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Training Camp

Lukas Bengtsson wants to clear last hurdle to NHL

After overcoming numerous barriers, undrafted Penguins defense prospect has sights set on future in League

by David Alter / Correspondent

LONDON, Ontario -- There aren't many players from Sweden who have carved a path to an NHL contract the way defenseman Lukas Bengtsson did.

In Sweden, there is an annual regional tournament 15-year-old players take part in, known as "TV Puck." Many Swedish greats have played in it, but Bengtsson wasn't deemed good enough to participate.

He wasn't drafted at any level, but Bengtsson remained persistent. At age 16, he made the switch from forward to defense, which proved to be key. By taking advantage of his speed, he was able to morph into an offensive defenseman. That helped him get to where he is today, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect.

"It's always been a dream since I was little," said Bengtsson, 22, "but I think it clicked when I was around 16, 17 when I started coming up in juniors and playing more competitive games. Like the [Under-16] and then the [Under-18], and then the senior levels. That's when I started to think that maybe I can make this dream come true."

There was plenty standing in his way.

In 2015, Bengtsson (5-feet-10, 181 pounds) was invited to the New York Rangers rookie tournament. When it concluded, the Rangers moved on without him.

"I never heard back from them," Bengtsson said. "So I returned back to Frolunda [Sweden]."

A highly motivated Bengtsson performed well, finishing with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 30 games in 2015-16 to help Frolunda win Swedish and Champions Hockey League titles. He excelled in the playoffs, with two goals and five assists in 12 games.

That led to offers from multiple NHL teams; he ultimately decided on the Penguins.

"The [Penguins were] always in touch, even before my recent success," Bengtsson said. "I had a knee injury and the Penguins offered all kinds of support. They always asked how I was doing, and when it came to picking teams, Pittsburgh just felt right."

One year after the disappointing prospects camp experience, arriving in London to take part in a similar tournament provided validation for everything he had worked through.

"Being back at this tournament with Pittsburgh after what happened last year made this feel really sweet," Bengtsson said. "I'm really eager to show the Penguins what I can do."

Bengtsson impressed in London, scoring a goal 21 seconds into the first game of the tournament.

With Pittsburgh coming off a Stanley Cup championship, there isn't an immediate need that could help Bengston crack the opening-night lineup. Instead, he will hone his game with Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the American Hockey League.

"I'm ready to develop my game on the smaller ice," he said. "They always say you just have to be ready, and I know I can always improve. There are just so many situations that come up in North American ice that don't come up in Europe, so I'm ready to learn."

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