|Goaltender Jacob Markstrom is the No. 1-rated European netminder, and has been compared to the late Flyers' goaltender Pelle Lindbergh.
It was a decision Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom
had dreaded since the start of his athletic career.
Choose your sport -- soccer or ice hockey.
"I played goalie in soccer and hockey my whole life and really enjoyed both,” Markstrom told NHL.com. "It wasn't easy to pick. Once you reach a certain level, you must make a choice of concentrating on one or the other. My dad actually coaches women's soccer in Sweden (he's the goaltending coach for the Swedish women's national team), but I decided on hockey because that's the sport that was most fun. My dad supported my decision."
Markstrom actually made up his mind only two years ago, in fact, when he opted to play goal for the Brynas junior team in the Swedish junior league. As a member of Sweden's national Under-17 team in 2006-07, he sported a 2.00 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 22 games. Today, the athletic, quick-footed goalie is NHL Central Scouting's No. 1-rated European goalie heading into the NHL Entry Draft, June 20-21 in Ottawa.
Some say he has a comparable similar skill set to the late Pelle Lindbergh, but that might be pushing things a bit. Lindbergh was a 1979 second-round draft choice (35th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers
, led the Swedish national team to a bronze medal at the 1980 Olympics and became the first European goalie to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 1985.
"To be honest, I don't think anyone can compare to Pelle,” Markstrom said. "He was so big here in Sweden. I suppose we're similar in that I have a butterfly style and am aggressive. I won't hesitate to challenge the shooter and I really hate losing."
While Goran Stubb, the NHL Director of European Scouting, feels the comparisons to Lindbergh are unwarranted, he wouldn't be surprised if the puck-handling Markstrom was drafted in the second round.
"You can't compare (Markstrom and Lindbergh)," Stubb told NHL.com. "The style of play in the NHL has changed a lot since the days of Pelle Lindbergh. But Jacob covers the net well and plays with a lot of confidence. He plays the butterfly and, while he sometimes has a tendency to go down too quickly, has an impressive, quick glove and likes to use that size to his advantage."
Markstrom's finest hour came last August against Team Canada in the opening game of round-robin play in the Ivan Hlinka
Memorial Tournament, at Hodonin Arena in the Czech Republic. The native of Gavle, Sweden stopped 38 of 40 shots in regulation before denying Canadian shooters Kyle Beach
(No. 7-rated North American skater), Kelsey Tessier
(No. 46) and the consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Steven Stamkos
, in a shootout to give Sweden a 3-2 victory.
"He definitely was the difference for them in the game,” Beach told NHL.com. "He really played his position well and didn't allow a lot of rebounds. He came up huge in the shootout and I was impressed with his ability to control that first save and allow their defenseman there, Victor Hedman
, to clear out the loose pucks."
"He is tall, calm and should have a great future in hockey." -- Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting on Jacob Markstrom
Stamkos also was impressed by Markstrom.
"He was a pretty big goalie who took up a lot of the net when he went down into that butterfly," Stamkos told NHL.com. "I didn't try anything fancy in the shootout since the guys before me tried to deke. I just tried to put one in low along the ice, but didn't get it up enough and he made a nice save. When a goalie can use his size to an advantage and play big, that's a bonus."
Markstrom backstopped Sweden to its first-ever gold medal at the event, notching victories over the host Czechs, 7-3, and Switzerland, 3-2, before turning aside 26 shots in a 3-2 gold-medal game victory against Finland. He completed the tournament with a 2.33 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
Midway through the season, Markstrom was promoted to Brynas' senior club, where he posted a 3.12 GAA in seven games. As a member of Team Sweden in April, Markstrom's team just missed a medal following a 6-3 setback to the U.S. team in the bronze-medal game at the Under-18 World Championship in Kazan, Russia. Markstrom posted a 3.04 GAA in the tournament.
"Really, Jacob's play for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League more or less saved the team from relegation to the minors," Stubb said. "He is tall, calm and should have a great future in hockey."
Markstrom, who interviewed with 26 of the 30 NHL teams during his seven-day stay at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto last month, has every intention of living out his dream of playing in the NHL.
"Before the season I had a goal to be drafted and I'm hoping to go as high as possible," Markstrom said. "I think it's always harder for a goalie to play in the NHL because, really, not until you are in your mid-20s are you at the top of your game. It's very hard for an 18-year-old to be drafted and make that immediate jump to play in the NHL. I'm ready to do whatever I need to do to make that jump."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com