If anyone can tell you how the journey to the NHL can be tough at times, it’s Coyotes defensive prospect Jonas Ahnelov
After a strong showing at last year’s training camp, Ahnelov appeared to be a sure thing for the opening night roster.
But just days before the season started he sustained a broken finger. A month later he was assigned to the team's American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio and ended up playing just 43 games in the 2008-09 season thanks to the broken digit, a shoulder injury and a concussion. He finished with seven points, 35 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of +1.
San Antonio Coach Greg Ireland said Ahnelov, 21, used the physical setbacks as a learning experience.
“I think the injuries obviously put him back further than what he and we would’ve liked," Ireland said. "But that’s just something you deal with. I think what Jonas learned is to be a North American pro, in terms of what the expectations are and the style of game.”
Ahnelov, a native of Huddinge, Sweden, was selected by the Coyotes in the third round (88th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After being drafted, Ahnelov stayed in Europe and played two more seasons for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League.
Last season was Ahnelov’s first season in North America.
Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving said Ahnelov had a lot on his plate in 2008-09.
“For a lot of European players coming over it’s a big adjustment, culturally, the size of the rink, the style of play," Treliving said. "Unfortunately for Jonas, he had a great camp and then he had a really difficult year with injuries.”
Ahnelov says he’s physically ready for next season. He skated well in last week’s Prospect Development Camp and is feeling no side effects to last year’s injury bug.
“I feel pretty good right now," Ahnelov said. "I do rehab everyday, so hopefully it’s not coming back.”
Ireland agrees with the young defenseman’s assessment.
“I think they were just kind of fluke injuries," Ireland said. "I think he managed to battle through, rehab from them and understand what happened last year is done with and it’s a new year. He’s as strong as ever and he’s ready to go.”
Treliving says it’s too early to know whether Ahnelov will reach the NHL next season.
“He has to have another big camp and what he does in the preseason will go a long way in determining where he’s at,” Treliving said.
Nevertheless, Ahnelov says he enjoys the Valley of the Sun, and all the comforts of playing in the NHL are motivation for him to keep working his way back up.
“I love it here," he said "…The traveling is so much better than down there (in the AHL).”