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Boqvist, Blackhawks decided OHL best fit; Kotkaniemi misses junior camp

Liljegren, Brannstrom could join Sweden for WJC

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia -- Adam Boqvist said a joint decision between himself and the Chicago Blackhawks led to the defenseman choosing to play for London in the Ontario Hockey League this season.

"Chicago asked if they'd sign me if I'd go over and I said yes," Boqvist, selected No. 8 by the Blackhawks in the 2018 NHL Draft, said Saturday after Sweden's first practice at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Boqvist likely would have played for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League had he remained in Sweden but said he didn't want to pass up the opportunity to start developing his game on the smaller ice in North America.

"I will play over here one day in the NHL so I hope this will be a start," said Boqvist, 17, who signed with London on July 5. London selected him in the 2017 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

Video: Blackhawks draft D Adam Boqvist No. 8

He's also testing himself this week with Sweden at the WJSS at Sandman Centre. The event is the first step in picking the teams that will play at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, and Sweden coach Tomas Monten said Boqvist will have a chance to play a significant role on that team.

Half a season of playing on the smaller ice will help him adjust to what he'll face at the WJC.

"Going to London, getting to play consistently at a high level, they usually have a good team every year," Monten said. "Playing on the smaller rink, it's important for him to get in and play big minutes and take a lot of responsibility all over the ice. That'll help him."


Kotkaniemi held out of Showcase

It would be surprising if Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who is not at the WJSS, played for the Montreal Canadiens this season, Finland coach Jussi Ahokas said.

Kotkaniemi, 18, was selected No. 3 by the Canadiens in the 2018 draft, and during Montreal's development camp general manager Marc Bergevin said he expects him to push for an NHL spot. But Ahokas said he'd be surprised if Kotkaniemi were able to play in the NHL this season because he's surprised anytime an 18-year-old reaches that level.

"Anybody who makes it as an 18-year-old in the NHL, that's a big thing," he said. "You never know what's the team's situation. But … he's one of the guys permanently in our center field, what we want to have."

Kotkaniemi was on Finland's initial roster for the WJSS, but Ahokas removed him to save him from another long flight to North America. Since May, Kotkaniemi has been to Buffalo for the NHL Scouting Combine, to Dallas for the draft and to Montreal for development camp. He'll go back to Montreal in September for training camp.

Ahokas said he thought Kotkaniemi looked good during two recent games in Finland against the Czech Republic and said he will be on the WJC team if he's available.

"We'll see how it goes if he makes the NHL," Ahokas said. "If a young guy makes the NHL that's great. But of course it'll be good for our team that he'll be [available] in December in Vancouver."


Sweden defense in flux

Sweden has eight defensemen in camp, but the pool Monten has to pick from could be larger depending on what two NHL teams do.

Timothy Liljegren of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Erik Brannstrom of the Vegas Golden Knights are not at the camp in part because of their NHL hopes for this season.

Liljegren, selected in the first round (No. 17) of the 2017 NHL Draft, had four assists in 20 American Hockey League playoff games to help Toronto win the Calder Cup. Brannstrom, a first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2017 draft, played 44 games with HV 71 in the Swedish Hockey League, then helped its junior team win its league championship.

"[In] Timothy's case, their season ended like a month ago," Monten said. "With Brannstrom … if he's there for us in December for sure we're going to have him. But he could easily be in Vegas as well."

Video: Vegas drafts D Erik Brannstrom No. 15

Sweden also is missing Maple Leafs defenseman prospect Rasmus Sandin, who opted out of the camp after a long season with Sault Ste. Marie, which reached the OHL championship series.

And Sweden will be without defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who was named the best defenseman at the 2018 WJC and was chosen No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018 draft. He is expected to play in the NHL this season. 

That means extra looks for the eight at the WJSS, among them Boqvist and Filip Johansson, a first-round pick (No. 24) in the 2018 draft by the Minnesota Wild.

"We have a couple younger D's that can really step up," Monten said. "We'll see how they manage here, we'll see how they play with their club teams back home. You're not going to find a Dahlin but hopefully you can find seven good defensemen."

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