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Wennberg back in Columbus, plans to stay

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- This time, center Alexander Wennberg is hoping to stick with the Columbus Blue Jackets when the NHL season begins.

The smooth center was their first pick (No. 14) in the 2013 NHL Draft and a year ago this week attended development camp at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.

Wennberg was wide-eyed, nervous, curious about the surroundings, and smaller. Neither management nor the Nacka, Sweden native had any expectations he would play in North America during the 2013-14 season.

Wennberg returned home to play for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League and finished second on the team with 16 goals in 50 games. He scored twice for the Sweden, which won the silver medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

With those experiences added to his portfolio he entered his second development camp, which began Monday, with confidence and higher goals.

"It's a different attitude this year," he said. "I really want to be on the [Blue Jackets]. Last year I knew I was going back to Sweden. Of course you want to [perform well], but this year I want to show I earned the jersey, so to be at the development camp is important but so is the one later [training camp in September]."

Wennberg, who turns 20 on Sept. 22, has gained some frequent flyer miles getting to know what he hopes will be his new home.

The Blue Jackets brought him in for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April to let him soak in the atmosphere of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and bond with the players before sending him back to Sweden for his offseason conditioning.

"Meeting all the guys, you can talk to them and feel like one of the gang," he said.

Wennberg returned to Columbus last week, a few days earlier than most prospects.

"I feel more comfortable being around, I'm getting to know the city," he said. "On the ice I can go at it hard and show the coaches I want to be here. I came here for camp last year so I know what it's like now.”

The Blue Jackets liked what they saw from Wennberg last season, and signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract May 16.

"This is the right move for me," he said. "Of course I want to play in the NHL, but even if I'm in the AHL I'm going to learn as much as possible to get ready for this League."

His confidence comes from his time spent with Frolunda.

"The big thing for me was to show I could score a lot of goals," Wennberg said. "I think I showed I can do that. I want to bring that type of game here and gain a lot of weight, get stronger. I have a great feeling about this year."

Wennberg soon could join Ryan Johansen, the team's 2010 first-round pick, at center.

Like Johansen, Wennberg was a tall body waiting to fill out at the time he was drafted. Johansen has grown over four years into his 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame without losing a step, and led the Blue Jacket with a career-high 33 goals last season.

Wennberg said he has added 10 to 12 pounds of muscle since last year's development camp and is listed at 6-2, 205.

"I worked hard to get stronger," Wennberg said. "I can get stronger and still be quick to be able to play against the bigger guys."

There's another reason Wennberg is optimistic he will be in a Blue Jackets jersey before too long.

Defenseman Ryan Murray and forward Boone Jenner made major contributions as rookies last season and the Blue Jackets have shown a willingness to use younger players in critical spots.

"It's great that we have that in our system," Blue Jackets player development coach Chris Clark said. "It shows if a guy works hard enough and is good enough they'll get their chances. Some teams already have guys slotted in where they're going to go."

Wennberg is so excited to get the season going that he plans to come back to Columbus two weeks before the start of training camp to skate with his teammates.

"I want to be a part of this team," he said. "It's a team on the way up and only going to get better, so of course I'm going to try and stick around."

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