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Soderstrom, Coyotes draft pick, emulating Crosby instead of defenseman

Sweden-born prospect, selected No. 11 in 2019, calls Penguins center 'my idol'

by Alan Robinson / Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Victor Soderstrom had his pick of countrymen to look up to as a defenseman growing up in Sweden, including Erik Karlsson, Anton Stralman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Victor Hedman, who each plays the position in the NHL and, like Soderstrom, was born there.

But despite wearing No. 77 at Arizona Coyotes development camp in June -- Hedman wears that number for the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the No. 11 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft said the player he watches most closely isn't a defenseman.

It's Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

"I always had him as my idol, as my favorite player," the 18-year-old said of the three-time Stanley Cup winner who has twice been voted the Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP. "I just love him as a player, all the qualities he has on the ice and how he has so many assets as a person as well. He's very humble and very social and, yeah, I really like him."

The Coyotes identified Soderstrom as one of the three best players in the draft. They made a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to move up three spots and select him, and general manager John Chayka said they were determined not to leave the draft without him.

"We had a single goal going in and we didn't want to miss," Chayka said. "We tried to move up as high as we could and we offered a lot to get there (trading the No. 14 and No. 45 picks to Philadelphia), and we left no stone unturned to get our guy."

The Coyotes like how Soderstrom (6-foot, 183 pounds) handled himself against older players while playing for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League last season, when he had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 44 games.

Arizona scouts have said they saw him execute offensive plays they believe few contemporary players could perform at a similar age, including Rasmus Dahlin, a Sweden-born defenseman who was picked No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018 NHL Draft. They see more offense coming from Soderstrom, a player Chayka described as mature and elite.

Soderstrom moves the puck well in traffic, plays with the instincts of a more experienced player, and has polish and poise.

"I have a real good feel that I can be an impact player in a couple of years," said Soderstrom, who spoke with the Coyotes more than any other team before the draft. "I'm really glad to be here. It feels like it was the best fit for me."

He should feel at home on a team that has Ekman-Larsson as captain and also defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Carl Soderberg, each born in Sweden (Soderberg was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on June 25).

Soderstrom probably won't reach the NHL this season, so Arizona must decide whether he'd be better off going back to Sweden or playing for Tucson of the American Hockey League.

Wherever he plays, Soderstrom understands what he needs do to reach the NHL.

"I think I'm a good skater, I'm smooth, but I need to improve a little bit in my first few strides," he said. "It's a faster game over here, and No. 1, my goal is to get stronger. If you get stronger, everything comes with that."



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