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Josefson's Draft stock continues to rise

by Shawn P. Roarke

"I don't know how far he is going to go in his career, but I don't think I will have him for more than two years, maybe three. I'm not going to say he is going to be an impact player in the NHL right away, but he has everything he needs to be a top-level player."
-- Djurgarden coach Tomas Monten

STOCKHOLMJacob Josefson hopes he got a glimpse of his future when the NHL came to Sweden to start the 2008-09 season with a pair of regular-season games.

While every hockey fan in this hockey-mad country was eager to see the stars from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators strut their stuff at the Globe Arena, the 17-year-old Josefson, a center for local club Djurgarden, put aside the hysteria surrounding the NHL's arrival, choosing instead to cast a clinical eye toward some of the best players on hand -- specifically Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby.

"He's probably the best player in the world, so you can always learn from watching him and what he does on the ice," Josefson told after an early October practice at the club's home, Hovet Arena.

Josefson is all about learning at this stage of his career because soon he wants to join Crosby in NHL arenas across North America. Ranked No. 2 in Sweden in NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft and a member of Sweden's entry for the 2009 World Junior Championships, Josefson has a legitimate chance to make that dream come true.

"Of course I think about the NHL, but now I can just focus on playing good here at Djurgarden," Josefson said. "It's still pretty far away and I need to just focus on my game here."

The fact that Josefson, at just 17, is playing for Djurgarden's senior team speaks volumes about where his game is at, especially when you consider he has 4 goals and 3 assists in 26 games.

According to first-year Djurgarden coach Tomas Monten, Josefson is among an elite band of 1991 birth-year players -- there are just three, in fact -- playing regularly in the Elitserien.

Monten said Josefson, a Stockholm native, earned his place with his hometown club's senior team.

"I started with (the senior) team as an assistant last year and got the head coaching job this year," Monten said. "I had the junior team two years before that and I had Jacob in the second year. He was 14 and you saw right away that he had something extraordinary."

Monten was eager to see how far that extraordinary ability could carry Josefson, so he added the player to the senior team's training camp roster this season and let him take a regular shift as a fourth-line center in the prestigious Nordic Trophy, a preseason round-robin tournament that includes the best teams from Finland and Sweden.

The 6-foot, 187-pound Josefson held his own in that competition, and as a result earned a place in the team's starting lineup for the regular season.

"He's not that big, but he's physically built," said Monten. "He looks like a player that is 25. When we were making that decision, we couldn't look at his age, just how he was competing against the other players on the team.

"If he keeps playing like this, I'm going to have trouble keeping him out of my other three lines. He already sees some time on the power play and in four-on-four play."

Judging by that assessment, it appears Josefson passed the test with flying colors, but the player says it is not so.

Josefson admitted to some struggles in the beginning of the season, especially becoming used to playing fourth-line minutes -- with fellow youngsters Carl Gustafsson and Henrik Eriksson -- after playing top-line minutes with the junior team.

"They (players) are faster, bigger, stronger and smarter out there, so it has been a big change from juniors," Josefson said. "I think I am used to it now. ... so I am becoming more comfortable every game."

Josefson has all the tools to play -- and succeed -- at the same level as players far older.

"His strengths are that he can read the play, he's strong with the puck, moves his feet really well and he always gets himself time when he gets the puck on his stick," said Monten.

Even Josefson admitted he already possesses the foundation of an NHL-ready game.

"I'm a pretty good two-way center with good skating ability and good vision," he said. "I like to set my linemates up for scoring opportunities when I can."

He knows, though, he will have to make another huge jump in speed and skill if he wants to fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL. For that reason alone, he couldn't peel his eyes off the NHL players before him during the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 events in Stockholm.

"My dream is the NHL and I hope that I can make it there," Josefson said. "If I'm going to make it to the NHL, I'm going to have to be able to hang with these guys."

So can he hang with NHL players on the ice?

Probably not right now.

"I think that I have to be a little stronger in my upper body and work on my shot more," he said. "My shot is not my best thing. It has to be better. And I just need more experience here in the senior league."
But that day of NHL reckoning is not too far off, according to scouts that have seen him play.

Monten agreed, comparing Josefson to young Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, who was taken by Washington with the fourth pick of the 2006 Entry Draft. Backstrom had 69 points as a rookie for the Caps last season and has 20 points in 21 games this season as the team's first-line center.

Monten said Josefson might be an even better skater than Backstrom was at 17.

"If Jacob keeps evolving and working hard every day, he can make that same trip," Monten said of Backstrom's rapid journey from Brynas' U-18 team to NHL stardom. "I don't know how far he is going to go in his career, but I don't think I will have him for more than two years, maybe three. I'm not going to say he is going to be an impact player in the NHL right away, but he has everything he needs to be a top-level player."

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