Axel Blomqvist has always had all the tools.
But the forward who the Winnipeg Jets signed as an undrafted free agent last October has only recently been able to wield his tools in ways that make him a legitimate NHL prospect.
The turning point for the Swedish-born Blomqvist was a timely trade last November that saw him leave the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the Victoria Royals.
The development that most inspired Blomqvist’s transformation from underachiever to high achiever was how his trade to Victoria landed him in the hands of Dave Lowry. The intense former NHL grinder turned coach uses his no-nonsense attitude to make Victoria one of the most soundly-run junior hockey operations in Canada.
“I think the expectation to play on our team is that you have to play a certain way,” says Lowry, who is also the father of Jets prospect Adam Lowry.
“You have to come, you have to work and you have to compete. Axel adhered to our requirements, and was given an opportunity.”
In his opportunity to leave Lethbridge –which won only 12 of its 72 games last season – and immerse himself into a more productive environment in Victoria, Blomqvist discovered the potential that Kevin Cheveldayoff’s staff recognized in him last fall.
From a pure offensive standpoint, Blomqvist was nearly a point-per-game player in Victoria, where his output was 43 points (16g, 27a) in 46 games. These post-trade totals gave him a combined 24 goals and 32 assists for the season, a big improvement from the seven-goal, 33-point numbers he posted in his first season after moving from Sweden to the Western Hockey League in 2012-13.
“The trade was huge for me,” says Blomqvist. “I played some really good hockey (in Victoria), put up points and played hard. And that’s what I want to do; be a two-way guy, put up points and be hard to play against. Now when you watch me, I’m always one of the most physical guys out there, too.”
“Axel has really good hands,” adds Lowry. “He has the intangibles, he has the size and good hands.
“What we’ve gotten him to understand is that you have to work, you have to compete and the ability, if you are strong on the puck, will create opportunities. Puck protection is critical, as is using your size to drive the net and putting pucks in areas that it’s tough for the opposition to get it away from you.”
Blomqvist is set to enter his final junior season in Victoria with a strong chance of playing for Team Sweden in the World Juniors, and with his rare combination of size and skill, the forward is well on his way to becoming an important part of the Jets’ future.