that praise directly from Blidh’s coach in Sweden.
“They have been working with him on his puck play and developing more confidence to hold onto the puck while on the cycle, and to not be afraid to make a skilled play,” Sweeney said in January. “His confidence has grown, and his recent play at the World Juniors proved that he has the ability to play up in the lineup with more skilled players, all the while maintaining a high energy and effective PK role.”
Blidh’s participation in World Juniors this December was a testament to how much he had grown. He and his native Sweden didn’t advance as far as he would have liked, but just being named to the team — and having the opportunity to showcase himself on an international stage — served as evidence enough that he was progressing in the right direction.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t advance, but obviously, it was a big honor,” Blidh said in January. “I was proud to be on the team. I don’t know what to say — just a big honor to play for Sweden.”
And now, he will have the honor of wearing the Spoked-B. Judging by his on-ice persona — he is gritty, he loves a good scrap, he plays with pace and energy, and Sweeney has even compared him to Brad Marchand — Blidh will fit in just fine.
There will be adjustments along the way, as there are for any player embarking on his entry-level contract. Blidh is accustomed to playing on smaller ice in Sweden, and he is still working to adjust his style of play to fit the all-important two-way system the Bruins organization thrives upon.
But given the progress he has made in less than two years since being drafted, the future certainly looks bright for the newest member of the B’s.
“I want to work on my offensive stuff,” Blidh said earlier this year. “[I want to] be stronger on the puck, and my stick-handling and all of that.
“I know I’m a hard-working guy, but if I can improve my offensive side, too, I can be an even better player.”