Just like a child who needs training wheels before he can ride a bike, St. Louis Blues
center Patrik Berglund
needed training camp before he could ride the NHL roller coaster.
Berglund experienced camp with the Blues prior to the 2007-08 season, but the shy Swede had the mindset that he would be returning home come early October. He came back for his second go-round this past fall, this time with an outgoing personality and the intention of starting his NHL career.
The latter, Berglund believes, would never have happened without the former.
"Even if I had it in my mind to make the team (in 2007) I don't think I was ready," Berglund told NHL.com. "I needed to put on a lot of weight and grow into my position as a centerman. It was good for me to come here and then go home, have huge responsibility on my club team and have a great World Juniors. The game plan for me was pretty good."
Although the Blues would have liked him to believe he belonged last season, in hindsight Berglund knew best. He entered this season with the feeling that he is good enough for the NHL and he has fit right in. Due to the infirmary the Blues have been building at Scottrade Center, coach Andy Murray also has handed Berglund extra responsibility.
It hasn't stunted his growth one bit.
"Bergie's got scary skill," Blues captain Eric Brewer
He's third on the Blues and second among all rookies with 27 points on 13 goals and 14 assists through 35 games. On a team that has surrendered 18 more goals than they have scored, Berglund is remarkably a plus-12 and he has only 12 penalty minutes.
"I remember him two springs ago when I met him. He was the typical Swedish player," Murray told NHL.com. "I said to him, 'What are your plans here?' He said, 'Well, I hope to play in the NHL in four or five years.' So, I said, 'Then you’ll be good for the next coach here, but I'd like you to speed that process up.'
"It's a little bit of the Swedish mentality that they are going to go home and take their time, but he has definitely matured mentally, socially and physically in particular. His play last year at the World Juniors made him feel pretty good about himself."
Berglund put up 7 points in six games for the silver-medal Swedes in the Czech Republic last year. He totaled 54 points in 46 games for his club team, Vasteras, in Sweden's second league.
He then came right to St. Louis raring to go.
Berglund paid his own way to work out at the Blues' complex for three weeks in June and moved to St. Louis for good in August. A month later, he was a dominant player for the Blues at the Red Wings prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
Berglund told NHL.com in Traverse City that he came to St. Louis early in order to gain some weight, mature and figure out how to live on his own in the United States. He lived on his own in Sweden for one year, but that was still his comfort zone.
"In the beginning you just compare everything to Sweden. Even the rink isn't like what it is in Sweden," Berglund said. "You have to get used to things. I want to live here for 10 to 15 years so I have to do the best I can to feel comfortable."
Berglund credits his teammates for helping him in that department.
During the summer, he was taken out to dinner by some of the veterans who trained with him, and this season he has leaned on guys like Keith Tkachuk
and injured forwards Andy McDonald
and Paul Kariya
"First of all, I'm a European and we kind of sometimes don't play as hard as we have to, so they are telling me to always keep up the intensity, never stop skating, be smart, and help your teammates with support," Berglund said. "It's those things that I never really thought about back in the day, to help out teammates and come with the support and stuff like that. They have also told me to have a good head, to always think you're going to win every battle you go into. That's been key for me, to have that with me when I go on the ice. I really think I'm going to win every battle now."
Berglund's development has been a bright spot in a dreary season.
The Blues are in last place in the Central Division, and already six of them -- Kariya (hip), Brewer (back), McDonald (leg), Erik Johnson
(knee), Chris Mason
(appendectomy) and D.J. King
(elbow) -- have been on the operating table.
"You don't like to be a loser," Berglund said. "Even if you play good in a couple of games, we're still losing so you can't enjoy it. I haven't gotten any satisfaction yet."
Maybe not, but he is content with his ice time.
The injuries, particularly to McDonald and Kariya, have enabled Berglund to average around 16 minutes per game, including more than three minutes on the power play while skating with Tkachuk, Brad Boyes
, David Perron
and Carlo Colaiacovo
"You get used to much more when you have a lot of minutes on the ice," Berglund said. "I have to keep going as I am right now and when the guys come back we can be really good. We can have three really good scoring lines."
Until then, Berglund will continue to ride through his new terrain.
He played in a career-high 52 games combined last season, but he has already played in 35 this season. As long as he doesn't catch the injury bug he will wind up playing in north of 70 games in the greatest league in the world.
"I remember him two springs ago when I met him. He was the typical Swedish player. I said to him, 'What are your plans here?' He said, 'Well, I hope to play in the NHL in four or five years.' So, I said, 'Then you’ll be good for the next coach here, but I'd like you to speed that process up." -- Blues coach Andy Murray
His production could wane in the second half, but Berglund knows he belongs now, which means he's already conquered one important challenge.
"Sometimes when we have back-to-back games you feel tired, but it's up in your head that you need to be thinking strong and thinking it's going to be fine," Berglund said. "I never played an 82-game schedule so I can't say anything about it. Right now I feel good and I'm going to keep going as hard as I can the whole season.
"I'm not just happy to be an NHL player. I want to be one of the best."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com