Denmark may best be known for producing top soccer players, but the number of quality hockey players coming out of the small Scandinavian country is on the rise.
, who helped lead the Kitchener Rangers to the Ontario Hockey League championship and to the title game of the Memorial Cup, likely will join Lars Eller
as Danish first-round NHL Draft picks in back-to-back years.
“This kid is an NHL hockey player,” Rangers coach Peter DeBoer
told Ontario Hockey Now. “He doesn’t have many flaws in his game. He brings a smile on his face to the rink every day and he's got world-class talent. I just love him.”
Boedker finished third among OHL rookies with 73 points (29 goals), and he finished tied for second in the OHL with nine game-winning goals. He was second among OHL playoff scorers with 35 points, and tied for the lead with 26 assists. In five games at the Memorial Cup, he had two goals and six points.
He also had six points for Denmark at the World Junior Championships, tying Eller for the team scoring lead, and he had a goal and an assist at the Top Prospects Game.
Boedker's performance earned the No. 11 ranking among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Eller was taken 13th overall by the St. Louis Blues
at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, marking him as the highest-ever drafted Dane; Boedker could top that when the 30 teams convene in Ottawa from June 20-21.
“We played on the same team when we were kids and we were really good teams, always played on the same line,” said Boedker. “I was happy when he got drafted in the first round, so hopefully he can be happy for me when I get drafted.”
Boedker and Eller grew up in nearby towns outside of Copenhagen, and they played their youth hockey together in Rodovre. They also played together with Frolunda in Sweden. There, though, their paths split, as Eller stayed in Sweden, while Boedker, who was chosen fifth overall by Kitchener in the 2007 Canadian Hockey League import draft, jumped to the OHL.
Moving was nothing new to Boedker. He left Denmark at 15 to play for Frolunda’s junior team, which he led to a Swedish junior title in 2006-07.
“I think it was time for me to move on,” Boedker told NHL.com. “It’s been the best year of my hockey career. When you get the opportunity to come to Kitchener, you better grab it. Nobody put pressure on me, nobody told me to come over, it was all my choice, and I just followed my heart. I think Kitchener made that perfect.”
It wasn’t always perfect for Boedker. He actually got off to quite an inauspicious start. On Oct. 18, in just his eighth game of the season, the Rangers had a power play late in a tied game against the Barrie Colts. Boedker tried rushing the puck up the ice, but instead turned it over, and the play resulted in a Colts game-winning shorthanded goal.
While Boedker could have turtled after a horrible miscue, he took it as a learning moment, and said it ended up being a turning point to his season.
“(Coach/GM) Pete (DeBoer) just came up to me after the game and had a smile on his face and gave me a tap on the shoulder,” Boedker recalled. “That’s when I opened my eyes and said I’m not the only guy that’s going to make a mistake. I just got more comfortable after that.”
He had goals in each of his next four games, spring-boarding him to success.
“In the first 1½ months it was hard (in Kitchener), because the hockey is played a little different, but I think after a while I got more comfortable,” Boedker said. “I wanted to get out there and get something going and put a smile on my face and have fun out there, because that’s what it’s all about.”
His fun carried over to nearly 100 games, which was ample time for scouts to see him. Far more scouts than would have seen him had he stayed in Sweden.
“I think it had a little bit of an impact,” he said of coming to North America this season. “They want to see me compete against the best players in the draft, (Steven) Stamkos, (Drew) Doughty, (Zach) Bogosian. I think I did a good job. I hope they liked what they saw.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.