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Hjalmarsson part of the next generation in St. Louis

by Shawn P. Roarke
Simon Hjalmarsson, a second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2007, is awfully excited about the future of his NHL franchise after seeing a good portion of that future on display in Lake Placid, N.Y., during the 2008 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp Tournament in August.

Hjalmarsson was a member of the Swedish entry at the Under-20 tournament, which also featured two teams from the United States and a team from Finland. There were five Blues prospects on the rosters of the two American teams, and Hjalmarsson made an even half-dozen top-end Blues hopefuls gathered in one place.

Hjalmarsson, for one, was having a blast watching players he hopes will be his teammates in St. Louis in the not-too-distant future showcase their skills in the tournament.

"Yeah it's real fun," Hjalmarsson said. "(The Blues) have a lot of young prospects coming up at the same time and some of them are here right now. So yeah, it's really exciting to be around it. I think they have a pretty good future."

For North Americans who have not seen Hjalmarsson, the Swedish forward has a pretty bright future, as well.

He is considered one of the best scoring prospects in Sweden at this time, his skill set compared favorably to those evidenced by established NHL players Kristian Huselius and Michael Nylander.

Two years ago, Hjalmarsson was the top goal scorer in Sweden's U-20 league. He also was one of the most valuable players on Sweden's bronze-medal team at the Under-18 World Championship. This winter, he will be a key cog in Sweden's entry in the World Junior Championship.

“Yeah it's real fun. (The Blues) have a lot of young prospects coming up at the same time and some of them are here right now. So yeah, it's really exciting to be around it. I think they have a pretty good future."
-- Blues prospect Simon Hjalmarsson

He won a championship with Frolunda's junior team in 2007, where he played with Lars Eller, the Danish star that the Blues selected in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft. The duo formed quite the scoring combination, with Eller feeding pucks to Hjalmarsson, who showed more finishing polish than most players at such a young age.

Hjalmarsson showed he can handle top-six forward duty in Lake Placid and score without the presence of Eller. Hjalmarsson had 2 goals and 4 assists in the four tournament games there.

Hjalmarsson also was in Lake Placid last summer, but played a much smaller role as a lower-line presence. His above-average speed allowed the Swedish coaches to use him as a checking specialist in his first trip to Lake Placid.

Now he is deployed more as the sniper that St. Louis believes Hjalmarsson will develop into at the NHL level.

"My game, it's pretty much the same," Hjalmarsson said, "but this year I get more confidence from the coach and I'm playing a bit more."

This season he will begin his true professional apprenticeship. He is slated to handle top-line duty with Boras HC, a top team in HockeyAllsvenskan, which is the league right below the Elitserien in Sweden's professional hockey hierarchy.

Hjalmarsson saw a fair bit of time last year with Boras, so he already has a comfort level with a league that is a significant jump from Sweden's junior league.

"I think it is going to be a lot of ice time with older players," Hjalmarsson said.

That is an opportunity that isn't likely with Frolunda's Swedish Elite League entry. That team is just too good to greet a 19-year-old with open arms, no matter his potential.

"They have a really good team this year with all the national team players and I would just get 4 or 5 minutes per game in that league with no power play or box (penalty-kill) play, so I think this is good for me," says Hjalmarsson. "In our team in Boras, we have four or five guys the same age as me and then we have some veterans, so it's a good mix."

Plus, he says Frolunda has assured him that if he does well at the HockeyAllsvenskan level, Hjalmarsson can earn a call-up to the SEL.

Soon, though, it will not be the SEL he will be hoping to join, but rather the NHL. That day is not too far away, judging by his performance in Lake Placid this past August.

And when it comes, Hjalmarsson likely will see some familiar faces from Lake Placid upon his arrival with the Blues.
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