A lot can change in a year. Just ask Samuel Fagemo.
Last year, the 18-year-old had been passed over in the draft and was struggling to find his role on a stacked Frolunda team in the SHL. Although he made Team Sweden at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, he was asked to play a defensive role and finished the tournament with one assist.
This year, not only has the 19-year-old been playing big minutes with Frolunda and has helped them win the Champions League tournament and the SHL Championship in the spring, but he was drafted by the LA Kings and signed his first NHL contract.
Once again, he is representing his home country at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Czech Republic and leads and team and the tournament with six goals in four games so far.
"It's really different. Isn't it?" he said with a confident smile. "This past year has flown by and I've been able to play on a good team with Frolunda and we have created a lot of success and it's helped me to be a better hockey player."
So why was the 6-foot, 194 pound winger passed over in the NHL Draft?
"He didn't play like this his draft year. Not even close," stated Mark Yanetti, the Kings director of amateur scouting, now in his 13th season. "Our biggest complaint his draft year was that the guy's got speed, but he doesn't attack, he doesn't compete. His game was incomplete and inconsistent. I think it was an eye-opener for him when he didn't get drafted and sometimes you need that experience to push you forward.
"If he doesn't pass through the draft, I don't think he's the player he is today."
While Fagemo's got a quick release and shows good speed and a lot of strength in one-on-one battles, his number one asset these days is his commitment to hard work.
"He does everything 100 percent," said Team Sweden Head Coach Tomas Monten. "Doesn't matter what it is - practice, a shooting drill, a skating drill, forecheck, backcheck, a game - he gives 100 percent. He was in more of a shutdown role then, but he did really well with it and it forced him to work even harder and I think that helped him have a good second half of the season.
"He wants to be a producing player, but I think it's most important to him that he works hard every shift and, if he does that, he knows the offense will fall into place and the opportunities will open up for him."
Last year, Fagemo's sole focus was on working hard to get better and show the scouting departments of all 31 NHL teams that they made a mistake.
"I wanted to prove them wrong," he said. "It was really tough not to be drafted. I mean, there are seven rounds and 31 teams and no one wanted me. I had a good junior season and scored a lot of goals, played at U18s and, mentally, it was rough those first few days after, but I just decided to work harder so I could give them a reason to draft me next time."
Yanetti said Fagemo's hard work has paid off exponentially as his compete, puck pursuit and pressure on both sides of the ice what make him an effective player.
"At training camp, Todd McLellan called him a puck hound and he is," he said. "His dogged puck pursuit, his speed, explosiveness, his quickness and the way he accelerates, but it's also the way he uses his speed to create opportunities. He pressures defensemen, gets the puck back and then drives the slot and attacks the hard areas.
"He's got a good release too," Yanetti continued. "I don't think he has a natural goal scoring touch, but he's so quick and he's able to shoot it in stride that the players don't get a good read on it. And, he gets quantity. If a guy gets six shots a game, he's going to score and if he doesn't someone's going to get the rebound. There's a lot of times where he creates a goal because he opened up space or pulled a guy out of position, but doesn't get an assist on it."
Now that he's seen the benefits of working hard, Fagemo isn't taking his foot off the gas. He wants to improve the accuracy of his shot, be better in the defensive zone and calmer under pressure while continuing to work on his all-around game.
At the World Junior Championship, he's on Sweden's top line with David Gustafsson and Nils Hoglander, which is responsible for nine of the team's 20 goals through the four games of the preliminary round.
After extending their preliminary round winning streak to 52 games and earning the top spot in the Group A standings, they prepare to face the home team, Czech Republic, in the quarterfinals on Thursday, January 2nd. Fagemo is embracing the opportunity to be the go-to guy.
"I want to be that guy," he said. "I want the coaches to rely on me to produce. I want to create scoring chances and I want to score goals. It's a lot of fun and I like it."
Monten knew he'd be an offensive threat, especially considering the players he lined him up with, but even he didn't anticipate he'd have this much success at this point in the tournament.
"I hoped he'd be able to score like this, but I didn't expect this," he said. "You know he's a skilled player and can put pucks in the net, but he's also not a natural goal scorer. We were concerned about our offensive game and wondered if we had enough forwards that could produce and score and he's shown us that we can rely on him, for sure."
Yanetti expected him to play well and make an impact for Team Sweden, but also didn't expect this kind of production. That said, he's happy to see the progress.
"Now he's leading the team and leading the tournament," he said. "That's the progression you like to see. I knew he'd be good and I knew he'd be an important player for them, but I didn't know he'd be this successful and get these kinds of results."
Sweden will need Fagemo to keep it going as they head into the quarterfinals and a match up with Czech Republic and their boisterous home crowd.