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Drafted 239th, Enstrom playing like a No. 1 for Atlanta

by Dan Rosen

Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in November, Tobias Enstrom is fifth on the Thrashers in scoring with three goals and 15 assists.
To understand how far Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom has come, look no further than where he was chosen in the 2003 Entry Draft.

Enstrom was an eighth-round selection, No. 239 overall. It’s a pick that no longer exists now that the NHL limits its Entry Draft to just seven rounds.

“Obviously his development has gone a lot quicker than anyone could have expected,” Atlanta General Manager-coach Don Waddell told “I fully expected him to make our team, but you never know with a new guy coming in how fast his adjustment will be. From the exhibition games you could see he had a special talent.”

While he is a candidate for the Calder Memorial Trophy, Enstrom isn’t your typical NHL rookie. He’s 23 with five years experience in the Swedish Elite League. He could have made the jump to the NHL last season, but his job there wasn’t finished.

“I felt I had so much more to prove back there,” Enstrom told

So he stayed and competed with MoDo for a fifth season. Once he compiled seven goals and 21 assists in 55 games – career highs in all three categories – he felt ready to take on the National Hockey League.

“I had a good last year back home,” Enstrom said. “We won the championship and I went to the World Championships, so after that I decided to try something new.”

Just as he expected, Enstrom’s patience has paid off with a seamless transition.

Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in November, he’s fifth on the Thrashers in scoring with three goals and 15 assists.

He not only leads Atlanta, but is dominating all NHL rookies in ice time per game by logging close to 24 minutes each time out. More than six minutes of his nightly ice time is occupied quarterbacking the Thrashers’ power play, and roughly three is spent killing penalties.

“I came over here and I realized I could play,” Enstrom said. “I didn’t think if I can make it or not. I know myself and I didn’t really think about that. Of course, it gives you a kick when you prove you can play here.”

Waddell said he had little doubts Enstrom could hop into the NHL fray after seeing him at the World Championships earlier this year.

“His poise and his skill level really stood out,” Waddell said. “At that time of the year the World Championships is the best tournament going outside the NHL playoffs. For him to stand out there was a big step in helping him make the adjustment.”

“The game is set up for him,” Waddell continued. “He might be 5-foot-10, but he skates well and shoots the puck like a cannon. But his passing ability is his best thing. Having a guy back there who can get it out nine out of 10 times is special.”

Enstrom actually believes his skating is his best asset.

“I spent a lot of time when I was young at the hockey rink,” he said. “I spent four to five to six hours a day. That is a lot of time.”

Toronto Maple Leafs center Alex Steen, who has played with Enstrom in the Swedish Elite League and at the international level, compared his old teammate’s fluidity on the ice to one of the all-time great skaters in NHL history.

“He’s smooth, kind of like a Scott Niedermayer skater,” Steen told “He moves the puck well and he sees the ice well. He’s going to be a great player for that team for a long time, especially on their power play.”

Waddell wasn’t about to call him the next Niedermayer, but he understands where the comparison is coming from.

Tobias Enstrom credits the organization for helping him make a smooth transition into his new culture.

“When you talk about Niedermayer it’s not just his speed, but his agility on his skates,” Waddell said. “Tobias has that. That’s a nice quality to have, for sure.”

Enstrom credits the organization for helping him make a smooth transition into his new culture, but he avoided culture shock by staying true to his roots.

Similar to the way fellow Swedish rookie Nicklas Backstrom became an additional member of Michael Nylander’s family upon his arrival in Washington, Enstrom spent his first three months in the United States living with Thrashers goalie and fellow Swede Johan Hedberg. He was welcomed into a home already occupied by Hedberg’s wife, Pernilla, and daughters Molly, Wilma and Bia.

“I actually live by myself now because I just moved, but I lived at Hedberg’s place for about two months and that was really helpful for me,” Enstrom said. “I felt like I was in the family.”

“He didn’t have to come over here and find his way on his own,” Waddell said. “He took the first three months to figure out life in North America. That really helped him mature into this marketplace even faster.”

Now that he’s immersed, Enstrom doesn’t look anything like the 239th best player in the Class of 2003.

“I was a little bit worried to see how long it would take for me to get into the game here, but the coach gave me the opportunity to play my game and the organization took care of me,” Enstrom said. “It feels like home. I am really glad I signed here.”

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