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SMOOTH-SKATING D

Swedish blueliner Victor Soderstrom made waves with a strong draft season in the SHL

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

He stormed out of the gate, surprised many and never looked back.

Even by his normally lofty standards, Victor Soderstrom arrived at the Scouting Combine still abuzz over that whirlwind campaign.

"My goal was to be a leader on the junior team, and then maybe get a couple of practices and a couple of games in the (Swedish Hockey League)," Soderstrom, the third-ranked European skater for next week's NHL Draft, said of his 'dream' season.

"For it to turn out the way it did, I didn't really expect that."

Few do, at that age.

In all, Soderstrom - a right-shooting rearguard - rocketed up the charts and got 44 games of experience in Sweden's top tier, and was by far the youngest player on the Brynas roster.

This, after graduating from the SuperElit, scoring eight points (1G, 7A) in 14 games before earning a spot with the pros.

It's a question often raised for players at this point in their careers: Just how much did the pro game - to compete alongside men - help or hinder your development?

For Soderstrom, there was little doubt.

 

Video: Smooth-skating Swedish D man speaks at the Combine

 

"It was easier to play with men than playing against players my own age," Soderstrom said. "I don't really know why, but it just felt better.

"Maybe the structure, how developed the players are that level…I think all of those things helped, especially with the kind of player I am and how I like to play the
game."

Which is, of course, a long way of saying his game is tailored to the modern-day style - a more refined version than that of his peers, and better suited for the up-tempo nature that the mature, pro players command.

And he'd be right.

Soderstrom is already an elite skater, graceful - yet powerful - on his edges, with absurd acceleration and top-end speed. He pivots well, and transitions the puck from defence to offence exceptionally so for a player his age.

He's not the biggest guy at 5-foot-11 and 179 lbs., but uses that frame in the most efficient way possible, and still manages to produce one bomb of a shot and a steady, physical presence.

"I work a lot on that," Soderstrom said of his tool-kit - and most notably, his foot-work. "I worked on that with my dad growing up, on my skating and my technique."

Soderstrom finished the SHL season with seven points (3G, 4A) in 44 games, and was part of the silver-medal winning team at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup this past summer in Edmonton. In two tournament games, he put up a goal and an assist.

Those who watched him agree: His vision, passing skills, quick stick defensively and difficulty to beat in one-on-one situations will make him one of the most sought-after additions next week in Vancouver, B.C.

Potentially, Top 10.

But skill-set aside, what makes this player even more intriguing what we don't see, off the ice.

"He's a leader," Brynas coach Magnus Sundquist told the Habs Eyes on the Prize Blog earlier this year. "I forgot which game it was, but he came into the room during an intermission and told everyone, 'Guys, this is how we will run the power play,' and started to draw up plays."

At 18.

With players like 33-year-old leading scorer Ryan Gunderson listening in.

Poise counts.

Confidence, too.

And every team could use a take-charge character, oozing with skill, quarterbacking the blueline.

"The team that picks me…they'll get a good two-way D with offensive upside," he said.

"A good guy on the powerplay, smooth skater with good hockey sense."

Kind of like his idol, Nick Lidstrom.

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