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Toby Enstrom: The Renaissance Man

This piece is currently featured in InFlight Magazine, the official game program of the Winnipeg Jets

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick /

Toby Enstrom is anything but a big hitter. The gruff, ground-and-pound game just isn't him.

He's learned over the years to make the most of his diminutive frame, to adapt and remain one of the most effective in his craft, with a polish branded by subtlety.

His play between the boards, after all, is an extension of his off-ice temperament. Modest, reserved - a lover of the little things, like fishing and golf, and one heck of a hockey player.

He's family a man, too, through and through.

"I spend most of my summer back home in Sweden because I don't have the chance to visit my family much, if at all, during the year," Enstrom said. "I'm a small-town (Nordingrå) boy. I always enjoy going home. Who doesn't, right? There's nothing more important than family."

Enstrom has two brothers, Tommy and Thomas, and a sister, Tina, who all play hockey and have, at one point or another, all represented the Modo Hockey organization in central Sweden, of which he is a graduate.

All three have kids, including Tina's young trio. Thomas just recently retired due to injury, but will certainly have his hands full with a growing family as well.

To live and work abroad for more than half the year is a taxing endeavour for any family, but Uncle Toby and his fiancée, Camilla, make the most of their time together.

"I enjoy it. I enjoy every minute of it. I've been playing in the NHL for almost 10 years and it's definitely tough being away for so long, but that time together is amazing. They support me so much and I'm so thankful for that…"

Enstrom paused. He looked up and smiled, wide as I've ever seen.

"I'm so thankful for their support. I've got my parents coming in all the way from Sweden for the Heritage Classic, too. It's going to be amazing. I can't wait."

On the ice, Enstrom is "just warming up." Now in this 10th year with the organization, and after off-season knee surgery, he's feeling better than ever.

"It helps knowing what kind of year could be ahead of us," he said. "Just look at the group we have. I think everyone has a little extra right now. It's great to see a guy like (Josh) Morrissey taking a huge step from last year. It's great feeling the pressure from the young kids coming up. It keeps at my best, and on my toes."

For a quick-pivoting, smooth skater like Enstrom, that shouldn't be too difficult. Sure, he's looking for ways to adapt and "keep up in this modern-day game," as he explains, but there are just too many elements of his game that are simply irreplaceable on this roster.

He's the Renaissance Man.

One of the D man's most unusual attributes is that remarkably long stick of his, which is about an inch and half short of the league maximum at 61.5 inches, or just under the brow when standing up on skates. It's the equivalent of the 6-foot-8 Tyler Myers using a stick more than a foot beyond the max

For Enstrom, it's all about preference. Another tool - a secret weapon, perhaps - in this already rangy blueliner's arsenal.

The defensive benefits are obvious for a tactical guard like Enstrom. The added reach gives him edge over the field, brandishing that long stick of his like an auger along the boards, and calmly moving the puck to safety with the sneakiest of poke checks.

While the size of it may sway those who are unable to adapt offensively, Enstrom has developed a skill, which, after more than a decade, remains one of the most unique talents in the game. You'll almost never see him take a pass off the side of his skate blade, as many players do when the puck arrives off target, in full stride. Instead he chokes up - much like a baseball player would when squaring up for a bunt - to accept and handle a pass with greater precision and efficiency in tight.

The method has proven so effective over the years that fellow defenceman Dustin Byfuglien is now using it as well. It's just one of the many Enstrom-isms that rubbed off on others (his hilariously dry wit being another), and have made this one-of-a-kind blueliner so successful in the fast-paced, modern-day game.

Enstrom first began using it at 16 when his father, Ulf, suggested it might help with his range in the defensive zone.

He's been using it ever since.

Of course, this is all to say what many - especially those in the dressing room - already know: Toby Enstrom is one of a kind.

At 31 and on the back half of a five-year deal, Enstrom has the presence of mind to leave self-satisfaction at the door. He knows better than anyone that the NHL is becoming a young man's league, and that his window to win gets increasingly short, year over year. It's what drives him each and every day to improve his game and to do what he can to help these young Jets achieve great things.

"When you're young, you're just playing the game, scoring goals and having fun," he said. "I still do, but after being around a little while, you want to move into the playoffs and go further and have a chance to win the Cup. For me, the older I get, it's something that drives me every day, to win. That's something I want to do, but especially with this group, with this team, and in this city. I think we have some special here."

Video: WPG@WSH: Enstrom makes a great effort, scores SHG

Like many of us, he draws inspiration from the 2015 playoffs, when the Winnipeg Whiteout made its return to NHL lore.

"That was probably the best two or three weeks of my career. That's what you play for. You work hard all summer and you come here and play six, seven months of the regular season to have that one chance."

If the Jets are going to make noise this year and return to the playoffs after a yearlong hiatus, Enstrom will undoubtedly be a big part of it. As the team's premiere, puck-moving, left-shot D, the minutes he plays are some of the most important on the team.

That value is not lost on the head coach, who had high praise for the veteran early on this year when the Jets needed a calming influence on the back end.

"He needed the surgery, he got healthy, he had a great camp and he's been our best defenceman," said Paul Maurice. "His puck movement, his breakouts, the defensive side, the PK, he looks better now than anytime I can remember him."

Same here.

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