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A Swede Return

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Forward Oscar Moller has not let his size prevent him from competing with some of the bigger players in the NHL.

There's always a "but" amid the praise for Oscar Moller.

Moller has heart. He has skill. He has intelligence. He has tireless work ethic and the potential to be a team leader, perhaps even an NHL team captain one day.

But...

There's one big issue with Moller. Or, more accurately, a small issue. For all the positives in Moller's game, a list that seems to be growing by the week, there's one glaring aspect that always comes up in discussions about Moller: he's not a very big guy.

Moller is listed at 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, meaning that he must have been measured after a substantial meal, and perhaps while wearing thick-soled shoes. Does Moller have the necessary bulk to play in the NHL? The answer, increasingly, seems to be yes.

Moller, who turns 21 this month, is a versatile player who can play all three forward positions and play in all situations. He has two goals and two assists this season, mostly in a fourth-line role, but has showed continued improvement since being called up from Manchester of the American Hockey League in early December.

"His game has improved," coach Terry Murray said. "He’s a better player today than what he was when we started the season off this year, in training camp. His confidence has grown. He looks like he’s physically stronger. He’s dealing with that 1-on-1 stuff much better in traffic. He’s skating very comfortably. We know he’s got the skill."

There's little question about that. Drafted in the second round by the Kings in 2007, Moller was a two-time 30-goal scorer for his junior team in Chilliwack, B.C.

Moller shocked most team followers before the 2008-09 season when, instead of being assigned to Chilliwack for a third year of junior hockey, he made the Kings' opening-night roster. Moller had simply been too good in training camp to be sent away.

"As a young player," Moller said, "you're just trying to make the team and establish yourself and find your niche, what your thing is in this league and how you're going to succeed as an individual. I think my type of game is just playing with a lot of heart. I'm not a big guy, so I try to play with a lot of heart."

Moller had four goals in his first 10 NHL games, but since then has learned to deal with some adversity.

In December 2008, the Kings allowed Moller to represent his native Sweden in the prestigious World Junior Championships. Moller was Sweden's captain but suffered a broken clavicle in the tournament, which kept him sidelined for six weeks.

Moller had one goal and one assist in 10 games with the Kings after he returned, but Moller rarely, if ever, looked out of place, especially for a teenaged rookie.

It had been assumed, then, that Moller would have a spot on this season's Kings roster, which made it surprising when, in the middle of training camp last September, Moller was assigned to Manchester of the American Hockey League.

"I was obviously disappointed in myself for not making the team, for the first couple days," Moller said, "but then I let that sink in a little bit and I just thought about what I could do better to improve my game and try to establish myself. I think, when I was down in Manchester, that I just tried to work on my game every day.

"I talked to all the coaches and players down there, and we just tried to help each other on the ice. You never know when you're going to get called up."

If Moller sulked much, it didn't show in the stats, as he rose to the top of the Monarchs' scoring list and earned a call-up to the Kings in the first week of December.

Continue to Part II...

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