After spending two years backstopping the P-Bruins, the time has come for him to prove he can serve as Tuukka Rask’s backup with the big Bruins.
Chad Johnson’s stall in the dressing room is now vacant. That doesn’t mean that the job will automatically go to Svedberg, but if he can impress in training camp, it is likely that he will be wearing the Spoked-B come October 8.
“You got to earn your spot still, and come in here with one goal, and it’s to make the team,” Svedberg said after Tuesday’s informal skate at Ristuccia Arena. “But obviously [the management] showed me that they have trust in me and that they want me to be able to be ready. So that’s inspiring.”
Svedberg is careful to be confident without being entitled. He believes that he deserves a spot on the Bruins’ 2014-15 roster, but he understands that he still has to spend the next few weeks earning it. Nobody is just going to hand it to him.
“I mean, I just got to try to have a good camp here, and deserve a spot,” he said. “I’m happy to have a contract, but I got to come here, work hard and deserve my spot on the team. So there’s a long way to go.”
The last two years in Providence have not always been a cakewalk for Svedberg. He assumed the full-time goalie role in 2012-13, and he had a stellar season, going 37-8-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. He was also the recipient of the Baz Bastien Award, given to the AHL's outstanding goaltender and voted on by the league's coaches, players and members of the media.
The next season, though, Svedberg struggled to achieve that same consistency, and his numbers dipped — he went 25-15-4 with a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save percentage. There was speculation that his dropoff may have been a result of the fact that he had an excellent training camp, yet was sent back to Providence instead of claiming a spot on the NHL roster.
“I mean, obviously it was disappointing,” Svedberg said of not making the team last year. “But I don’t think that was the issue [last season]. Sometimes, you have some ups and downs, but I think overall for these two years I’ve been here, it’s been pretty good. So I’m not too worried.”
Neither is Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
“We have full confidence in him to come in,” Chiarelli said earlier this summer. “We've had pretty good luck with our backups, and part of that's the system. Part of that is our backups."
Another reason the B’s management has confidence in Svedberg? His performance in his first and only NHL start, which came last year on January 2 of last year against Nashville. Svedberg made 33 stops en route to the first win of his NHL career, a 3-2 Bruins victory that halted a two-game skid.
Svedberg is proud of the accomplishment, but he knows he has to do more than win one game in order to prove that he belongs in this league.
“It was only one game that I played last year, but it feels good to at least have done one game,” he said. “So you don’t have to do your first game again. But yeah, one game doesn’t really make an NHL career. So got to keep working.”
Chiarelli isn’t handing the job to Svedberg — not yet, at least — but he does believe the Swedish standout will compete for the job, and compete hard.
"I think he’s almost ready, if not ready,” Chiarelli said. “It doesn’t mean he gets the job; it doesn’t mean we won't add somebody at some point to challenge him. … This is a fellow who won the Swedish Elite League championship. He was goalie of the year in the American League the next year. It may be in his mind [that] he thought he was ready to play and start and certainly had a very good training camp [last year]. I think for that reason, mentally, he was a little off last year.
“I think he’s a professional. He’s got areas to work on in his game. What I do know is that our goalie coach is good. Our system is conducive to good goaltending. … Every goalie that we’ve brought in — at least the last two or three — has improved as a backup, and Niklas’ work ethic is terrific. He’s got some areas in his game he has to improve, but we had calls on him from other teams. He’s certainly going to challenge for a spot."
Part of the reason the Bruins expect Svedberg to continue to develop after he makes the leap to the NHL — whenever that may be -- is because of the player he’ll be backing up.
“He’s obviously one of the best goalies in the league,” Svedberg said of reigning Vezina winner and current starter Tuukka Rask. “For me to train with a guy like that, and just to be around him, is a good help for me. It’s inspiring.”
Even if he won’t be playing every day, Svedberg believes he can benefit just as much by being with the big club, and from being around Rask, specifically.
“[I’m] coming into camp here with the goal to earn a spot on the team,” he said. “That’s what I want to do, and you know, we’ll see what happens.”
Though nothing is guaranteed, Svedberg knows that if he comes into training camp and performs the way he did last year, all of last year’s disappointment will be washed away by this year’s triumph. The opportunity is there. Now, he has to seize it.
“I had two years in Providence to adjust to North American hockey, and I’m feeling comfortable, and you know, my confidence is good coming in here this year,” he said. “So I don’t see why I wouldn’t see myself as playing up here. But as I said, you got to deserve a spot.”