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Zetterlund Wants More | PROSPECT WATCH

The Devils forward prospect is hungry for more games in the NHL after getting a brief taste

by Peter Robinson / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Like a traveller who first gets a taste of what it's like collecting stamps in his passport, Fabian Zetterlund wants more.

The 22-year-old Utica Comets forward just returned to the American Hockey League after making his NHL debut.

"When I spoke with (Devils general manager) Tom Fitzgerald, he told me I should be proud of my first callup (and) I thought I played well," he said. "The (goal) is to make sure I stay there next time."

Zetterlund suited up three times for the Devils and spent another game as a healthy scratch as the Devils started returning regulars to the lineup and Nathan Bastian was re-acquired via the waiver wire. The Swede didn't exactly look at it this way, but he nearly had his first NHL goal on one of his first shifts in a Devils uniform against the Florida Panthers.

Dougie Hamilton scored from a tight angle - the puck went in off the post - as Zetterlund was driving the net to collect any rebound that looked for a split second like it may be bouncing his way.

"I was just glad it went in," said Zetterlund, when asked if his eyes lit up as the disc came into view in front of him.

His first impression of playing a regular-season NHL game four years after the Devils took him in the third round (63rd overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft:

"The NHL is a very back-and-forth league and there are a lot more guys, a lot more experienced players."

Back in Utica, Zetterlund has picked it up a notch after a solid, abbreviated American Hockey League season. He's got 11 points (4G-7A) in 13 games, three points behind team leader Chase DeLeo, who earned a callup just after Zetterlund but is now back on the farm as well.

Like all winning teams, the Comets - flush with a 16-1 record - are getting contributions from up and down the lineup. The good feeling starts before they even take the ice.

"So far things have been awesome here," said Zetterlund, "we've added some players and we have a lot of chemistry, there is a bunch of really good guys here."

Having lost just a single game heading into action on Wednesday night against the Belleville Senators (Ottawa), the status of this weekend's games is perhaps the biggest uncertainty the Comets have faced so far this season. Both scheduled opponents, Hartford (NYR) and Providence (Boston), are dealing with COVID issues, putting their slated games against the Comets in doubt for now.

Like any hot team, the Comets want to keep things going and stick to the original schedule, insomuch as COVID-protocols allow.

"We are just waiting to see (after the Belleville) game what is going to happen," said Zetterlund.

Closer to home, those protocols have also prevented some of the traditional community bonding events/functions that are typical of an AHL franchise, especially one returning to the league as the Devils affiliate.

"Our players aren't able to go out in the community and go to those (traditional) appearances," said new Comets head coach Kevin Dineen. "… (the fans) have (still) come out and said, 'you're going to play like this, we're going to support you' and it's given us a little extra buzz."

Zetterlund was fortunate last year to be able to play something approaching a full schedule, split between his home country and his arrival in the U.S. in January. Zetterlund's 7G-12A stat line matched his 19 points from his rookie season in 12 fewer games (46 versus 34). He also played 21 games for AIK, a club in Sweden's second-tier league, picking up four goals and six assists in that span.

His next AHL point will give him 50 in three partial seasons, having played 92 games in that league so far.

It all goes to show that Zetterlund has also settled into a nice rhythm after overcoming a knee injury three years ago where he lost significant time after playing for Sweden at the World Junior in Vancouver. He had surgery and completed a long rehabilitation. Just when he was fully healthy, the pandemic hit.

With the trendline heading in the right direction, it's about keeping it going.

"You have to bring that sort of intensity every day, every game," he explained, "and make sure that you (recover) if you have a bad shift.

"You have to do that game by game, and it's working so far."

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