Henrik Borgstrom worked on becoming a more well-rounded player during rookie campaign.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Borgstrom's offensive skills have never been in question. A finalist for the Hobey Baker in 2018, the gifted center earned the nickname "The Artist" while producing 45 goals and 95 points over two seasons at the University of Denver.
But in his first full season in the pros, he turned his attention to the defensive side of the puck.
"I played a pretty defensive minded game toward the end of the season," Borgstrom said after cleaning out his locker at BB&T Center on April 8. "It was something that I had to concentrate on a lot this season to be reliable and earn playing time that way. Of course, it's very teaching."
Hoping to land a spot with the Florida Panthers out of training camp, Borgstrom instead began this past season with the club's AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass. - a decision that was made to help him get more accustomed to the rigors of playing against professionals on a nightly basis.
In 24 games with the Thunderbirds, the 21-year-old produced at nearly a point-per-game pace, notching five goals and 17 assists. Named to the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic, he had to decline the invitation after being called up to the Panthers to fill-in for injured center Vincent Trocheck.
Still, Borgstrom said he was grateful for the seasoning his game received in the AHL.
"I feel I'm way more reliable defensively," Borgstrom said shortly after earning his call-up on Dec. 15. "I think my positioning is way better. I'm very hungry with my stick all the time. Of course there's little things I can improve on, for sure. But the defensive side of the game is in my opinion the biggest part. I don't get knocked around or knocked down as easy as I did last year."
In the 15 games he played with Trocheck out of the lineup, Borgstrom posted four goals and two assists while averaging 15:06 of ice time per game. And despite seeing his minutes dip down to an average of 10:41 over the 35 games following Trocheck's return, he still produced 12 points.
Overall, Borgstrom finished with eight goals and 10 assists in 50 games with the Panthers.
"It was not an easy spot to come to, I don't think," Borgstrom said. "With Troch being out, Barky was playing almost 30 minutes a night. We still had to win. It was kind of tough times. I thought I played well in the AHL, but once I got up here my minutes went down and I kind of lost my confidence. It was kind of an up-and-down season for me. I want to be better next year."
In looking to make another big jump next season, Borgstrom, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, believes his biggest goal for the summer isn't necessarily to put on weight, but rather simply "get stronger." That being said, he hopes to weigh in at around 200 pounds in the future.
"I'm not too far off," Borgstrom said. "I don't really concentrate too much on what my weight is. It's nice if I get there, but the main thing is to get stronger. When you work out every day during the summer, you see how strong you can get. That's important for me. It's part of the process."
Heading home to Helsinki, Finland later this month, Borgstrom, upon the suggestion of Panthers General Manger Dale Tallon, said he plans to get in touch with team captain and fellow Finnish phenom Aleksander Barkov at some point this summer in order to set up time to train together.
"We live in different locations and things, but Dale told me to go and work out with Barky for a bit," said Borgstrom, who currently trains with other Finnish NHL-ers like Carolina's Teuvo Teravainen. "I don't see why that would not be beneficial. That would probably be good for me."
Barkov, who spends the offseason about a two-hour drive away from Helsinki in his hometown of Tampere, said he's more than happy to lend a helping hand to his talented young teammate.
"I think he's good, but of course if he needs anything I'm available," Barkov said.
Borgstrom did a great job of staying out of trouble this season.
Like Barkov, he managed to stay out of the penalty box despite utilizing a very active stick in all three zones. In 50 games, he racked up 21 takeaways while being whistled for only two minor penalties -- tied for the sixth-fewest PIMs among NHL players with at least that many contests.
"I thought he had an opportunity to make the team right out of camp, but it wasn't to be," Panthers winger Troy Brouwer said of Borgstrom earlier in the season. "When you're young like that it's easy to be discouraged when you go down to minors.
"That obviously wasn't the case for him. He was named to the [AHL] All-Star team and has been producing here and doing a lot of good things for us. He's a guy that this franchise is going to lean on for a lot of years. It's good to see him have success early."
Borgstrom did a lot of damage in a short period of time in this one.
Despite being limited to just 8:16 of ice time -- his third-fewest minutes in a game this season -- Borgstrom still managed to accumulate a career-high three points (two goals, one assist) in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on March 2 at BB&T Center.
Video: CAR@FLA: Borgstrom lasers the puck past Mrazek
"Our line played pretty well," Borgstrom said after the game. "Of course, [Carolina's] first goal, we were on the ice. At the same time, with Ginner [Jamie McGinn] and Huntsy [Dryden Hunt], I thought we played pretty well and had some chemistry. It was fun playing tonight."
The game also stands as the first multi-goal performance of Borgstrom's NHL career.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
This goal benefited from a great celebration.
With the Panthers trailing the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Dec. 28 at BB&T Center, Borgstrom gathered a pass from Mike Hoffman and ripped a wrist shot from the slot past goaltender Antti Niemi to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 8:01 of the first period.
Showing off some of the flash from his days at Denver, Borgstrom finished off the stellar scoring play with an sweet bow-and-arrow celebration that succeeding in bringing the crowd to its feet.
Video: MTL@FLA: Borgstrom buries feed from Hoffman