Even among many devoted hockey followers in Sweden, Carl Soderberg
has been a player they've heard much about over the years but scarcely -- if ever -- seen play. That's because the former St. Louis Blues
and Boston Bruins
prospect willingly chose to remain tucked away in the Allsvenskan minor-league circuit for four years, playing for his hometown Malmo Redhawks after the team was relegated from the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) in 2007.
Soderberg not only turned down repeated requests to report to the NHL clubs that held his rights, he also declined several contract proposals from Elitserien clubs. Soderberg, who will turn 26 on Oct. 12, has finally chosen this season to sever his career-long ties with Malmo in order to sign with Elitserien team Linkopings HC.
"I don't regret the decision, but I am looking forward to playing in Linkoping. They are a regular playoff team, and I think it should be a good season."
-- Carl Soderberg
"I feel like the time was right," Soderberg recently told Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan
. "It's not that I didn't want to play in Elitserien. I wanted to do it with Malmo (via the team earning a postseason promotion back to the top league), and I gave it several tries. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I don't regret the decision, but I am looking forward to playing in Linkoping. They are a regular playoff team, and I think it should be a good season."
So far, the move to Linkoping has paid off both for the player and the team. In three regular-season games, Soderberg has recorded 3 goals and 2 assists. Earlier this week, he scored a pair of power-play goals within the final five minutes of the third period to lead LHC to a 2-1 home victory over HV 71 Jonkoping. Linkoping is undefeated.
Soderberg has been centering a line with veteran Elitserien forwards Par Albrandt and Andreas Jamtin
. Albrandt is a small (5-foot-7) but shifty sniper, who scored 19 goals and 40 points to lead Lulea HF in scoring last season before signing with Linkoping after the season. Jamtin, a Detroit Red Wings
' draft pick (fifth round, No. 157, in 2001) who also played briefly in the New York Rangers
' minor-league system, is a feisty agitator who tallied 18 goals two seasons ago for LHC.
"I think it's a good combination," said the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Soderberg. "We all have a role to play, and have confidence in each other."
Drafted by St. Louis in the second round (No. 49) of the 2002 Entry Draft, Soderberg's physical gifts and positional smarts were noted by scouts from the time he dominated the Swedish junior leagues and suited up for the national team at both the 2003 Under-18 World Junior Championships and the 2005 Under-20 WJC. In the latter tournament, he racked up 4 goals and 6 points in 6 games.
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Although he has never been a particularly aggressive physical player or the fleetest of skaters in a straight line, Soderberg has been a dominant player at every level he's played. In his last Elitserien season (2006-07) prior to Malmo's relegation, a 21-year-old Soderberg compiled 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 31 games. At the Allsvenskan level, his best campaign was 59 points in 45 games during the 2008-09 season. As a result, there has always been considerable interest in the player by other teams, including clubs in the NHL, Elitserien and the KHL.
Soderberg, however, always chose to stay in Malmo. The Blues signed him to a three-year entry level contract in 2006 and he attended training camp with the team. However, he declined an AHL assignment to the Peoria Rivermen, and opted to return to his hometown club.
Unable to lure him back from Malmo, the Blues traded Soderberg to the Bruins on July 23, 2007 in exchange for 2002 first-round pick Hannu Toivonen
. Soderberg annually rebuffed the Bruins in similar fashion, and politely declined all subsequent offers that came his way until LHC landed him this year. Coincidentally, goaltender Toivinen signed a two-year contract with Malmo this summer, shortly after Soderberg announced he was finally leaving the club.
Soderberg's unusual career path has led some in North America and his homeland to question his desire and his devotion to play the game. Those who know him, however, say nothing could be further from the truth.
"Carl is a hard worker, and an extremely intelligent and mature young man, on and off the ice," said a veteran Sweden-based scout. "He takes hockey seriously, and trains very hard, but he has always looked at things in the bigger picture of what he feels is right for his life. I don't think there's a question that he's a good player, but I think he has just not been the right fit for the NHL. It's not just a question of skill or [being] coachable. There are other sacrifices, and a lot of uncertainty for a young player trying to make it in the NHL. To be a success, you have to be all-in or else all-out, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. I think that Carl understands this, actually much better than other players who went over to North America and failed because they weren't totally committed in one way or another."
Soderberg has always preferred to leave as little to chance as possible. His career decisions and approach to his lifestyle as a whole have always been extremely meticulous. Apart from his devotion to physical training, which is hardly unique in his profession, he is an avid reader of books, newspapers and a wide variety of periodicals. He believes in doing thorough research before making life-changing decisions. On a daily basis, Soderberg is also given to writing down an extremely detailed agenda on his calendar.
"I write anything down that I might forget," he told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet
. "I never list things I know that I have to do (like work out with weights and skate). It's more that I don't like to have things gnaw at me that I can't remember. So I write them all down so I can check them off. It could be housecleaning, when I need to go to the bank, when I've promised to call someone or meet someone."
Not surprisingly, Linkoping's prized recruit is also quite detail-oriented in his preparations for games and his approach to self-motivation during the lengthy season. However, it is in the locker room, on the ice and around his teammates where he feels the most relaxed.
"It's a workplace you have fun in," he said. "It's extremely cool to come down every day to the locker room and to practice. It's a very happy workplace, and the games are really enjoyable."
Soderberg has always placed his happiness with his team and comfort in his environment as his top professional priority, above money and others' perceptions of prestige. He has always stuck by his own objectives. Soderberg is not the first highly sought European player who has chosen to play at home rather than seeking NHL fame and fortune. What set Soderberg apart is the fact that he chose to stay with a minor league team rather than playing in Elitserien for its own sake.
Although he has finally switched teams, Soderberg says that his mindset has not changed and that he has always wanted to win as much as the next player.
"The goal is always to help your team win, that's why you play a team sport," he said. "I will play any role that's asked of me. I have a lot of faith in this team and all of my teammates. Everyone on the team has to be united for the same goal. That's the only way it can work."