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FEATURE: Swede strides

Joakim Nygard spent seven seasons in Sweden with Farjestad waiting for his first NHL opportunity, and hopes to benefit from Ken Holland's success finding value in European talent

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Joakim Nygard owed it to himself.

Garnering interest overseas in the NHL last year for his services as a rapid forward with a knack for scoring goals, Nygard elected to stay for his seventh season with Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League as his final test to assure himself that he was ready to take the next step.

"It's a mental thing moving to another country," he said to EdmontonOilers.com on Wednesday. "It's a smaller rink here and stuff like that, but I felt I'd do myself justice and stay one more year to take the next step and develop the small things in my game."

That decision resulted in the 26-year-old scoring 21 times in 52 games this past campaign - the second-most goals in the SHL - and a reaffirmed sense of readiness to make the leap when the next NHL club came knocking this offseason.

Enter the Edmonton Oilers.

"I feel like I've done it, and it feels like I'm ready to take this next step."

It's hard to be classified as a prospect at the age of 26 with seven years of experience in Sweden's top division to lean on, but the Stockholm product has shown incremental growth in his game since scoring 45 points in 37 games with Farjestad's junior team and earning a further 28 appearances at senior level during the 2012-13 SHL season.

"It was perfect for me to come to Farjestad," Nygard said. "I played seven seasons there, and I have developed myself more and more every year. Farjestad believed in me the whole time, and that means a lot to me. I had the chance to develop myself for those seven years, so they've been really important for me."

A big believer in Nygard, and Swedish-born players in general, is newly-established Oilers General Manager and President of Hockey Operations Ken Holland, who's been able to unearth plenty NHL talent in Sweden during his 22 years at the helm of operations for the Detroit Red Wings in the likes of Nick Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, and Tomas Holmstrom.

Nygard, and the Oilers, are hoping to build off the executive's success with European talent.

"I have that in my mind," Nygard added. "He had some really good Swedish players in Detroit. They had some success there under him, and hopefully he believes in me that much too. Of course, that was one thing I thought about when I chose the Oilers."

With his path to Edmonton mapped out, the work now falls on navigating his first season in the NHL by training this summer in Sweden to compete against bigger bodies and further improving his blazing speed.

"It's going well. I started two weeks ago and practice now with a small group of guys from my last team," he said.

"I think the play in the NHL is speedy, but you have to be strong in your body. The thing I'm going to work really hard on now is improving my strength. That's one thing I've worked on for many years and I have taken those steps, but I'll be playing with bigger guys now and I have to be strong. I'm going to keep up with working on my speed and I want to be faster too."

A move to North America for the first time comes with a change in lifestyle, along with Nygard and his partner expecting their first child.

"I'm excited about it and she's excited too," he said. "You can see it two ways - you get two things to think about and don't just get hockey, hockey and more hockey. We get to think about the baby too so you can get away from hockey sometimes, and it feels good." 

If there are lessons to be learnt from his countrymen and new teammates Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, it's to expect tough weather and a ravenous fanbase.

 "They told me it's pretty cold and to bring some extra jackets," Nygard laughed. "It's Canada, there's a lot of fans, and hockey is big there. That's exciting too. I can't imagine how big hockey is in Edmonton, so it's going to be a lot of fun going there."

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