When it came time to pick a team for the 2010-11 season, Max Friberg
went with his heart.
That's why the talented Swedish forward elected to stick with Skövde in Sweden's third division rather than play at a higher level. Scouts certainly didn't hold that choice against him, ranking the 5-foot-11, 185-pound left wing 13th among European forwards for the 2011 Entry Draft.
"I decided to just be with Skövde (because) we had to go to reach the next division, Division 2, and I wanted to be a part of it because I've always played in Skövde," Friberg told NHL.com. "I've got my heart in Skövde."
A Skövde native, Friberg said he felt a responsibility to help his hometown team climb a step closer to the Swedish Elite League. Dedication to Skövde runs in the family -- Max's father, Ulf, played for Skövde from 1978-85, and nearly helped the team qualify for the Swedish Elite League.
While Max's team goals came up short -- Skövde will play in Sweden's third division again next season -- he had a successful season, finishing second on the team with 40 points in 34 games. And at age 18, he was a big fish in a small pond, playing professional hockey against men, and he was receiving top-line ice time.
"I think it's been good for me to get lots of ice time there," said Friberg. "The competition there is a lot tougher than people think. It's been good for me."
Scouts unsure about Friberg based on his level of play got to see what he could do against higher-level players at the 2011 World Junior Championship, when he had 2 goals in six games.
"I don't think it's hurt his development at all by playing in the minors, as long as he played on the senior level," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "And he had a big role on the team. That's better for him to play there with a big role rather than playing in Swedish Elite League and perhaps being a fourth-line guy."
Stubb said there's a lot to like about Friberg's game.
"I think he's a pretty good all-round player," Stubb said. "He has a very good attitude. … I would say he's a scorer (and) I would say he's a hard worker."
Friberg said some of his work ethic comes from seeing a Skövde alum at the next level -- Columbus Blue Jackets
defenseman Anton Stralman
"He usually comes to Skövde during the summer," said Friberg. "He has a very nice house there."
Friberg said he watches Stralman as close as he can to pick up the nuances in his game that have allowed him to jump to the NHL.
"The quickness (of the game) -- everything," Friberg said of what he sees when he watches Stralman. "From passes to taking pucks to the front of the net, the shots, everything goes faster."
While Friberg would like to join Stralman in the NHL someday, he'll try to follow in another set of Stralman's skate-prints first -- jumping from Skövde to Timra IK in the Swedish Elite League.
Friberg's loyalties always will lie with his hometown team, but he realized it was time to step up a level in competition.
"I think I'm ready," he said. "Physically I know I'm ready. But … I've never played there so we'll see about the speed and how I handle that. I think I can do it."
"I don't think it's hurt his development at all by playing in the minors, as long as he played on the senior level. And he had a big role on the team. That's better for him to play there with a big role rather than playing in Swedish Elite League and perhaps being a fourth-line guy." -- Goran Stubb
Friberg's route to the SEL isn't the typical one for a player his age -- most young Swedes play top-level junior hockey prior to joining an SEL club, rather than follow Friberg's routes of playing low-level minor-league hockey first. However he gets to the SEL, Stubb is sure Friberg will be successful.
"I think it's just a question of him becoming more mature," said Stubb. "He is playing with great attributes. He's a very good skater, he's all over the ice when needed. I don't think he'll have any problems taking a spot in the (SEL)."
If it works there, he could follow Stralman one final step, and swim in the biggest pond in the hockey world -- the NHL.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK