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FUTURE WATCH | Lagesson raising the bar

by Julie Robenhymer / Edmonton Oilers

Photo by UMass Media Relations.

William Lagesson isn't the type of hockey player that will make a lot of friends on the ice with his physical play and Swedish snarl, but he certainly leaves an impression and makes you wish he was on your team. That's exactly what John Micheletto, head coach at the University of Massachusetts, thought when he saw him play for Team Sweden at the 2014 IIHF U-18 World Championship.

"I thought he was a tremendously smart player," Micheletto said of the six-foot-three, 198-pound defenceman. "I loved the way he thought about the game on both sides of the puck. Having an international player who understands the game on a bigger sheet of ice and is able to play both a puck moving game on the offensive side as well as a shut down defensive game with a little bit of a nasty edge. It was something that didn't take me very long to say yes to."

Lagesson's play also earned him a ringing endorsement from the opposition.

"I remember a comment from a parent of a Team USA player that referenced William as a real pain-in-the-behind to play against," Micheletto said with a laugh. "His comments and that of his son were really a compliment to William and how hard he played against the US team at that international competition. That comment stuck out in my head because players know best. They know which guys are really skilled and they know which guys play really hard and they also know guys that are easy to play against. I found that comment to be as impressive a sales pitch as anything I saw with my own eyes."

The Edmonton Oilers also liked what they saw from Lagesson and selected him in the fourth round two months later at the 2014 NHL Draft.

"After that tournament, I had talked to a lot of organizations, but you never know with the draft. I didn't want to get my hopes up so we didn't go to the draft just in case I didn't get selected, but I had a feeling it could happen so my family and I watched at home on TV," explained Lagesson, a native of Gotborg, Sweden. "It was awesome to hear my name called in the fourth round. I was really happy…really happy."

By that time, he had already decided to play in the USHL in hopes of earning an NCAA scholarship — the less popular, but increasingly more common development path for young Swedes.

As soon as Micheletto discovered Lagesson's intentions, the recruiting process began.

"I talked up the university and what we were trying to do in terms of building the program and tried to help him get to know us as a staff better," he said. "I've found with European players more than with players from North America is that they really have to have a high comfort level with the staff and that's not just me as the head coach, but the entire staff. One thing I learned about recruiting the Stalbergs while I was at Vermont is that they're a long way from home. Not only is it a great distance, but also a new culture and I think it's important for them to get to know everyone involved with the program and probably even essential for them to be able to make a confident decision and ultimately be comfortable."

Photo by UMass Media Relations.

"I decided to go the college route because I wanted to challenge myself and try something different and I also wanted to be able to get an education while continuing my hockey career, just in case hockey doesn't work out," Lagesson explained. "It's not something you're able to do in Sweden. They let you finish high school, but after that, it's either one or the other. There's not enough time to do both."

While playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints and trying to catch the eyes of college coaches, he continued to impress the powers that be at the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation, who selected him to don the Tre Kronor once again at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto.

"The head coach came and watched me last year and I knew it would be hard to make the team because I was only 18, but then he called me and told me I made the roster," Lagesson said. "I was really happy that my dream came true to play for the national team at the World Juniors, especially in Canada where it's a really big deal. I grew up watching this tournament and now I was going to be on the team. It was a great feeling."

While Sweden lost to Slovakia in the bronze medal game, Lagesson made an important decision shortly after the tournament when he officially announced his commitment to UMass.

"When I got to UMass, I just had a really good feeling and when I learned more about the program and what they wanted to do, I wanted to be a part of it," Lagesson continued. "It was really just a feeling that I wanted to be here."

"He's everything that we anticipated him being. Throughout the recruiting process we had a pretty good picture of what his skill set was and what his determination level was and it was just a matter of how fast he could acclimate and get comfortable. I think he's a fantastic two-way defenceman and, even as a freshman, he's played a lot of minutes in a lot of different situations for us," Micheletto said.

"He's also really become a favourite in the locker room. I know the guys really appreciate his humour and his personality and I think we're all seeing more and more of that as he gets more and more comfortable here. They also know how dependable he is once we drop the puck and really respect his game. We've been really impressed with him and he's a big reason why we were able to get off to a hot start."

Lagesson simply wants to get better and better and keep raising the bar for himself tackling every challenge along the way.

"I want to be a shutdown defenceman and play against the opposite teams' best players and play them hard, not give them any space. I also like to use my body and get in front of the net." he said. "I also want to get better with my feet - my skating and mobility, being faster - and I also want to get stronger to protect the puck better."

William Lagesson of Sweden battles for the puck against Nick Olesen of Denmark during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship on December 27, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Photo Getty Images.

"The versatility he possesses is one of the best traits he has and probably also one of the most underrated by those who don't get to see him every game. His ability to protect the puck and retrieve the puck and get it out of our zone, that's going to be the foundation of the player he will be moving forward," Micheletto said. "It's his ability to generate offence that doesn't get enough credit. He gets us going north just about every time the puck touches his stick in our own end or through the neutral zone. A lot of that comes from a better understanding of when he can jump and join, plus he's able to carry the puck through traffic and utilizes his body to his advantage with or without the puck."

All of those qualities are why Lagesson has been named once again to Team Sweden at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship that starts on Saturday in Helsinki, Finland.

With 12 players from last year's team, the Swedes are looking to avenge their loss to the Finns in the gold medal game on home ice two years ago in Malmo by returning the favour on enemy soil this year and Lagesson wants to be a big part of that.

"I want to be a leader on the team, especially for the defence," he said. "I think we have a very good team this year and we obviously want to win gold and we know we can do it if we prepare and play the right way. I'm really excited for it."

When told of the comments from the opposition regarding his hard style of play, Lagesson couldn't hold back his smile.

"That means I have been doing my job. I take that as a huge compliment…and makes me want to play even harder."

Sweden opens the tournament against Switzerland on December 26, 7 a.m. (MT) on TSN4.

Statistics For In The System Through Past Seasons: 14-15 | 13-14 | 12-13 | 11-12
Stats Updated as of Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bakersfield (AHL) - Forwards

Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
GREG CHASE C 20 14 1 4 5 +1 8
BRADEN CHRISTOFFER LW 21 21 1 2 3 -7 39
JOSH CURRIE C 23 14 3 1 4 +1 21
LEON DRAISAITL C 20 6 1 1 2 -5 4
MATTHEW FORD*   RW 31 24 11 7 18 -2 26
RYAN HAMILTON   LW 30 24 7 3 10 -5 13
KELLEN JONES   LW 25 1 0 0 0 -1 2
KALE KESSY   LW 23 24 5 3 8 +6 33
JUJHAR KHAIRA   LW 21 16 3 4 7 -1 7
ALEXIS LOISEAU   C 21 12 1 2 3 +1 2
ANDREW MILLER   RW/C 27 20 6 10 16 -3 10
MITCH MOROZ   LW 21 20 2 3 5 +1 46
PHILIP MCCRAE* C 25 9 2 0 2 -4 4
IIRO PAKARINEN   RW 24 4 1 2 3 0 4
TYLER PITLICK   RW 24 8 0 0 0 +1 0
KYLE PLATZER RW 20 26 4 6 10 -2 4
MARC-OLIVIER ROY* C 21 12 2 0 2 -4 2
ANTON SLEPYSHEV LW 21 18 4 1 5 -8 10
JOSH WINQUIST   LW 22 8 3 4 7 +3 20
BOGDAN YAKIMOV   C/W 21 20 3 4 7 -5 8
LW 21 - - - - - -
Bakersfield (AHL) - Defencemen

Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
MARK FAYNE   d 28 5 0 1 1 0 4
MARTIN GERNAT   d 22 13 0 0 0 0 2
brad hunt   D 27 26 4 17 21 -8 8
JOEY LALEGGIA   D 23 26 2 7 9 +9 18
DAVID MUSIL D 22 25 2 1 3 +1 14
NIKITA NIKITIN   D 29 14 1 8 9 -7 0
DARNELL NURSE   D 20 6 0 1 1 0 7
JORDAN OESTERLE   d 23 18 0 8 8 -2 6
NICK PAGEAU   D 27 12 0 1 1 -5 2
GRIFFIN REINHART   D 21 5 0 3 3 +1 6
D 22 16 0 3 3 -5 2
Norfolk (ECHL)

Name POS age    GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER D 21 29 1 9 10 0 19
GREG CHASE F 20 10 4 2 6 -3 18
Canadian Hockey League
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
Name POS age  GP G A   P +/- PIM team
D 19 18 2 4 6 -2 14 UMASS-AMHERST (NCAA)
JOHN MARINO d 18 22 1 11 12 +4 14 TRI-CITY (USHL)
TYLER VESEL   C 21 18 2 10 12 +2 9 NEBRASKA-OMAHA (NCAA)
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
ROMAN HORAK C 24 40 8 11 19 -3 24 CHEKHOV VITYAZ (KHL)
ZIYAT PAIGIN  F 20 18 4 7 11 -2 4 KAZAN AK-BARS (KHL)
ANTTI TYRVAINEN  F 26 13 5 1 6 1 53 ILVES TAMPERE (finland)
2016 World Junior Hockey Championships
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
D 19 - - - - - - SWEDEN
Name age GP w l T GAA SV% team
  21 4 13 2 3.97 .872 baie-comeau (qmjHL)
LAURENT BROSSOIT 22 15 9 4 1 2.57 .926 bakersfield (AHL)
EETU LAURIKAINEN 22 8 3 5 0 2.16 .920 HPK HAMEENLINNA (finland)
1 0 1 0 4.02 .818 BAKERSFIELD (AHL)
ZACH NAGELVOORT   21 9 5 2 1 3.14 .888 michigan (ncaa)
BEN SCRIVENS   29 10 2 6 1 3.47 .893 bakersfield (ahl)
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