|Defenseman Jonatan Nielsen plays the puck against Finland at the USA hockey junior evaluation camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images)
When Swedish born defenseman Jonatan Nielsen learned that he was drafted by the Florida Panthers with the 194th overall pick this past June, he screamed…literally.
“I was sitting on my couch back home in Sweden and [I was] on the computer checking the draft picks. All of a sudden my name came up so I was pretty excited,” Nielsen recalled. “My parents were sitting right next to me so I think they got it [knew I was drafted] when I screamed.”
Nielsen is happy to be a Florida Panther, but he was surprised that he was chosen by the club. Perhaps he knew at a young age that it was destiny.
“I didn’t know [that the Panthers were interested], but I think my agent spoke to [Florida Panthers European Scout] Kent Nilsson [and my agent] just told me that he had spoke to him and it was a big surprise,” Nielsen recalled. “Actually when I was a kid I told my parents that I would play for the Florida Panthers so I can try Formula One.”
Being a huge fan of Formula One racing and Fernando Alonzo, Nielsen also had a dream of driving one day for the circuit.
Perhaps he will just stick to hockey now.
Despite being 18-years-old, the defenseman has played in Swedish leagues since 2007. This makes sense since he’s from a huge hockey family. His father, Rolf, has been a coach in the Swedish leagues for 18 seasons and his uncle, Niclas, played for eight seasons. He also has a cousin, Philip, who went undrafted but plays competitvely.
“It’s pretty cool [coming from a hockey family]. My uncle was pretty good; he was more like the big guy that would make some big hits and start some fights,” said Nielsen. “My cousin is a little bit smaller than me, pretty skilled player. He can skate.”
Nielsen’s father coached him for three games in the 2008-2009 season and the all-around defenseman admits it was a bit weird at times, but he owes a lot of his game to him.
“Of course it’s a bit weird to have your father as a coach,” said Nielsen. “[But], he is the one who taught me everything I know since I was a baby. He was always giving me tips when I was a kid.”
Last season for the Linköping J20 team of the SuperElit league, Nielsen tallied nine points (five goals and four assists) in 38 games.
Nielsen enjoyed his time in the US while at Development Camp, especially being in South Florida. He went to the beach for the very first time and saw some unexpected things.
“It’s good practice all week [the camp] and we [prospects] went to the beach,” he explained. “It was pretty nice; [we] went to Deerfield Beach [and] we saw the tornadoes, it was pretty cool.”
His play on the ice during that week caught the eye of the Panthers brass, especially of the head man, General Manager Dale Tallon who raved about his puck presence throughout. The blueliner followed that up with a weeklong tournament in Lake Placid, New York as he suited up for Sweden in exhibition games against Finland and the United States.
Following those experiences he’s back to growing his game in Sweden whether it’s playing for Linköping’s junior team or their elite team this season.