Victor Söderström started his summer training a month ago in Stockholm -- with Arizona on his mind.
"Absolutely, that's the thing you're thinking about almost every day," the Coyotes' 2019 first-round draft pick said in a phone interview this week.
"As far as his development, he's in a good place," said President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka. "He's a guy we're very excited about, a right-shot defenseman who's smart and competitive. He can control the play of the game. What it really comes down to for him is the speed and the strength -- those are the two biggest issues; those are the two things he can have an impact on and change. And it starts right now with his summer training. I know he's working extremely hard and he's doing everything he can."
Söderström, selected 11th overall in the 2019 draft, is fresh off of his second professional season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), one of the top European circuits. He registered 16 points (5G, 11A) in 35 games with Brynäs IF, a franchise located in his hometown of Gavle. The league canceled the remainder of its season on March 15 because of COVID-19.
"When I came back to Sweden [after the Coyotes' September camp], I felt like I had grown as a player and as a person," he said. "I think I played with much higher confidence this year in the SHL, I had a better year too, as the stats show. I got a little bit of a bigger role on the team, so for me it was a good year in Brynäs. I'd say overall that I think I've grown, I've gotten much stronger, faster, and much better as a hockey player. It's been a good season for me.
"Getting stronger, that was one of the messages that was sent with me when I went back to Sweden [after] not making the team last year," he said.
Söderström, who maintained contact during his season with Coyotes Director of European Pro Scouting & Development Brett Stewart and Player Development Coach Alex Henry, currently works with a trainer in Stockholm with about 15 other professional hockey players. Former Coyote Mario Kempe is a part of that group, along with Oliver Kylington of the Calgary Flames, two-time Stanley Cup champion Marcus Kruger, and Joakim Nordstrom of the Boston Bruins.
He reports that he has been skating once a week on the two sheets of ice still available in Stockholm. He's also been staying in touch with Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
"I text with OEL a couple times a week," he said. "During camp [last year] I lived with him. I didn't know him before that, but I got to know him really well and he's an unbelievable guy. He's such a good friend. You can really understand why he's the captain of an NHL team."
Söderström also maintains contact with Barrett Hayton, the Coyotes' 2018 first-round selection. The two bumped into each other a few times during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament, where Soderstrom registered six points (1G, 5A) in seven games, helping Team Sweden to the bronze medal.
"That was a good tournament for me," he said. "I really played my game."
Though currently living in Stockholm, Söderström travels home to Gavle a couple of times each month. He tries to avoid TV and stays active by playing a game called padel.
"It's a pretty famous sport here in Europe," he said. "It's a combination of tennis and squash. It's very big in Spain. It's a very fun sport, a fun thing to do when you don't have anything else to do. I'm playing that maybe two or three times a week also."
But all of that is mostly diversion. Söderström is intently focused on becoming an Arizona Coyote.
"When the [NHL] season paused, [John Chayka] texted me and said 'You're probably never going to have this much time to get in shape for a season.' He told me to start working out hard, to get ready, and to be ready to come over if the season starts again in June or July. I think that if I get stronger and have a good camp, I really think I can play there next year. Anything can happen, I'm just going to do my best and we'll see what happens."
Chayka added in a separate interview: "This summer is a huge opportunity [for him], and he's really got to capitalize on it. If he does, he's got a chance to take the next step sooner than later. Obviously for him to take that step, the speed and strength is going to have to increase, and he knows that.
Video: ARI@VAN: Soderstrom snaps wrist shot past Markstrom
"Last year he was the new guy and our coaches didn't know a ton about him. I thought he came in and maybe surprised people with how well he played. We've got a good back-end. We've got a lot of good players back there, and that's a good position to be in as an organization because he's going to have to come in and try to steal someone's spot. We think that transition to North America, playing our style of play in terms of the pace of the game and the smaller rink -- those are adjustments he's going to have to make."
Söderström acknowledged the latter challenge. "On the smaller rink you've got more pace, there's a lot more plays along the boards, just chipping the puck out and going for it. I think over here [in Sweden, with Olympic-sized rinks], you had a lot more time with the puck. In North America there is a lot more 'acting' rather than 'thinking,' so that's the bigger difference, I think."
And his goal is to be ready to act when he gets the call.
Lead Photo Credit: Martin Löf Nyqvist - Brynäs IF // Second Photo Credit: Martin Löf Nyqvist - Brynäs IF // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes